This Earth Day, Canal Alliance would like to encourage those who are taking a stand to fight climate change to bring another important conversation to light: the interconnection of climate change and immigration.
Human migration has been seen in all cultures across the world for as long as humans have existed. It is the movement of people from one place to another with the intention of settling temporarily or permanently in the new location. While migration can be voluntary, the type of forced migration that climate change is precipitating across the world cannot be ignored.
The effects of climate change on human migration are accelerating at an unprecedented rate and our society is not prepared for the impact of those consequences. In a New York Times article, Jessica Benko wrote:
Climate change is not equally felt across the globe, and neither are its longer term consequences… Climate change is a threat multiplier: It contributes to economic and political instability and also worsens the effects. It propels sudden-onset disasters like floods and storms and slow-onset disasters like drought and desertification; those disasters contribute to failed crops, famine and overcrowded urban centers; those crises inflame political unrest and worsen the impacts of war, which leads to even more displacement.Jessica Benko, “How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration”
Another recent article in The New Yorker told the story of the devastation of Central American agriculture as a result of major climate changes and the link to the crises at our U.S.-Mexico Border. Stories like these have become a common narrative among immigrant communities across the country and especially here in Marin, where Canal Alliance works to empower Latino immigrants to break the generational cycle of poverty.
As Canal Alliance works to eliminate the systematic inequities that perpetuate poverty in our immigrant communities, it is essential to include climate change among the critical issues that we must address.
As we also work to combat commonly held myths about immigrants, we’d like to familiarize our community about three terms that were recently introduced by the International Organization for Migration to help scientists, anthropologists, geographers, and others work to document the flow of people across the planet:
- Environmental Migrant– “Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad” (IOM, 2011:33).
- Environmentally Displaced Person– “Persons who are displaced within their country of habitual residence or who have crossed an international border and for whom environmental degradation, deterioration or destruction is a major cause of their displacement, although not necessarily the sole one. This term is used as a less controversial alternative to environmental refugee or climate refugee [in the case of those displaced across an international border] that have no legal basis or raison d’être in international law, to refer to a category of environmental migrants whose movement is of a clearly forced nature” (IOM, 2011:34).
- Migration Influenced by Climate Change– “Where environmental change can be identified as affecting the drivers of migration, and thus is a factor in the decision to migrate” (Foresight, 2011:34).
We hope that your efforts this Earth Day, and every day, are part of a collective movement to combat the many effects of climate change on our communities.