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Child Immigration: What’s Going On, and What’s Ahead?

You’ve watched – perhaps with horror, or perhaps with approval – at American protesters blocking buses filled with Central American children from reaching immigration processing centers around the country.

In Murrieta, California two weeks ago, 150 of them chanted “USA! USA!” and waved American flags. The scared children on board – some as young as six years old – didn’t understand the words: “Go home! We don’t want you here!” But in the end, the buses turned around and took them elsewhere.

If you’ve been reading the news, then no doubt you’ve heard the debate: Who’s to blame for letting those children in? What laws do we need to change to keep them from coming? How quickly can we schedule court hearings to decide their fate? What signals did we send that brought them here in the first place? Which political party would handle this mess better?

Protesters at immigration processing centers

Protesters at immigration processing centers

Less often, however, do we hear about conditions that drove their desperate flight. Think about it: What would ever have possessed your mother to pay someone to cram you onto a freight train and send you on a perilous journey among total strangers – possibly forever?

Since last October, there have been 52,000 of them: children walking across the U.S. border, all the way from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Clearly, something is going on here. That many parents don’t just float their vulnerable children among the bulrushes for no good reason. Now and then, we hear about conditions back home: gang violence, child murders, rape, poverty. Are these just evil countries?

Well, perhaps you haven’t heard about one condition back home. As far as I know, it hasn’t found its way into the public debate at all. Here it is: Honduras and Guatemala are among the top ten countries in the entire world most seriously hurt by global climate change. Honduras, in fact ranks #1 worldwide on this scale. And El Salvador just misses the top ten, with a #13 ranking.

Now please, wait! Don’t tune me out just yet! I’m not claiming that we’ve got 52,000 juvenile climate refugees pouring across our borders. But I am saying this: Climate change is widely recognized as interacting with existing stressors around the world to drive instability and to undermine order and security. Even the U.S. Armed Forces have determined that the effects of global warming “are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions….”

And if they’re right, then we can’t think meaningfully about future immigration without considering what we’re doing to climate systems. These children are streaming in from countries steeped in poverty, disorder and violence. And all three of these countries lead the world in bearing the impacts of climate change.

Can we please talk about that?

First of all, what about this ranking of climate-impacted countries? We’ve discussed it before at Beloved Planet. It’s called the Climate Risk Index (CRI), and we’re now in the ninth annual version. The CRI addresses the question: Who suffers most from extreme weather events? It acknowledges that no single extreme weather event can be solely attributed to manmade climate change; but also that climate change is an increasingly important factor in determining the intensity and frequency of such events. The CRI ranks the countries of the world according to the level of harm suffered in the prior two decades from extreme weather events. (However, the CRI ignores entirely other climate-related harm, like drought, crop failure, ocean acidification and sea-level rise.)

In the latest ranking, Honduras has been hurt the worst of any country in the world. In fact, extreme weather has sucked 2.6% out of Honduras’ annual GDP growth during these decades. That’s difficult to fathom, when we consider that 3% overall GDP growth is considered to be a pretty good year in the U.S.

Picture1How could today’s worsening weather extremes do this much harm to any country? Well, consider Hurricane Mitch. In the record-hot year of 1998, Mitch dumped as much as 75 inches of rainfall on Honduras. The result was catastrophic flooding. The president of Honduras said that it set the country’s economic development back 50 years. In the end, one out of every five Hondurans was left homeless, and the $3.8 billion in storm-related damages thrust the country into a severe recession.

For American readers, the impact of Mitch in Honduras could best be understood by imagining that we were hit here at home by an event that left 60 million of us without housing, and cost us $5.2 TRILLION (an amount exceeding one-third of our famous national debt). That would be a pretty bad storm for us, wouldn’t it?

Hurricane Mitch left 20% of Hondurans homeless

Hurricane Mitch left 20% of Hondurans homeless

Now we might think that maybe Honduras just stumbled onto some rotten luck, with one really bad storm during these years. In fact, however, Honduras suffered 65 extreme weather events during these two decades. So it won’t surprise us to learn that Honduras’ GDP per capita – the most basic measure of personal income – is mired at the lowly level of $2,291 per year, about 96% lower than in the U.S.

