In his opening remarks to the security panel at the April 22 Leaders Summit on Climate, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated:
“Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. ... (R)ising temperatures and more frequent and intense extreme weather events in Africa and Central America threaten millions with drought, hunger, and displacement. As families risk their lives in search of safety and security, mass migration leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization, all of which undermine stability.”
Iraqi Defense Minister Jumaa Enad, a member of the security panel, explained how climate impacts endanger his nation. He asserted that higher temperatures and water scarcity force many Iraqis to leave their agricultural lands and has led to spikes in youth unemployment, which drive them toward violence and terrorism. According to Enad: “Citizens who lack the economic opportunities remain easy prey for Daesh (Islamic State).”
Closer to home, in Central America, warming oceans are damaging coral reefs and fisheries while severe drought is causing families to abandon their farms. To quote climate scientist Edwin Castellanos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala: “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave. But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors.”
Many of the consequences of our carbon dioxide emissions were foreseen. In a 1977 presentation to Exxon management on the greenhouse effect, company science advisor J.F. Black warned that warming the planet would be likely to affect the distribution of the world’s rainfall. According to Black, “Some countries would benefit, but others could have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed.”
And in a 2012 interview, then Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson claimed: “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around—we’ll adapt to that.”
However, when people leave a place that global warming is rendering uninhabitable, moving is their adaptation. Yet desperate migrants are often demonized for this.
In light of partisan differences on the need to include climate provisions in the infrastructure bill, and with high profile visits to the southern border, the United States stands at a crossroads. As the greatest cumulative emitter, what role will our nation play in helping to heal our increasingly hotter and inhospitable world?
Let’s heed the closing words of Defense Secretary Austin: “(N)one of us can tackle this problem alone. We share this planet, and shared threats demand shared solutions.”