More Climate Change Refugees Means More Walls

Yves here. We’ve pointed out that since the early 2000s, Defense Department analyses have been anticipating climate-change-induced mass migrations. As this post describes, they are happening at at an accelerating pace.

By Todd Miller, who has written on border and immigration issues for the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, and the NACLA Report on the Americas. His new book, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (City Lights Books), has just been published. You can follow him on Twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at Originally published at TomDispatch

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington’s pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a “much greater occurrence of very dry seasons” lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than 76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which “the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.”

Talking with those farmers in the Tenosique train yard felt, in a way, like a scene from a sequel to the movie The Road in which a father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by an unknown cataclysm. In reality, though, I was just in a typical border zone of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geologic era characterized by human activity as the dominant force on the climate and environment.  And these young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests are now facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer for such victims of climate change: expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, guns, and incarceration centers.

As they keep heading north, they will have to be on guard against ever more army and police patrols, while enduring hunger and thirst as well as painful separations from their families. They will have to evade endless roadside checkpoints, which Fray Tomás Tómas González Castillo, director of a nearby shelter for migrants in Tenosique, told me were almost “impossible” to avoid, at a time when, he noted, “organized crime” controlled the trains.

Such a predicament is hardly unique to the Mexico-Guatemalan border region or even the U.S.-Mexican version of the same. Think of the maritime divide between North Africa and the European Union or the Jordanian border where patrols now reportedly shoot at “anything that moves” coming from Syria — or so a Jordanian official who prefers to remain anonymous told me. And Syria was just one of the places where the ever-increasing impacts of climate change, migration, and tightly enforced border zones intersected. 

Now, homeland security regimes are increasingly unleashing their wrath on the world’s growing numbers of displaced people, sharpening the divide between the secure and the dispossessed. Whether in Mexico or on the Mediterranean Sea, as ever more human beings find themselves uprooted from their homes and desperate, such dynamics will only intensify in the decades to come. In the process, the geopolitics and potentially the very geography of the globe will be reshaped.  It’s not just Donald Trump.  Everywhere on Planet Earth, we seem to be entering the era of the wall.

The Displaced

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the “impact and threat of climate-related hazards” displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. The growing impact of the Anthropocene — of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms — is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a “refugee crisis.”

“Catastrophic convergence” is the term sociologist Christian Parenti uses to describe this twenty-first-century turmoil, since many of these factors combine to displace staggering numbers of people.  As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, “The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change.”

Though the numbers are often debated, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. In reporting on how climate change is already affecting Mexico City, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Times, cited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million — and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

“Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain,” wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, “the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before.”  And here’s the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared.  There isn’t even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand’s “special refugee visas” for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.  

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them.  Most climate-displaced people travelling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change.  (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world’s emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)

A Booming Market in Walls

I have no idea what happened to those three farmers after our brief meeting in Tenosique. I did, however, think of them again a couple of months later when I was 1,000 miles to the north. Under a mesquite tree in northern Mexico, there was a lonely plastic bottle with a few droplets of water still in it. Somebody had left it as they crossed into the United States.

I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the U.S.-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower’s cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the U.S. border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region — and most of this preceded Donald Trump’s election victory — has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would — not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his “big, fat, beautiful wall”), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti’s “catastrophic convergence” of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you’re talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such “walls,” often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new “smart border” with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones. “It appears that we’ve entered a new arms race,” writes Currion, “one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].”

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion).  And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

Climate Change as a National Security Threat (and Bonanza)

Don’t just take my word for it when it comes to predictions about this planet’s increasingly bordered future. Consider the forecasts of the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the first crude assessments of such a walled-in world appeared in a 2003 Pentagon-commissioned report, An Abrupt Climate Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, and it already had a distinctly Trumpian ring to it:

“The United States and Australia are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries because they have the resources and reserves to achieve self-sufficiency… Borders will be strengthened around [the United States] to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.”

That identification of the Caribbean as “an especially severe problem” almost a decade and a half ago was prescient indeed in this year of super-storms Irma and Maria that left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in shambles and the island of Barbuda “extinguished.”

