President Trump’s climate policies will create dozens of failed states south of the U.S. border and around the world. They would lead to hundreds of millions of refugees and more authoritarian demagogues like Trump himself.
Trump’s pro-pollution policies would assure that a tremendous number of people become veterans of one of the ever-growing number of climate-related conflicts.
Trump has led the most anti-climate and anti-clean energy administration in U.S. history. He has gutted Obama-era clean air rules, appointed climate science deniers to key posts, and slashed the budgets for renewable energy development.
And just last week, Trump began to formally withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Agreement. Abandoning the deal makes the U.S. a pariah nation hell-bent on destroying a livable climate for billions.
Earlier this year, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) said in a major report that drought in Central America has helped spur refugees to our southern border. But, as the GAO also warned, the Trump administration has stopped efforts by the State Department, begun under President Obama, that were aimed at addressing the nexus between climate change and migration.
Tragically, warming-worsened droughts, floods, and sea-level rise around the world will drive tens of millions from their homes in the coming years and decades. That humanitarian disaster will dwarf the Syrian refugee crisis, which itself was spurred in part by a record mega-drought that hit the region from 2005 to 2010.
The “most widely cited estimate” for climate change induced migration by 2050 is 200 million people, according to the International Organization on Migration.
The Pentagon itself made the climate/security link explicit in a 2014 report warning that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” has impacts that can “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” and will probably lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources.”
The world’s leading scientists and governments came to the same conclusion after reviewing the scientific literature. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2014 that climate change will “prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and intergroup violence.”
The impact on refugees to our southern border will be huge. In an appendix, “Regional Focus on Climate Change as a Driver of Global Migration,” the GAO reviews the science of climate impacts for every region of the world, including Central America.
“The effects of climate change on Central America and the Caribbean may increase migration and exacerbate poverty rates, as the National Intelligence Council has reported,” the GAO explains. “The climate in Central America and the Caribbean is predicted to be warmer and dryer.”
How dry would the climate be? The report doesn’t go into such details, but here’s a 2015 NASA projection of what the normal climate would be by century’s end. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to that seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl.
This is a business-as-usual emissions path, which is where President Donald Trump’s policies to block or roll back domestic and global climate action would take us. Trump’s policies would create countless failed states at America’s doorstep.
The GAO notes that “The Caribbean’s extensive coastlines and low-lying areas are vulnerable to sea level rise and an increase in sudden-onset disasters, including hurricanes and storm surges.”
Yet, under Trump’s policies, we’re facing sea level rise of several feet in the coming decades.
The result of all of this will be that millions of people from Mexico and Central America — Mexico alone is projected to have a population of 150 million by mid-century – will be trying to find a place to live that isn’t a hot and dry Dust Bowl, that has enough fresh water and food to go around, and that isn’t flooded. They aren’t going to be looking south.
A couple million Syrian refugees have turned global politics upside-down in recent years. What happens when that is multiplied 10-fold? Or 50-fold?
This isn’t some distant concern. Recent research links many current refugees to the United States’ southern border directly to drought in the Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras region.
“Drought is a particular concern in Central America, where declines in rainfall have reduced crop yields and threatened livelihoods in recent years,” the GAO notes. “Some evidence shows that drought in parts of Central America has contributed to migration north, including to the United States.”
The bottom line is clear: The worse climate change is the more refugees the United States will see, but Trump is not only pushing policies that will make climate change worse, he wants to stop federal agencies from even thinking about and planning for climate refugees.
Unchecked climate change will mean hundreds of millions of refugees and immigrants.
If authoritarianism and disunity was worsened across Europe and in this country from “only” a million Syrian refugees, imagine what happens when the world tries to deal with more than a hundred times that many climate refugees in the coming decades. The Dust-Bowlification of one third of the world’s inhabited land — together with the inundation of rich agricultural deltas and coastal cities — will lead to hundreds of millions of people having to leave their homes.
Tragically, Donald Trump combines xenophobia with a vow to be the world’s primary obstacle to preserving a livable climate for our southern neighbors. It’s like we would be setting fire to our neighbor’s house and farm — and then blocking efforts by the fire department to put the fire out AND at the same time condemning any notion that we have an obligation to house and feed them.
Trump would be creating the perfect conditions for failed states and violence in North America.
A world where President Trump succeeds in thwarting or reversing climate action is a world with dozens of Syrias and Darfurs and Pakistani mega-floods, a world with hundreds of millions of climate refugees in the coming decades, all clamoring to move to places that aren’t flooded or Dust-Bowlified, including parts of the United States.
It would be a world where everyone eventually becomes a veteran, a refugee, or a casualty of war. That’s something worth remembering this Veteran’s Day.