Now let’s say this again: There are many factors that are contributing to Central American poverty and lawlessness. But surely we can recognize the role of manmade climate change in exacerbating these problems, can’t we?

If we can, then let’s consider what the future might hold for these families casting their children adrift onto our borders. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of even more intense weather ahead.

“Extreme precipitation events … over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century,” they concluded in their 2014 report. “Monsoon precipitation is likely to intensify due to the increase in atmospheric moisture.” [Summary for Policymakers, p. 23]

And for Central America specifically, the IPCC found “ample evidence of increases in extreme climate events ….” During the first decade of this century, they recorded 630 weather and climate extreme events leading to 16,000 deaths, and 46.6 million people affected. Hurricane activity more than doubled during the 2000-2009 period, compared with prior decades. [Ch. 27, Impacts Report, Latin America, p. 8]

And so, if there is any value in the science and record-keeping gathered by the IPCC, then a prudent person would expect more desperate immigration attempts in the future, not less. Our task cannot be to simply quash rumors spread by human traffickers, appoint more immigration judges, or to build higher fences. For Central America, the problems of poverty and lawlessness are likely to persist – or deteriorate – as extreme weather events conspire to undo years of development efforts.

And if they do, ever-greater numbers of children and families will surely continue to take desperate measures to find haven in our country. At some point, we need to ask ourselves about the requirements of justice, don’t we? The average Honduran generates about 1.2 tons of CO2 emissions per year. In our country, we’re each responsible for over 17 tons on average. But if our carbon binge is coming home to roost in Central America, then isn’t it time to ask whether we owe something to those desperate children fleeing the consequences?

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19

 

 

Canada’s High Court Hands First Nations Keys to the Tar Sands

One hundred and fifty years ago, five leaders of the indigenous Tsilhqot’in Nation in British Columbia were lured into peace talks with the British Crown, and then promptly arrested and hanged.

That brought to an end the Chilcotin War of 1864, which had broken out in response to a flood of gold-rush settlers in the Canadian west.  Like most other native nations in British Columbia, the Tsilhqot’in (or Chilcotin) did not surrender their land under a treaty, but were slowly marginalized under the pressure of settlement and development. Their lands were exploited for gold, minerals and timber, and they were recognized as having title to only a small fraction of their historical range.

But two weeks ago, much of that changed overnight. In a 25-year-old legal case, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously on June 26th in favor of the Chilcotin Nation’s claim to some 675 square miles of land that had previously been contested. The court found that aboriginal title does not just apply to land where First Nations live, but to the lands they have historically used for hunting, trapping and fishing.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak leading Healing Walk in the tar sands

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak leading Healing Walk in the tar sands

The day after the decision was handed down, I arrived in northern Alberta for a gathering of First Nations leaders and their friends, in the heart of tar sands mining country. And despite the flood of terrible news facing native people from the tar sands pollution, the mood that day was happy – even jubilant.

That’s because the Chilcotin decision for the first time provides a clear basis to establish First Nations’ title to un-surrendered lands, and strengthens the hand of indigenous people in dealing with companies seeking to exploit mining, logging and fossil fuel development on those lands.

“This decision . . . will be a game-changer in terms of the landscape in B.C. and throughout the rest of the country where there is unextinguished aboriginal title,” said First Nations Regional Chief of British Columbia Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Others would go even further, claiming that it gives indigenous people “a veto” over resource development proposals on their now-expanded lands. And while that’s probably an overstatement, the court’s ruling certainly increases the amount of Canadian land over which the First Nations will now exercise significant control. Now, timber companies, miners, and pipeline operators will have to solicit consent from indigenous peoples before pushing ahead.

Ah, pipeline operators. Now there’s a timely topic. Continue reading

Canada’s Petro-State: Fox Guarding the Henhouse?

We Americans don’t have all that much regard for foreigners, do we? Some countries seem to be brimming with jihadists. Others might bring to mind illegal immigrants. Perhaps others are stealing our jobs with their cheap labor. But Canada is different. For many Americans, Canada is almost like us. We may demand secure borders, but we don’t really mean that border.

And that’s why it would be so surprising if we were to find Canada behaving like a petro-state dictatorship.

But that’s just about what I found during my recent visit to the tar sands region of Alberta last week. It looks as though the federal and provincial governments have become so dependent on oil money that basic elements of just governance now seem like quaint throwbacks to a more innocent era.

I began to suspect this at last week’s Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta, when First Nations leaders repeated again and again the nearly identical chorus: Our land and water is being destroyed by industrial contamination, our native people are faced with de facto genocide, and the government refuses even to acknowledge our peril. In fact, the government actively suppresses evidence of our suffering.

It sounded bad. But then I heard from a doctor named John O’Connor, and his story removed all doubt.

Dr. O’Connor is a family practice physician from Fort McMurray, in the heart of the tar sands district of Alberta. In 2006, he began treating patients in the tiny indigenous community of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from “Fort Mac” and the tar sands operations. No sooner did he arrive than he began to hear stories from the community elders of ominous changes in the environment. In stark contrast to what they grew up with, they could no longer drink the water; fish and wildlife routinely showed grotesque deformities; game and fish were becoming scarce; their own people were suffering from  mysterious illnesses.

Dr. John O'Connor, Fort Chipewyan

Dr. John O’Connor, Fort Chipewyan

In no time, O’Connor began to see alarming patterns in those illnesses. Relatively rare cancers were appearing regularly – blood and lymphatic cancers, bile duct cancer, biliary tract and thyroid cancers. Added to those were auto-immune diseases – Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, skin disorders and intestinal disorders. Continue reading

Tar Sands: When it’s Hard to Pray in Jesus’ Name

How do you proclaim your faith, when that faith is culturally aligned with injustice?

American Christians who are actively seeking to care for the creation routinely face this conundrum, as our religious heritage is so often used to provide moral cover for systems of power that despoil the earth and harm the poor. We know, of course, that our own scriptures tell us to “subdue the earth;” we are granted “dominion” over the works of God’s hand; and the gospel confers almost infinite value on the individual person. Taken together, these notions can be used to provide the ideological underpinnings of the exploitative economy and the hyper-individualism that often prevents us from acting for the common good.

Nothing really new here. Thoughtful Christians can rebut the errors that flow from these notions, of course. But the last two months have confronted me with another arena of injustice where we Americans – and our dominant cultural faith – are generally on the wrong side of God’s justice. I’ve seen it because I’ve been invited twice to participate with indigenous North Americans in their struggle for the most basic elements of justice. In this brief span, I’ve been confronted with two wonders: the amazing level of hospitality and inclusion extended to Christians like me by these communities; and the extent of my religion’s historical participation in oppression and genocide, together with our ongoing disregard for its still-surviving victims.

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Native elders led the Healing Walk through the tar sands pollution

Last month, I was among a group of Evangelicals invited to participate with the Cowboy Indian Alliance in their Reject & Protect action in Washington. They were there to demand a voice in the decision whether to permit a Canadian pipeline company to seize indigenous and rancher lands in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas for the Keystone XL pipeline. And today, I’m on my way home from the Healing Walk in Alberta, Canada, where native peoples are struggling for their very survival in the face of rampant oil-industry pollution of their supposedly treaty-protected lands and waters.

In each case, I came to pray, intending to bring with me the gracious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recalled the story of Peter and John speaking to the lame beggar at Jerusalem’s gate: “Silver and gold have I none. But what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.” It’s a pretty triumphant story, isn’t it? Continue reading

My Healing Walk Through the Tar Sands

The sun moves slowly in these latitudes. It gradually arks, from its rising on the northwest tree line, in a long southward loop, and back northward to its rest below the edge of the northwest summer sky.  At 11:00 last evening, we were burying the day’s compost in the pale evening light. By 3:30 this morning, the sky over the lake was already silver and rose. And so at 4:00 AM, I am up to greet the orange Alberta sunrise.