While the Trump administration is scrubbing government websites and policies clean of climate change, other parts of the government are still in the business of preparing for it, big time, rather than denying its existence. At both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, global warming is seen as a “threat multiplier” that must be factored into any long-term planning — and that should surprise no one.  After all, the future time frame of a national security planner can be as much as 30 years. It sometimes takes that long for a major weapons system to go “from the drawing board to the battlefield,” according to former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, editor of Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, a 2008 report coordinated by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike the president and the present heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, U.S. military and homeland security risk assessors aren’t likely to deny the 97% consensus of scientists on climate change. In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the “sheer numbers of potentially displaced people” are prospectively “staggering.” In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that “border problems” would overwhelm U.S. capabilities “beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then.”

In 2009, the Obama administration declared climate change a top national security threat. This prompted both the Pentagon and the DHS to prepare climate-change adaptation “roadmaps” and action plans. In 2014, the DHS added climate change as a top threat to its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, its main public mission document. During a 2015 congressional hearing, Thomas Smith, one of that review’s authors, testified that climate change was “a major area of homeland security risk,” and that “more frequent severe droughts and tropical storms, especially in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, could increase population movements, both legal and illegal, toward or across the U.S. border.”

In other words, you don’t have to turn to climate-change activists and experts like Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein to understand why those Central American droughts are getting worse and why those three Honduran men were in that train yard. All of this was predicted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Those in the DHS, like those in the Pentagon, grasp what’s coming and they’re going to meet it with what they know how to do best, what Donald Trump himself would approve of if he weren’t ignoring the potentially most devastating phenomenon on this planet: hardened enforced borders, big brother biometrics, and high tech surveillance systems. In other words, they will face the victims of climate change with a man-made dystopia.

The Alternative Border Wall

Now, remember that water bottle under the mesquite tree near the U.S.-Mexico border?  I came across it while being taken on a tour by Juan Manuel Pérez, the project manager of Cuenca Los Ojos, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of biological diversity along those same borderlands. I was there to see a water-harvesting project. But first, Pérez took me to a spot where a portion of a barrier wall the CBP had once built across this part of the border lay wrecked like some ancient archeological ruin.  It had been swept into Mexican territory in 2014 by a deluge of water, as the remnants of Hurricane Odile lashed the washes of the Chiricahua Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Now, planet Earth was devouring the carcass of that former wall, those hundreds of pounds of metal. Three years after it was deposited here, that wall fragment was already partially covered with soil. Purple flowers sprouted from its crevasses.  When I got close enough, I could see spiders hanging from their webs on it. If the rest of that $20 billion in border infrastructure were left alone, in the end this is what would happen to it. This is how the earth would welcome it back.

From there, I could see where DHS had built a new barrier to replace the destroyed one. Near it, that same border patrol vehicle was idling and that same surveillance tower stuck up in the distance, all part of a desperate attempt to keep that “catastrophic convergence” at bay, to keep the world of such hurricanes and the climate-change displaced who will go with it, from the United States.

Nearby, I also saw what Pérez told me were gabions — steel cages filled with rocks embedded in the nearby streambed on the Mexican side of the border. They were there, he explained to me, to slow down the rushing rainwaters during the summer monsoon season so the soil could drink them in and be replenished. Remarkably, they had done their job. In this parched territory, in the middle of a 15-year drought, the water table had risen 30 feet.

It was, I said, a miracle.

Native grasses were growing back, as were the desert willows. The rising water, no respecter of borders or border patrols, had similarly begun to replenish the aquifers on the Arizona side and water was appearing in places that hadn’t seen anything like this before. Mind you, national security assessments stress that in Mexico and Central America water scarcity issues will be a factor driving climate breakdowns and increased migration. That was certainly the case for those three Honduran farmers.

Here, however, those gabions, embedded in the dry river, were bringing water back to places where it had become scarce. Remarkably, from my vantage point in that border landscape, the cages of rocks began to look like parts of some intricately carved stonewall. It was a strange illusion and it made me think that in a world of the grimmest sorts of walls meant to turn back everyone and offer greetings to no one, perhaps this was the real “border wall” that people needed, that planet earth needed, something that welcomed us to a better, not a desperately worse world.

