Severe weather and wildfire are dramatic events connected to climate change, but human migration could soon top the list of devastating trends that world leaders need to address with more sustainable solutions.
That is the thrust of journalist Todd Miller’s 2017 book, “Storming the wall: Climate change, migration and Homeland Security,” and the subject of a lecture and discussion panel Monday evening sponsored by Soft Landing Missoula.
“I try to connect the dots between climate change, human displacement and migration, and borders. I’m trying to show how they relate to each other, how they‘ve been increasing into the present moment, and how, if things stay the same, they could play a prominent role in the future,” Miller said.
As is often said, climate change hits the poor the hardest, no matter where they are. But about half of the people in Central America live in poverty. So as climate change worsens the drought in the “dry corridor” of Honduras and Guatemala, small farms fail and poor farmers with no cushion must go elsewhere. Often, the only option is trying to find work on the richer, healthier farms of the United States.
“The harvests wilt, there’s no food and people have to try to adapt,” Miller said. “Plus, there are political situations and the conditions of violence in the cities that all come together. The people who are arriving at the border today, the people in El Paso (Texas), that’s what they’re trying to do,” Miller said.
One of Miller’s main points is that governments like that of the U.S. know more people will be forced to move from their homelands, so they are militarizing and extending their reach beyond narrow national borders to block migration with force.
The U.S. has increased the size of the Border Patrol to almost 20,000 in 2018, from 9,200 in 2000, and the budget is now $16.7 billion, more than double what it was in 2006. With more officers, the Border Patrol is asserting its authority to suspend the 4th Amendment and do search and seizure on anyone within 100 miles of the border and sometimes beyond, such as the Standing Rock protest.
“The ACLU calls it the ‘constitution-free zone,’ where the 4th Amendment is mangled, at the very least. One agent told me they were exempt from the 4th Amendment,” Miller said. “Standing Rock was a prime example of grassroots activism happening and then Border Patrol becoming involved and this kind of spread of militarization into another realm. And that should be of great concern.”
Miller focused his work on migrants trying to move north across the southern border of the U.S., but worldwide, more and more people are becoming climate refugees.
The United Nations released a report last week on the State of the Global Climate, which found among other things, that more than 2 million people were displaced due to disasters linked to climate change as of September. For example, flooding in Bangladesh has worsened to the point where an average of 700,000 people are displaced each year.
It’s predicted that more than 200 million people will be displaced by 2050 due to climate change, according to the UN.
“In all cases, the displaced populations have protection needs and vulnerabilities,” the report said.
As Miller arrived in Missoula from his home in Tucson, Ariz., several news stories were breaking that emphasized his points.
As more Central American migrants request asylum, it was revealed last week that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had detained hundreds of families in outdoor pens under a bridge in El Paso.
Then on Sunday, President Donald Trump threatened to shut down the border with Mexico, even though it would disrupt $1.7 billion worth of supplies and services that annually cross the border. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen ordered CPB to implement “emergency surge operations” and to bring on an additional 750 officers.
Trump also said on Saturday he’d withdraw $500 million a year in aid to Central America, although only Congress has the authority to eliminate budget items. That aid goes to support police, education and infrastructure, without which, some argue, even more people will pick up and move.
Miller said the migration problem is too complicated and is becoming too entrenched for an easy answer. But the ramp-up of a military response is designed to fail; people will keep coming and conflict will increase because the root causes are not addressed, Miller said.
“I would not be doing what is going on now. There has to be a more welcoming spirit and an understanding that these people are not criminals,” Miller said. “When history looks back on these days, it’s not going to look at them well.”
The lecture starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the University Center Theater on the University of Montana campus.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.