On Climate Change and Migrants, the Fierce Urgency of Now

As David Atkins noted over the weekend, the Trump administration’s attempt to hide a damning report on climate change by releasing it on the Friday after Thanksgiving backfired spectacularly. In retrospect, it’s clear the president was worried about the report because he tweeted this two days before it was released.

On Monday, Trump tried to have it both ways by saying that he didn’t believe the report, but is all in favor of clean air and water.

The problem, of course, is that a president who continues to believe that climate change is a hoax (see first tweet above), isn’t going to do anything about ensuring clean air and water.

In what might seem to be totally unrelated news, Trump is once again obsessively tweeting about the migrants on our southern border. For example:

In the meantime, the administration is attempting to close the border, while teargassing parents and their children.

You might wonder why I’m addressing these two stories that seemingly have no connection to each other. It is because former Secretary of State John Kerry recently voiced what has been rolling around in the back of my mind for months now.

In the discussion with the Observer’s chief political commentator, Andrew Rawnsley, Kerry said: “We are heading for catastrophe unless we respond to some life-threatening challenges very rapidly. We have a climate-denying president that pulls us out of the the Paris climate change agreement at a time when literally every day matters.

“Europe is already crushed under this transformation that is taking place due to migration. In Germany Angela Merkel is weakened. Italian politics is significantly impacted.

“Well, imagine what happens if water dries up and you cannot produce food in northern Africa. Imagine what happens if Nigeria hits its alleged 500 million people by the middle of the century … you are going to have hordes of people in the northern part of the Mediterranean knocking on the door. I am telling you. If you don’t believe me, just go read the literature.”

That literature he’s referring to probably includes a report from the World Bank.

Climate change will transform more than 143 million people into “climate migrants” escaping crop failure, water scarcity, and sea-level rise, a new World Bank report concludes.

Most of this population shift will take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—three “hot spots” that represent 55 percent of the developing world’s populations.

This worst-case scenario is part of a ground-breaking study focused on the impacts of slow-onset climate, as opposed to more visibly dramatic events such as extreme storms and flooding.

So in addition to the kinds of problems identified in the administration’s most recent report, the world could soon be looking at 143 million climate migrants, at a time when nationalists all over the globe are engaged in fear mongering about “those people” invading our lands from across the border.

That is why Trump’s rejection of any efforts to mitigate climate change, combined with his xenophobia about migrants is so dangerous. It could turn what will certainly be a major crisis into a global catastrophe.

I am usually the opposite of a chicken little and often take an optimistic view of the future, even when it might not be warranted. But these facts have me plenty worried, and we don’t have a lot of time to get ready for what is coming. I hope Rev. Martin Luther King would not mind if I borrow his words, which feel so appropriate for our times.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .