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Award-Winning Journalist Discusses Climate Change and Border Issues Oct. 18

By Afrika Brown

Whitman College invites the public to hear award-winning journalist Todd Miller discuss the impact of climate change on border issues and migration at the 2018-2019 Henry M. Jackson Lecture in International Relations on Thursday, Oct. 18. Miller's talk begins at 7 p.m. in the Olin Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Miller is an award-winning independent journalist and author who has researched and written about border issues for more than 15 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica, The Nation, San Francisco Chronicle and Al Jazeera English, among other publications.

Miller also is a contributing editor on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its "Border Wars" column.

In 2014, Miller published "Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security," and in 2017 he published "Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security" through City Lights.

During his visit, Miller will read an excerpt from "Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security" and discuss his investigations and how climate change and border militarization affects us all.

While writing "Storming the Wall," what are three things you found that most citizens are unaware of about the growing divide between the rich and the poor and our environment?

People from the 48 poorest countries in the world are five times more likely to be displaced by the mega droughts, super storms, sea level rise or other impacts from the changing climate.

Climate change is already displacing people. Mesoamerica, Southern Mexico and Central America, a place where more than 70 percent of the populations live in poverty or extreme poverty, has become an area deemed by scientists as "ground zero" for climate change in the Americas. Droughts have left small farmers with wilted harvests and super storms have surged into coastal communities. And important to note, that Central America is already a place in political, social and economic turmoil based on histories of authoritarian militarism, empowered economic oligarchies and organized crime. Add in climate change, and there is a catastrophic convergence. Globally there are at least 20 million people per year already on the move due to climate related hazards.

The projections for climate displacement are staggering. Estimates run between 150 million and one billion for the year 2050. At the same time, there have never been more militarized borders on planet earth. For example, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 there were 15 border walls globally. Now there are 77. Walls and people on the move, particularly poor people, are on a climate change collision course.

Based on your research, what are the major functions that border militarization serve when blocking those seeking environmental justice?

When talking to military commanders or Department of Homeland Security officials, they use the term "threat multiplier" to describe climate change. In the eyes of the national security apparatus, while the drought or the storm itself may be a threat, the even larger threat are the people displaced, impacted and on the move because of it. If you are a displaced person and you cross a border without papers, authorities will most likely arrest you, incarcerate you and then expel you from the country. There is no climate refugee status anywhere.

It is important for people to know that there has been a historic build-up of the U.S. border and immigration enforcement system over the last 25 years. Border Patrol agents increased five-fold, from 4,000 to 21,000, as one example. Enforcement budgets have increased from $1.5 billion in 1994 to $23 billion in 2018, the combined budgets of CBP and ICE. The deployment now on the border is more than it has ever been in its history, and includes a surveillance system that uses drones, sophisticated cameras, ground sweeping radar and Big Brother biometrics such as facial recognition to monitor and police people. One could say we are enroute to a dystopia.

The U.S. border policing strategy since 1994 has been Prevention Through Deterrence. By building up enforcement in traditional crossing places, such as urban border cities, the strategy forces border crossers into dangerous and desolate places like the Arizona desert. Since 1994, more than 7,000 corpses have been found in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and there are thousands of families in search of lost loved ones. Globally, since just 2014 there have been 23,000 deaths as tabulated by the International Organization on Migration, which they say is probably a drastic undercount. If the climate forecasts and the global trends of border militarization are any indication, going forward there will be only more of these same tragedies.

What are three things that everyone should know when it comes to climate change and how it affects our quality of life on this planet?

In a business as usual setting, even if countries were to cut back their emissions as laid out in the 2015 Paris Accords, there will still be a warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Such warming is well beyond what scientists consider safe. The catastrophic consequences of this status quo are too many to list but they include a world of more frequent and intense mega droughts and super storms, in some cases rendering places uninhabitable, and inundating sea level rise that could erase entire coastal cities.

Just this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the United Nations put out a report saying that to have a chance at keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, humankind will have to have cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. And by 2050: coal should decline by 97 percent, oil by 87 percent, and gas 74 percent. "Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is not impossible," an IPCC representative said, "but will require unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society."

Lastly, about 50 percent of emissions come from approximately 10 percent of the global population, and 70 percent come from 20 percent of its wealthiest citizens. Historically, since 1850, the United States and the European Union are responsible for more than 50 percent of emissions, and yet they are the very places lavishing countless billions into border militarization and its massive surveillance and incarceration apparatus. Given the dire forecasts of the climate crises, it is imperative that this money be spent more wisely.

Published on Oct 15, 2018
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