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  1. Loneprotester

    So, as I read this article I thought to myself, “this guy is way more committed to proving that climate change is real and that everyone needs to be able to come to the US ‘life raft’ than he is to asking some simple questions. Like: why are Honduran farmers still operating like it is the 16th century? Have they never heard of irrigation? Are there not practical matters we could do to address their problems, rather than all but encouraging them to give up and head north with no skills and just the shirt on their backs?”

    This is the problem with social justice commentary and the “scholarship” with which it is intimately connected. It is committed to an ideal, but it is divorced from the commitment to making people’s lives better through (yes) science which we used to believe in. Why? Because we don’t like the industries with which THAT idea are associated: the Monsantos and “big ag” companies that actually feed and clothe us, despite our weeping and gnashing of teeth over the environment.

    If we do not ask the right questions (what is going wrong in Honduras? is there something we can do to help?) we cannot hope to get the “right” answers. It may “feel” good to chalk it all up to “climate change” and to call those who are affected by it “refugees” (who, by implication, cannot be left out in the cold) but it does not solve anyone’s real problems.

    I’m appalled by what we have become: facile thinkers easily led to false conclusions by manipulative writers.

    1. Fiery Hunt

      Interesting point…
      20 years ago in was going to school in Alaska. Was blown away by the attitude toward the natural world. Log it, hunt it, drill it, beat it into submission. When I asked about these backwards attitudes (or so it seemed to this CA boy), the response I got was “You people screwed up the environment in the lower 48, leave us alone to do what we want.”

      The fact that they were following our history of befouling their beloved environment didnt seem to register.

      Does avocation of adoption of the very systems that are creating catastrophic climate change seem like a solution to catastrophic climate change?

      Monsanto? Really?

    2. pretzelattack

      there was no rain. where are they going to get money to irrigate from? the answer is getting off fossil fuels onto renewables; it has nothing to do with “feeling good”, it is the long term answer to mitigating the mass migrations and other disruptions that will occur otherwise. monsanto isn’t going to do anything to solve our problems.

      1. mcneal

        Exactly. Loneprotester either doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe that the changes that are coming will be profound beyond anything he’s considering or he wouldn’t propose “irrigation” as a solution.

        Further, the drought happening now in Central America is profound. I was unaware. Check this out:

        We’re facing a calamity.

    3. jrs

      Much of the U.S. is NOT a life raft from climate change, the whole southwest isn’t at the very least and in Florida they build on flood plains. The whole of southern California is burning right now, no it’s still not Syria. But still much of the U.S. is not a life raft. Maybe Canada could be?

      1. Wukchumni

        There’ll be winners & losers in the climate change game in the USA, but it’s too soon to tell. I’d go with the most godforsaken area currently, and in California, that means Trona.

      2. Lee

        They don’t want us unless you’ve got a rare skill or have a couple of million you’re willing to invest in a Canadian enterprise. Being in the upper reaches of the second highest quintile in terms of income and wealth, I could not make the cut. Our own northern borders might be ok but they’ll probably get too crowded. I’m planning on making a living poaching bison from Ted Turner’s private herd. But don’t tell anyone.

      3. False Solace

        Based on predictions I’ve seen, the entire Great Plains is going to become a massive permanent dust bowl as temps rise and the aquifers are pumped dry.

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      Climate Disruption is too horrible to believe … as are too many of the difficult truths we must face in the near future. It’s much easier to believe in “false conclusions by manipulative writers”, It’s much easier to believe science will find the answer.

      I have trouble agreeing with your assessment of this post as social justice commentary. I read it as an outline of just one of the terrible and growing problems we face. It seemed clear the author has a social-justice ax to grind but most all of the post avoided blatant grinding of that ax in favor of describing the existing situation and the trends predicted by documents produced by our own vaunted DoD and Homeland Security. I won’t deny both DoD and Homeland Security have their own procurement axes to grind in those documents. But neither DoD nor Homeland Security can be accurately characterized as devoted to social justice commentary or any form of tree-hugging.

