By Jacob Foote
Within the United States there has been a current of debate over whether or not climate change is in fact a real phenomena. This debate pervades not only working class families, but occupies the very heads of the U.S. government as well. At the borders, however, it appears as if the country is preparing for war.
For the most part, the issues of climate change and immigration have remained distinct over the years. It is only recently that people have seen the two beginning to coincide.
Todd Miller, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security among other works, visited Niagara University’s campus on Nov. 2 to discuss this collision and how countries have responded. Unfortunately for the people suffering from the forces of nature, it is not with open arms. Through extensive research that has taken him from Mexico to the Philippines, Miller paints a grim picture of how border militarization has increased, and how it will continue to increase during the 21st century as problems exacerbate.
While traveling along Mexico’s southern border in 2015, Miller met an 18-year-old refugee hiding from a military truck decked with soldiers that rolled by. The young man was from Honduras, where the lack of rain heavily affected over 1 million people in the country.
As Miller put it, “the seasons are becoming scrambled.” These climate shocks – seen in such phenomena as the excess of rain and its complete absence – “[have] increased to the present moment, and [are] prone to increase in the future.”
The fact that 97% of the scientific community agrees with Miller, that things will only get worse if things stay the same, is worrisome. This worry is only magnified when one takes into account how much migration climate change is going to affect. The U.N. holds that 250 million people will be displaced by 2050, while other estimates project up to 1 billion people.
“What we’re going to see is going to be staggering and unprecedented in the history of humankind,” said Miller.
So what exactly are nations doing about this problem? In fact, very little, though only if one is looking at activities directly targeting climate change. Regarding symptoms of the problem, on the other hand, countries are becoming disturbingly prepared.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 15 border walls in the world. Today there are 70, and they are far more advanced – and, in turn, expensive – than their predecessors.
As Miller put it, border security is a booming market. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and police forces have shown an immense growth in their budgets and scale. With this increase in demand, supply has naturally increased. “A lot of companies are getting contracts to construct border infrastructure,” Miller said.
The Israeli owned company Elbit Systems, for instance, currently has a $1 billion contract with the United States involving the construction of security towers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“[The border is] almost treated as a defacto war zone,” said Miller.
So why is it that nations are treating those that are presently affected and those that are going to be affected by climate change as enemies rather than people in need of aid? After all, while environmental pressures have been encouraging the movement of people for years, neither the U.N. or any independent nation has yet established an official status for people to declare as climate refugees.
The reason is fundamentally economic. There are restoration programs known to counteract the effects of climate change, though they receive far less funding than institutions involved with border security. There is more money to be made in the short term in national security than in solving environmental issues, so it should come as no surprise that the market directs industries to build up nation’s borders.
While a proper approach would need to fully develop its intricacies, Miller agreed that any solution should begin by recognizing the necessity to obstruct these market impulses. In their place, resources should be managed and allocated by a system of command not unlike the U.S. government in power and scope.
Whereas presently the state has been run to the benefit of corporations in their drive for profit, in pursuing solutions for climate issues the state must restrict corporations and organize on the basis of social needs. Indeed, it seems only by organizing on a global level for the benefit of all people that calamities on the scale of climate change could be all but eliminated.