Social justice and attending to the planet proceed in parallel; the abuse of one entails the exploitation of the other. – Paul Hawken, “Blessed Unrest”
In a new year, a world stunned by crises remains shaken, its systems undone and notes scattered. It’s a time ripe for the reorganization of rooms and a rewriting of narratives.
Climate and migration: our treatment of the planet is linked to our treatment of the people, and to burn one is to scar the other. While doomsday scenarios are little help, biting depictions may be the jolt we need to snap out of our trance. So let’s drop one hand from our eyes, and fully realize the might of that big, burning star.
Looking out our window and opening the door.
The U.S.-Mexico border continues to coldly determine the fates of hundreds of thousands. While many cite violence as ignition for the migrations north, the one dictating who stays and goes may in fact be climate.
Extreme weather events are diminishing yields, livelihoods and food access throughout Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where such scenarios breed poverty and tempt corruption. Approaches like the “Remain in Mexico” policy abandon asylum-seekers to true vulnerability.
Refugees fleeing these crises ought to be as prioritized and protected as political asylum seekers, as “these phenomena interact and tend to exacerbate each other.” (Miranda Cady Hallett, The Conversation)
Exposed en route, exploited upon arrival.
The journey, the unlikeliness of a warm welcome and the conditions once settled are all ridden with threats to the health and safety of migrant families. Those trekking north travel light, insufficiently shielded from the elements. Others, who have managed to find work on U.S. farms, are subjected to the same.
The average agricultural worker experiences nearly a month’s worth of working amid unsafe temperatures per year. In the face of COVID-19 and wildfires, the fields this past summer were more menacing than ever before.
Global warming won’t be quelled within the week, but policy makers, commercial growers and pesticide companies can be held to greater scrutiny in the meantime. As consumers, we have power to question, hold accountable, and demand transparency.
Our treatment of the planet is linked to our treatment of the people, and to burn one is
to scar the other.
We have our own problems to deal with.
The U.S. already has its own climate migrants – those uprooted as a result of natural disasters or unforgiving weather patterns. Along our coasts, communities are chased from their homes by relentless hurricanes, floods and fires.
By recognizing climate migration alongside climate variability – and furthermore its shared path with zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 – as causes for concern, we can begin to alter the algorithms of our deeply-rooted systems.
A pioneering piece of legislation, the pending Climate Displaced Persons Act, explicitly defines climate migrants and acknowledges our country’s legal responsibility to welcome them. This could mean up to 50,000 environmentally displaced people taken in by the U.S. each year.
Intriguingly, the bill also acknowledges the U.S.’s role in worsening the climate crisis. It aims to develop a resiliency strategy to help improve environments in other countries, thereby preventing mass migration.
This would set a significant example, offering up the baton to other wealthy countries.
“The land is turning against them.”
For those who struggle to accept weather crises as threats to be taken as seriously as gang violence, or who downplay the role farming has in making or breaking a region, we may need more instances of imperiled communities to be brought into light.
In Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, the rising frequency of El Niños are running families and livelihoods into the ground with an onslaught of drought and flooding, making it impossible to bring any crops to yield and rapidly draining finances. Half the children in this region are chronically malnourished; Indigenous peoples, largely dependent on the land, are thrust into poverty.
“Maybe a family member is sick. Maybe they are trying to make up for losses from the previous year. But in every situation,” insists Guatemalan forestry expert Yarsinio Palacios, “it has something to do with climate change.”
Unfurling a new map to chart our future.
In a novel, collaborative effort to model how migrations occur across borders, The New York Times Magazine, ProPublica and the Pulitzer Center were able to better observe the scale of and forces driving climate migration.
Reporter Abrahm Lustgarten emphasizes the need for food and the role of governments in shaping the outcomes of these movements. He echoes warnings by the UN that the nations being hit hardest by climate change “could topple as whole regions devolve into war.”
If governments respond even modestly in reducing emissions, the number of climate migrants between now and 2050 would be nearly halved. “The model shows that the political responses to both climate change and migration can lead to drastically different futures.”
Here’s hoping that more data, coupled with more first-hand accounts, help us to realize the links to be made between people, planet and the promise of better – if warmer – days ahead.
This is the third in an ongoing series by Bec Sloane, spotlighting experiences of migrant farmworkers in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond; restlessleg.medium.com
Bec is a visual media professional and educator, bridging awareness gaps between the agricultural sector and general public through content creation and cross-sector collaboration. She is a contributing writer for IMM-Print, host to shareable resource hub botheredearth.com and can be reached at email@example.com
Resources and Links
Study: Rising temperatures will double the risk to farmworkers in the coming decades: grist.org
How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis: newyorker.com
Migrant Workers Restricted to Farms Under OneGrower’s Virus Lockdown: nytimes.com