      Do beware the beginning of your diatribe sounds echoes of a Dickens character in an old story greatly overexposed in this joyous season of frenzied consumption. Also you might be aware that ancestors of the Honduran farmers and of course their many related peoples and cultures invented much of the agricultural bounty we rely upon today. And ask a farmer in Yuma, AZ how best to irrigate lettuce without water rights and access to the canal.

    5. nonclasical

      “facile thinkers”…hmmnn…some appear having forgotten, as George HW Bush defined for “W” and cheney, de-posing Saddam would de-stabilize entire Middle-East, perpetrating “refugees” = majorities we witness…but of course we can’t talk about that…can we? So instead…

  2. Jack Lifton

    In 2007 i was asked to join a meeting in the Pentagon to discuss the causes of future armed conflicts. The resulting number one choice was “access to potable water” and the most likely ignition point was considered to be dams along the Euphrates. This was considered most likely by the (4 star) Generals present to bring about war among the Turks, the Kurds, the Iraqis and the Syrians. Grafting on “global warming” to this analysis is meaningless. Competition for the water of the Euphrates has been around for thousands of years. Global warming is simply a logical fallacy, post hoc propter hoc, of our scientifically illiterate age.

    1. JCC

      Out of curiosity, how does the grafting of post hoc, ergo sum Global Warming to the analysis of the Euphrates dams explain water Central America and Mexico? Or wasn’t that discussed during the Pentagon meeting?

      1. ambrit

        Archaeologists are now pretty certain that a massive drought around 900AD caused the collapse of the Mayan culture in Central America. So, this kind of event has precedent. Why are we so special as to escape our fates?
        The causes of regional climate changes can indeed be anthropological. Now, however, we are facing not a regional event, but a global one.
        ‘It’s a small world after all.’ (Irony alert. That song was written for a Disney ride.)

  3. The Rev Kev

    This whole business of both the US and Australia pulling up the draw bridges in case things go to hell is as mentioned in that Pentagon report is nothing more that a survivalist fantasy writ large. It doesn’t spell it out but it would also mean both countries machine-gunning boats of refugees trying to get to landfall. Australia alone has over 25,000 kilometers of coastline to defend. How the hell could we possibly cope with a few million climate refuges successfully? I read a similar report from the Pentagon in which it also said that elites from places like Europe would flee to the US and bring all their wealth with them which struck me as a bizarre fantasy. Sort of like leave the plebs to die but save the important people. In any case, the claim that the US would escape the worst effects of climate change I find to be very dubious. It is only early days but look at the constant fierce fires in Californians as a preview.
    Look, I don’t care if that wall on the southern border was built by the Maginot Concrete Corporation or the seaside defenses built by Canute Industries. You cannot keep out a desperate people. Remember when the Israelis had the Gazans on a semi-starvation diet and feeling pretty smug about it? And then Hamas blew 15 holes in the Gaza wall allowing several hundred thousand Gazans to enter Egypt to buy food and supplies back in 2008? Now imagine that you have a few million people trying to get to the US but forget the common idea of land peasants here. Imagine tens of thousands of men and women from several countries militaries with them and carrying all the armaments from overrun weapons depots. People who know their business and are professionals. Now imagine a coordinated attack along hundreds of miles of border walls using missiles and RPGs with Manpadds protecting the forces from aviation. Long range missiles taking out bases to the rear of the wall as well as storage depots. Remember, several Patriot missiles failed to down a 1960s era Scud missile in Saudi Arabia just last week so don’t put your hope in them to stop those missiles.
    No, the only realistic way is to help South American countries drought-proof their countries but I know that that will never happen as there is no profit in it nor could modern corporations be trusted to do the job right.

    1. Wukchumni

      I remember reading the WSJ in the late 80’s, and there was a story about a Mexican doctor that crossed the border to pick crops, as the problem wasn’t water, but hyperinflation which forced so many Mexicans to seek a living here, when their money was worth nothing @ home.

    2. ambrit

      I agree with your assessment, but, sorry, I predict thunderstorms for parade day.
      Gregory Benford, Professor and science fiction author wrote a very chilling tale about one way the North could address the climate change problems. It is pretty grim, but, knowing the elites as we do, very probable.
      (Don’t worry, it is claimed to be free content by the rightsholders.)

