Humans on the move: why migration and immigration are ecological issues

Posted October 28th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Humans on the move: why migration and immigration are ecological issues

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Have you seen the scenes from Bangkok? This is a shattering event for one of the world’s major urban areas. [Video link]

I can’t say this one unique event is due to global warming, yet, something inside tells us what we already know or intuit – these rain events around the globe, right alongside unprecedented drought and drying in other vast areas (Mexico, the US Southwest, land areas around the Mediterranean Sea, parts of China, Siberia, etc.) are announcing to us the magnitude of the climate changes underway as the atmosphere becomes increasingly unstable due to global warming.

This is a city of 9 million people, and they are being told to leave as a heart-stopping deluge of water surges towards a city already facing some of the worst flooding ever. Human interference with the flow of water – dams, channels, levees – are adding to the catastrophe. Forecasts this weekend call for higher-than-normal tides. High tides meet the descending deluge. What will be left of their homes and livelihoods when the waters recede?

Once again, humans on the move because of extreme weather events.

This disaster unfolds amidst the news that one of these days – Monday, says the UN – we will have reached 7 billion humans living in the planet, a mere 4.5b additional human beings since I was born.

Seven billion humans being with voracious appetites for energy – energy needed to grow and ship food, energy to drive water systems, energy to keep factories churning out goods and shipping them around the world, energy to keep the lights on, to build buildings, roads, airports, energy to fly the planes and keep the railroads running, energy to watch TV, recharge our smart phone batteries, operate the towers that keep our communications communicating, energy for me to write this post, energy to keep warm this winter and cool next summer, energy to tear up earth in search for more energy to fuel more growth and to meet the demands not only of the 7 billion  but the 2-3 billion more who will be with us mid-century.

And one result of this absurb, unsustainable, impossible growth in energy demand is an atmosphere which chemical make-up has been altered by the greenhouse gas emissions that we continue to spew into it.

And so also the rise in these human disasters – dislocated, uprooted human beings by the millions, and the numbers continue to grow. More disasters and a bigger and bigger population to be devastated by them – a troubling confluence of planetary pressures.

"Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010." Source: NOAA

As climate changes, some areas that have supported human populations will be less able to do so. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released a report showing that human-caused climate change is a major factor in the increasing winter droughts in the area around the Mediterranean.  As NOAA sums it up:

“The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone,” said Martin Hoerling, Ph.D. of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., lead author of a paper published online in the Journal of Climate this month. “This is not encouraging news for a region that already experiences water stress, because it implies natural variability alone is unlikely to return the region’s climate to normal.”

…The Mediterranean has long been identified as a “hot spot” for substantial impact from climate change in the latter decades of this century because of water scarcity in the region, a rapidly increasing population, and climate modeling that projects increased risk of drought.

More people will be on the move as water sources diminish and agriculture undergoes severe stresses.

In his disturbing book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, Christian Parenti focuses on how climate change will exacerbate economic and political instabilities across the tropical part of the world as cycles of flooding and drought tear away at the fragile fabric of many already poor, already unstable nations.  In his chapter, “American Walls and Demagogues,” he cites estimates in Britain’s 2006 Stern Review that somewhere between 250 million and a billion people will be on the move by 2050 because of climate change. And in his chapter on Mexico, he examines how expanding drought in northern sections of the country, and increased flooding in other sections, are forcing more and more people off their lands and villages because they can no longer feed themselves.

A recent study found that for every 10 percent decrease in crop yields, 2 percent more Mexicans will leave for the United States. The same study projects that 10 percent of the current population of Mexicans aged fifteen to sixty-five could attempt to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures (pg. 181)

This is the world we are making – because we simply are unable to respond to this reality. Our financial, economic, political, cultural drivers are rushing us headlong into this crisis, clearly lacking the resilience needed for us to quickly move in a different direction.

So how is our culture responding to this movement of people? Here’s one current notorious example: in Alabama, the state is doing everything it can to rid itself of people who are here without documents. [more] They are not even worthy of back-breaking work in the fields that good upstanding US Americans do not want to do and are not apparently able to do! Meanwhile, reputed Repub candidate Herman Cain is making jokes (or not) about electrifying the border fence with threats of death for any would-be migrants trying to get across the US-Mexico border. Ha ha! that’s very funny!

But the main reason I write about this today has to do with the question I pose in the last chapter of my book, Living Beyond the End of the World (see sidebar).

What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis? Our industrial society which in one way has given us so much, at least those of us who have been able to take pretty much for granted things like food to eat, a roof over our heads, an income, a cell phone, a plasma screen, a computer, vacations, you know, all that stuff, have been part of a civilization heading deeper into crisis because it’s underpinnings, depending so completely on growth, are now, and have been for a long time, completely unsustainable. The impacts long predicted – at least since the 1960s – are now playing themselves out in ways also predicted.

And what are we going to do about this? How are we going to be? What moral principles, what ethical principles, are going to shape the decisions we make from here on out?

I have probably said it a thousand times by now: if we are not able to open up a bottomless well of compassion from deep within us and deep within human cultures, we are headed for a very ugly human future. This journey, in order for it to come out well, has no place for bigotry, racism, white superiority, cultural superiority, laws of exclusion and meanness. The healing of the planet requires a human solidarity that breaks down those walls and operates out of a deep sense of our bonds with one another and the precious ecosystems of our planet.

And that’s why migration and immigration are also urgent ecological challenges. How we address them will say everything about what kind of human beings we really are.





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