The Surprising Link Between Climate Change and Immigration

Fiona Irving-Beck , News Editor

Our government has just gone through the longest shutdown in American history over the issue of erecting a wall to prevent illegal immigration. In response, Democrats offered money for more border security in lieu of a wall. Meanwhile, in Britain, the Brexit crisis demonstrates a desire on the part of many British citizens to control borders. Across Europe, anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise. The rhetoric of every side focuses on how their own nations are impacted negatively or positively by increasing levels of immigration.

However, these perspectives are blinkered because they don’t take into account the clear correlation between global climate change and the flow of refugees. The number of worldwide asylum seekers rose to 3.1 million by end of 2017 (as reported by the UN). Many of these cases are caused by war and conflict, but others have different sources. Statistics prove that rising temperatures on a global scale correlates with an increase in immigration. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced because of climate change since 2008. When weather conditions lead to crop failures, the ensuing lack of work and food causes economic distress, so abandonment of one’s home country is necessary to survive. Immigration is expected to triple to Europe as a result of climate issues (as reported by The Guardian).

In the recent example of the migrant caravan that was detained at the border at the order of Trump, the climate was a contributing, though often ignored, reason for leaving. Robert Albro, a researcher at American University says about the event, “The focus on violence [wars in their home country] is eclipsing the big picture – which is that people are saying they are moving because of some version of food insecurity.” He continues, “This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.”

Every side of the debate is ignoring the fact that developed nations are the prime cause of climate change, and these warming global temperatures drive people out of their homes. Developing countries are subject to climate change’s worst effects. In this context, it is convenient to ignore that our own consumerism is contributing to climate change and hence leads to increased levels of immigration. We need to take accountability for our adverse effect on the refugee crisis, in order to have a more responsible and fair discussion of border security and immigration.

Debates with a narrow view of immigration that do not include global patterns such as climate change limit the conversation. Because immigration caused by climate change is only going to increase in future years, it is all the more important to acknowledge our own responsibility as developed nations in contributing to the refugee crisis.