    3. Lee

      … the only realistic way is to help South American countries drought-proof their countries but I know that that will never happen as there is no profit in it nor could modern corporations be trusted to do the job right.

      Without birth control, increasing food supply will just kick the Malthusian can down the road, in spite of Boserupian optimism; Monsanto will not save us, nor will Elon Musk be introducing agriculture on Mars any time soon.

      The trick would be to raise basic economic well being locally where possible as well as increasing the educational levels, particularly of women, simultaneously and rapidly. Alas, birth control and educating women is encountering widespread, at times armed cultural resistance.

      As of now it is primarily the “lower” orders of our socioeconomic hierarchy who are paying the price for illegal immigration. Their demands for an immigration policy that does not undercut hard won working class gains and protections, I feel are just. Whether this is accomplished by a wall or by other means, is fine with me.

      1. Joel

        @Lee, birth rates in Latin America have been plummeting steadily for decades. Birth control use, years of education, age at marriage, and similar indicators have also increased in almost every country in the hemisphere.

        Unfortunately, what have also increased are drug money and illegal smuggled guns from the US, prices for food and medicines because of “trade deals,” along with climate change, hence the people fleeing from Central America in particular.

        But go ahead, blame the victims. That attitude, not facts, is the essence of conservatism.

        1. JBird

          But go ahead, blame the victims. That attitude, not facts, is the essence of conservatism.

          As a dues paying Socialist I have to ask how any of this is the essence of conservatism? Victim blaming, and willful ignorance of facts are common across the political and social spectrum. Plenty of liberals, leftists, reformers, and progressives supported eugenics, or denied Stalin’s numerous atrocities including the Ukrainian Holodomor, and the Gulag. And then there is the Democratic Party, particularly its leadership, that denies all facts and reason by still supporting neo-liberalism.

    4. nonclassical

      uhhh…last winter wife was in Berlin (where she is from) when terrorist struck X-mas market, Kurfurstendamm…

      While she was shocked, intending visit next day, we agreed we are proud of German attempt to be part of solution for problem bush-cheney-U.S. fabrications perpetrated…

      (which is potential reason for discussion = diversion of “climate change refugees in first place)..

      (meanwhile obama gets peace prize for doing nothing at all regarding – in fact, continuing)…

  4. Loneprotester

    For clarification, I am not an agronomist. However, I have the power of Google and a functioning brain. After 3 minutes of investigation “agriculture” and “Honduras” I found the following document from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization, a branch of the UN):

    “Honduras is well endowed with agricultural land, forest and marine resources. Its territory of about 11.2 million hectares is mostly covered by forested mountains. Arable land is estimated at 1.8 million hectares, and pastures extend over 2.5 million hectares (World Bank, 2001). Irrigation is relatively undeveloped, and it is estimated that only 15 percent of the irrigable land has been developed in that form. Honduras is the second country in the region in terms of arable land with respect to its population, at about 0.28 ha per capita. It has productive fishing grounds in two oceans and coastal resources that have made Honduras the second largest exporter of shrimp in Latin America.”

    Honduras is a very poorly governed country and its people suffer as a direct result of that, not necessarily as a result of global climate change. I realize that ruins a lot of people’s wetdreams about the end of the world and how evil capitalism is all to blame for everything, but that’s just a fact. Help Hondurans fix their political, social, and capital improvement crises, and they will not need to come to the US at all. Tell me I am wrong and that I am racist or work for EvilCorp. Go ahead. This is not rocket science.

    1. pretzelattack

      the droughts are getting worse. this affects arable land, and how productive it is. every major science organization supports the science behind climate change. that’s what makes you wrong. i have no idea where you work, or whether you are racist or not, and that isn’t germane.