An old hymn courses through my mind: “When morning gilds the skies … may Jesus Christ be praised.” My heart is surprisingly willing this chilly Canadian Sunday. I think of my home church, soon to meet, a couple of worlds – and as many times zones – away to the southeast. I read by the lakeside J.B. Phillips’ version of the prayer of Jesus: “Father, may your name be honored – may your kingdom come!”  I think of that kingdom, with longing and hope, mixed with lament.

Willing heart, yes. But my joints are stiff, and my feet are blistered. No doubt, three nights sleeping on the ground is catching up with my pampered frame. But yesterday’s Healing Walk through Alberta’s toxic tar sands tailing lakes has done a job on my lungs and my tender feet, and I hobble around the campsite like a man twenty years older than my threescore.

Like this morning, it was a beautiful sunrise yesterday. About three hundred of us from Canada and beyond waited for a caravan of yellow school buses to take us to the Syncrude tar sands processing complex. Led by Cree, Chipewyan and Dene tribal elders, we came to pray, to recognize, and to mourn together – to bear witness to the devastation wrought in these boreal forests and indigenous homelands – by the destructive economy of which we all share some part.

For two days, we have listened to stories from native people whose families have cared for this land for millennia, and for whom the land has provided generously in return. When they call it their “mother,” they express a connection that is simply beyond the grasp of us “visitors.” There is a profound love in this community – for the water, the air, the land; and the fish, animals and people who depend upon it. People – not just the living, but those who preserved it for us long ago, and those who are yet unborn. You can feel the sense of belonging and responsibility to those who will follow “to the seventh generation.”

In due course, we are headed northward, following the flow of the Athabasca River, in our yellow bus caravan, toward the tar sands. No one calls them “oil sands” in this community. The industry PR campaign has won over much of Canada, but it’s had no effect on these people of the land.

And as we travel, the murky yellow sky ahead grows thicker. We wish to each other that we had brought bandanas for some defense against the foul air. But it’s not the air that brings us here.

It’s the water.

Take a look at a map of Canada. The pristine Athabasca flows north through Alberta, passing through the Fort McMurray tar sands region in the northeastern corner of the province.  And as it continues northward, it opens into a broad inland delta before spilling into the enormous Lake Athabasca, from which it feeds the mighty Mackenzie River. The Mackenzie, exceeded in North America only by the Mississippi. Everywhere you look on the map around here, you see water. You can’t travel overland up to Fort Chipewyan at this time of year, because there’s nothing frozen to drive on.

So you’d think, in this land blessed by God with unfathomable riches of fresh water and aquatic wildlife, surely healthy water would be enjoyed with glad and thankful hearts. Wouldn’t it? Continue reading

What Really Drives Climate Denial?

I don’t know that anybody knows the answer for certain. But I’m almost certain that it doesn’t have much to do with the data. (More on that below.) In this morning’s Times, an economist (admittedly, a liberal one), offered as good an answer as any I’ve heard yet:

“Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.”

In short, it’s not about facts; it’s about defending a worldview.

Today, I got a comment on Beloved Planet that almost certainly bolsters this argument. The comment’s writer makes a remarkable claim: That there’s been no global warming for 17.8 years. This is offered as a fact. The “fact” is accompanied by an effort – easily debunked – to discredit other sources I had cited as “staunchly left wing” – a harbinger of the ideology that surely drives this person’s view of climate change.

But what about the “fact?” Is it possibly true? Does the proponent of the fact believe it himself, or is it just another effort to manufacture doubt? Well, you take a look, and make up your own mind. Here’s the global temperature data, as assembled by the four global meteorological organizations that do this sort of thing, including the USA’s NASA and NOAA:

Picture2

Source: NASA

So what do you think? Can we argue – by selecting a runaway record hot year, 1998, as a starting point – that the global climate isn’t warming? Continue reading