The Unexpected Link Between Migration And Climate Change, And Other Global Effects

The Unexpected Link Between Migration And Climate Change, And Other Global Effects

By: Oliver G. Alvar -

More caravans will come, and not just from outside the U.S. There will likely be American caravans too as the planet continues to heat up. We’re already seeing the devastating effects of climate change, both in America as in the rest of the world.

According to Yale’s climate survey program, though there are interesting and consistent gender differences regarding beliefs about climate change, it seems the majority of people, be it men or women, do believe it will be harmful in the future, but far less believe it’s harming them personally. What most people who hold such beliefs fail to realize is that climate change is here—and it’s affecting each of us already. 

I’ve often heard dismissive statements such as “if climate change is real, it will harm future generations, so I’m safe. And if it’s happening now, it will harm other countries, so I’m also safe.” But with every coming year, these selfish rationalizations are proven false more and more emphatically, with increasingly brutal results—even if we don’t yet connect the dots at an individual level. Already, a report from October, 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that radical changes might happen even sooner than we previously anticipated, so we’re likely to see plenty of the dire effects during our lifetime. And yes, we’re seeing them today. 

Climate Change And Migration

More caravans will come: the link between migration and climate change

To mention one very relevant and current example: migration. The controversial migrant caravan from Honduras has certainly struck many chords for better or worse during this time of xenophobic tendencies, and observers are wondering why so many people are mobilizing with such urgency. Even though it’s a myth that the current rates of migration are particularly striking, these rates will in fact increase as the planet warms. More caravans will most certainly come—people will have no choice. 

Climate change is noticeably affecting rural communities across the globe, and countries such as Honduras are particularly vulnerable. In fact, as a report from the United States Agency of International Development indicates, Honduras is one of the most susceptible countries to climate change in the western hemisphere, and the effects of the overall warming trend of the planet are getting exponentially worse for the Central American country. 

Climate Change And Migration

Deadly droughts and an increased risk of disease are devastating the way of life for Honduran communities, most of which rely on farming for their livelihood. The fact that their crops are being utterly wrecked by a worsening climate forces them to choose between leaving their land or die, and the issue is bound to become more salient in the next few years. 

You can expect that, as this warming trend continues, life in regions closer to the Equator will become progressively untenable. The heat will be not only intolerable, but deadly. People will therefore move away from the Equator and inevitably start migrating towards the Arctic, where warming, though still an issue, will at least be manageable—for a while, anyway. Consider that, since the continental masses are currently located far more to the north than to the south, migration trends will be focused on the northern hemisphere. As the 2018 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change finds in an accompanying report, 

“Multiple cities will be uninhabitable and migration patterns will be far beyond those levels already creating pressure worldwide.”

Climate Change And Migration

Not only in the Equator—How climate change affects all countries

But this problem goes well beyond Honduras and countries near the Equator. As ice along the poles melts, sea levels will rise, flooding many coastal regions regardless of the hemisphere or the country’s development. With all the carbon dioxide ending up in the seas and rivers, oceans are getting more acidic, dissolving corals and shells, and obliterating sea life on a massive scale—which means the fishing industry is taking a hit as well. 

The weather, in addition, is getting more extreme as heatwaves become more frequent and intense, increased evaporation fuels storms and hurricanes, rising sea levels worsen storm surges, and droughts and wildfires intensify in arid regions. Diseases will have an easier time spreading too, since the tropical warmth needed for many bacteria and virus-carrying species to survive (such as mosquitoes) will become more common in northern countries. 

Climate Change And Migration

Warm and polluted air will also directly affect our health, harming even our IQ levels. And as if that weren’t enough, fluctuating ocean currents will also significantly alter familiar weather patterns, making several of today’s living areas inhospitable. This means that many coastal towns and cities all over the globe will be underwater before long, forcing millions of people to migrate inland. This will happen in America as much as in any other country.

Climate Change And MigrationIf you’re curious, here’s National Geographic's estimate of how the U.S. coastline will look like if the warming trend continues melting the ice caps. Image via Pinterest.

Wildfires, disease, droughts, flooding, and extreme weather will all contribute to alter our way of life radically all across the planet—and the effects are clearly showing already. Record temperatures being registered at the same time as the recent devastating wildfires (which have forced rich and poor alike out of their homes) is not a coincidence. It’s a predictable pattern, consistent with everything we know about the issue. This kind of phenomenon will eventually force people, no matter their income level or nationality, to relocate—yes, Americans included (so get ready for American caravans). Much of today’s US territory is bound to disappear due to climate change. Our world, our planet, is getting smaller.

The world is changing—and it shows

And it’s not only America. Several other so-called developed countries are being noticeably affected. Just this summer, the UK experienced record-breaking heatwaves, and 33 people died in Quebec due to high temperatures. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that these events are small parts that keep adding to the overall warming pattern our planet is going through—and we know why it’s happening. The Earth has always been through climate cycles, sure. But what’s different this time is the speed and the role greenhouse gasses are playing in warming up the globe. This is something scientists have been aware of—and have predicted—since much of the 20th century. No natural phenomenon today (no volcanic activity nor other similarly possible culprits) accounts, by itself, for what we’re seeing—but when you add in human-related activities, the numbers match. 

Climate Change And Migration

The degree of the problem is such that recently, in desperation due to apparent international passivity, many organizations have promoted campaigns to let people understand just how dire the situation can get. Experts have declared climate change a medical emergency—not for the future, but today. Millions of lives are being harmed and billions of dollars lost due to health-related issues caused by the injurious conditions of a warming planet. According to USA Today, over 155 million people were affected in 2017 alone by the alarming heatwaves wrecking havoc across the planet, and more than 150 billion labor hours were subsequently lost because of heat exposure. Overall, extreme weather disasters (linked to climate change) resulted in $313 billion in costs in the U.S. alone. 

Harmful denial

Yet, with all the scientific evidence, data, and current experiences, we still get pushback from people like President Trump, who just last week seemed to confuse weather with climate—again. Just a reminder: local weather is not in and by itself indicative of global climate trends. 

Climate is an overall pattern, whereas weather is localized phenomena. Arguing that local weather is proof against overarching climate patterns is very much like arguing that, when scaling a mountain, going through a small basin is indicative that you have not actually climbed up at all. The thing is, regardless of these small localized dips, the overall trend is exceedingly clear: yes, you’re going up a mountain (overall) even if at times there’s a small stretch of flat or depressed land, and yes, the planet is warming up even if occasionally there is remarkably cold weather outside. 

Trump has also come under fire for claiming not to believe the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a report by his own administration. Unfortunately, if America’s own president acts against the overwhelming evidence regarding the effects of climate change, there seems to be very little hope for rural Americans and, in a few years, for each and every citizen in the country. 

Climate Change And Migration

Keep in mind, however, that there are important things we can do at an individual level to help fight climate change, and we should implement them immediately, lest we severely and irreversibly devastate our economy, our way of life, the lives of other species, and humankind as a whole. 

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8 Things You're Getting Completely Wrong About Central America's Migration Crisis
The Aftermath Of The Wildfires in California: Scorched Homes And Uncertainty