      1. Loneprotester

        Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. I never said there is no evidence of climate change. What I am saying is that regardless of whether or not there are more frequent or more severe droughts in Central America, the fact remains that there is ample room for VAST improvement in farming practices, yields, and transportation to open markets. I don’t think this is arguable. In fact, a cursory ADDITIONAL google search yielded evidence that COP funding is going to the country as we speak for these very purposes. Hooray! I hope it is very successful. What I am sick to death of is the constant drone of doom about how it is inevitable that poor souls from the developing world will have to be admitted en masse to rich countries because of climate change. Bollocks. That would not help anyone and would lead to ecological devastation everywhere. People need to stop watching post-apocalyptic dystopian “thrillers” and apply a little common sense to the questions of our day.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Just for fun — I’ll deconstruct and examine your assertion: “there is ample room for VAST improvements in farming practices, yields, and transportation to open markets.” It is difficult not to agree that current farming practices have room for VAST improvements. The current large scale farming practice in the US is heavily dependent on government subsidies and petroleum products. In my opinion the seed, insecticide, and herbicide practices of Monsanto are abominable beyond further mention. Yields can be increased — but do you mean total yields or yields per acre? And yields based on what kind of farming practices? My impression is that the “Green Revolution” has reached a point of diminishing returns.

          The VAST improvements to transportation you have in mind probably differ a great deal from those I envision. The simplest VAST improvement to transportation would be to do much less of it over long distances.

          The last part of your assertion about “open markets” is the most problematic. I’m not sure exactly what you mean. Also how would “open markets” — whatever you mean — help Honduran subsistence farmers in a drought region? I can think of a few notions of “open markets” and they would definitely be an improvement over what we currently enjoy in Walmart-lands, jobs, medical care, drugs ….

          As for your “constant drone of doom” — I believe it is quite inevitable that poor souls in the developing and developed world will clamor at the borders of many countries, and as pointed out in Don’s comment below — within the borders of our own country. I don’t see any happy solution to this without extremely radical changes in our government and economic organization — changes I believe are unlikely to occur soon enough to reasonably mitigate the problems.

          As for “dystopian ‘thrillers'” — I don’t think you need to look at the future or international borders. Use you Internet skills to learn a little about the slums spreading around some major cities around the world.

    2. Lee

      People should stand their ground and fight where they are. I like it. Of course, the U.S. has been “helping” Latin America for a long time now. Maybe if we just stopped, fixes would occur.

      Maybe the U.S. is less the land of the brave than it has been the haven for chicken shits who could not hold their own elsewhere, so they came here where they could kill and exploit the less technically developed native peoples and import human slaves. Something to think about.

      1. Loneprotester

        Of course, that’s one way of looking at it. Mostly Americans applied rational, scientific principles to agricultural and market practices, and have reaped the benefits. We lucked out with a lot of good land, water, and climate. But you only need to look at what the Mormons accomplished in the Utah desert to gain some serious respect for our forebears. Yes, they were horrendous to Native Americans, and that is a mark of shame. And yes, slavery is also a blot on our national character, but it was (thankfully) limited in geographical scope and time. Most Americans really did pull themselves up by the sweat of their own brow. It’s not a bad legacy, all things considered, and one I’m enormously grateful to share.

    3. knowbuddhau

      Kudos for defending your position. Still think you’re wrong.

      So, if I’m reading you right, since the FAO says there’s plenty of irrigable land, but irrigation is little used, the Hondurans are to blame: “Honduras is a very poorly governed country and its people suffer as a direct result of that, not…global climate change. Help Hondurans fix their political, social, and capital improvement crises, and they will not need to come to the US at all. Tell me I am wrong and that I am racist or work for EvilCorp. Go ahead. This is not rocket science.”

      Your guilty conscience aside, there’s only one thing I agree with here: the bit at the end. It’s no kind of science. You’re evidence looks cherry-picked. The ratio of irrigable to irrigated land at one point in time is a descriptive statistic, yes.

      But in what historical context has land use played out? Without context, eg the Monroe Doctrine, “a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in The Americas beginning in 1823,” which in practice meant “freeing” them from one colonial master only in order to subjugate them ourselves, such stats are meaningless.

      The last thing Hondurans need is more of the Empire’s help, unless it’s long overdue reparations and reconstruction, no strings attached.

    4. False Solace

      > Help Hondurans fix their political, social, and capital improvement crises

      Kinda like how Hillary Clinton helped overthrow their democratically elected government when she was SecState? Or when the US turned the entire country into a giant banana plantation a hundred years ago? Or all those other US interventions decade after decade?

      > and they will not need to come to the US at all

      Maybe they should come here just to tell us to knock it off….

    5. nonclasical

      ..consult twice decorated Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Marine General Smedley Butler regarding “United Fruit” and Honduras…for that matter consult recent historical update of same…

      (“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”)

      and then consult Perkins’, “Confessions of An Economic Hit Man”:

      (and where Colombia = CIA presence – resides in relation to, as well as to Venezuela…

  5. ambrit

    Then we get to the reason that poor subsistence farmers from previously self supporting communities migrate: enclosures.
    The big agricultural concerns have been moving into Mexico for years, for various basically financially sound but morally and ethically ‘challenged’ reasons.
    Both enclosure and hyperinflation are the results of social policy decisions. Such decisions are ‘made’ by people intelligent enough to know what the effects of their actions will entail. Thus, this fish always rots from the head.
    Such agricultural concentration has happened throughout the past. The end stages of such processes, when not ameliorated by pro social counter actions, have generally been riot and insurrection. As pointed out before by Lambert, one of the first actions taken by the rural mobs involved in the French Revolution was the burning of the land records. A primitive form of redistribution indeed!
    Todays’ ‘mobs’ could be considered to be carrying out a slow motion revolution. Now, the international land records are in peril. The fires will be much bigger too.

  6. Don

    It is an informative article on a subject that most people don’t give any thought or consideration especially on how their government should react. The article discusses migration between countries; consequently, there is no discussion (or awareness) of the need for migration within a country like the US. Regardless of how “walled” a country may be, there may be a large internal migration. What I would like to see is analysis of the internal migration that may occur. For example, a recent article highlighted in the Links section reported on a study which indicates that with a six feet rise in sea level, around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced. Should sea level rise to 11 feet, South Florida would be largely uninhabitable; floods on the scale of Hurricane Sandy would strike twice a month in New York and New Jersey, as the tug of the moon alone would be enough to send tidewaters into homes and buildings. There is going to be a need for some people to move away from the east coast. There is also a need for some people to move away from areas of desert in the midwest and the drought(s) in California may be further exacerbated causing more movement. Where are people going and where are they going to be allowed to go? Will there be receptivity to such movement or will there be regional conflict? This analysis would bring to “home” the awareness that seems lacking for the change that will occur.

  7. JEHR

    I see lots of walls, from the walled enclosures of the billionaires, to the gated communities of the just wealthy, to the walling off of borders to prevent the passage of refugees, to the walling off of the oceans to prevent flooding. Will any of them prevail?

    To gloss Frost, the question remains “do good walls make good neighbours?”

  8. Wukchumni

    When I was born, the Berlin Wall went up, to keep people in.

    Now, the walls are all to keep people out…

  9. nonsense factory

    Very good article. The last few paragraphs are worth reading again – since a lot of the worst aspects of inevitable climate change can be alleviated by large-scale infrastructure projects and good forward planning. By ‘inevitable’ I mean that which has already occurred and the unavoidable climate change of the next 50-100 years; even moving to 100% renewables overnight would only slow that down, due to the time it takes for the climate system to equilibrate to the atmospheric CO2 and CH4 levels.

    However, if we do move to this large scale infrastructure program that means admitting once and for all the reality of the science – and that means a whole lot more pressure to get off fossil fuels immediately – so not only do the diehard fossil fuel promoters refuse to switch to renewables, they refuse to invest in preparation for the inevitable. Pretty insane, is all one can say. A kind of Catch-22 situation for the world.

    And the scale of the needed infrastructure development is massive – probably on the order of the military budget of $600 billion a year. Water treatment plants have to be moved back from coastlines; flood plains have to be abandoned or rebuilt with flood-resistant housing; large-scale irrigation is needed for much of the developing world (and likely desalination, which is energy-expensive); budgets for disaster relief have to vastly increase – epic.

  10. Sluggeaux

    The population of Honduras increased fivefold, from 1.3M to 9.1M between 1950 and 2016. From 2000 to 2016 alone the number people that Honduras needs to feed and house grew from 6.5M to 9.1M — according to Wikipedia, citing UN statistics (so it’s gotta be true).

    Droughts have come and gone throughout history, but there can be no doubt based on the scientific evidence that human activity has made the impact of natural climate change much, much worse. However, it’s not patterns of consumption and environmental pollution per se that are at the root of the problem — it’s the sheer number of human beings that are overwhelming the ecology of the planet. Our compassion for the suffering of individuals seems to have clouded our view of the picture that we’re drowning in our own sh*t.

    You can add to the mix the idiotic “market” policies that local and international elites use to loot the natural and the human resources of every country on the planet, the lust of those elites to use immigration and insecurity to drive down the wages and living standards of the employed, plus the religious superstitions and power relationships that enslave women into child-bearing, and you’ve got a fine mess.

  11. Calpolitico


    Many thanks to Todd Miller and Yves for publishing this article. And for the commentary provided by Sluggeaux, Nonclasical and Joel – among others.
    One point to note is that Mr. Millerʻs work builds on many decades of research written by numerous researchers, including generations of political economists (associated with NACLA,URPE, and academic institutions throughout the Americas).The linkage being made between dysfunctional immigration policies and military laden barriers is only the latest chapter in a chain of failed policies in the Americas.

    Some of the best known elements of dysfunctional US policies are steeped in the so-called economic modernization approaches ranging from USAID projects to structural adjustment to free trade regimes. Combined with programs initiated in the 1940s, one major consequence across much of Latin America in the last seven decades has been to direct vast resources to islands of modernization for the purposes of export markets accompanied by the wholesale destruction of community-based agricultural systems (including complex irrigation and agroecological practices – see Peter Rossetʻs work at Via Campesina for contemporary accounts).

    Thus, the green revolution in the Americas portrayed as feeding hungry masses actually undermined the livelihood of millions by dissembling the resilience of rural economies while worsening nutrition among many in the agricultural sector. By the 1990s it was little wonder that dozens of Mexican academics warned that NAFTAʻs added ʻmodernizationʻ of markets would flush additional millions of people out of the countryside. The emergence of the Zapatistas represents what many in Mexico recognized as a massive (and continuing protest) against economic maldevelopment.

    Arriving at the 21st century, millions of central Americans and Mexicans attempt to navigate increasingly hostile landscapes, including those wrought by market forces in the Anthropocene. In this context, efforts by the Trump regime to extend the life of fossil fuels while militarizing borders represents only the latest chapter of increasingly insane economic policies.

    All of which, I would argue, does not mean to simply despair. Indeed, one of the valuable features provided by Yves and this commentariat is to provide a setting where we can better understand the context of problems and what needs to be done.

  12. Susan the other

    Good post, and even better irony: Here’s a thing that nobody in power wants to discuss: We have a huge capacity to produce and do whatever we need and, increasingly, to do so without harming the environment, or at least with the ability to mitigate any damage. But my guess is that this is such a novel idea (just fix it all) to the “capitalists” that they refuse to entertain it. It’s like FDR in the 30s – he wanted to increase production to alleviate unemployment and get the economy moving again – but all the Titans said No! because they could fire up their production and satisfy demand almost immediately and thus (the greatest of the unholies) prices would fall. Back then it was important to maintain consumer demand and that theory still prevails today, even remnants of it at the Fed with their careful handling of wage/price balance. It has been used ever since WW2 to balance the economy – aka keep the dollar strong. The dollar and the Titans are intimate. Sounds like monopoly to me. Is it any wonder we now have cryptocurrencies? Let’s see if we can pay for a remodeling of the world’s infrastructure with some Crypto. We can get a huge discount just on the currency-carry trade. It’s a no brainer.

    1. Calpolitico

      Susan and others: What a wonderful way to conclude this discussion ! Having worked for many years among Californiaʻs politicos, it was always a stunning moment for elected officials to awaken (usually very late in their career) to the realization: “Wait a minute ! You mean to say we possessed the power to change the rules?” Susan is equally correct that far too many have trouble getting their minds around the notion of the public ʻtamperingʻ with the market – despite the evidence that market mechanisms have brought us to the brink of catastrophe. A Crypto future indeed !

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