Environmental activist Bill McKibben, in an op-ed published by the Guardian on Tuesday, expresses alarm over the Trump administration's "disastrous, linked policies on climate change and child refugee camps."
"The Trump years are a fantasy land where we pretend we can go on living precisely as in the past [and] insist that the rest of the world stay locked in place as well. It's impractical, it's unfair, and when it ends up with camps for kids in the desert it's downright evil."
—Bill McKibben, activist
While much of the media for the past week has focused on the contentious confirmation process of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the women who have accused him of sexual assault, McKibben writes, "two new Trump initiatives slipped by with less notice than they deserve."
A Washington Post report published Friday revealed a "startling assumption" buried in an environmental impact statement (pdf) recently produced by the Transportation Department to justify the administration's rollback of vehicle emissions rules: that the planet could warm 7°F, or about 4°C, above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
"Were the world to actually warm that much, it would be a literal hell, unable to maintain civilizations as we have known them," McKibben notes. "But that's now our policy, and it apparently rules out any of the actions that might, in fact, limit that warming. You might as well argue that because you're going to die eventually, there's no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day."
On the heels of that revelation came a "horrific" report from the New York Times on Sunday that due to President Donald Trump's immigration policies, more than 1,600 unaccompanied migrant children at shelters and foster homes across the nation have been roused in the dead of night to be transported to, in the words of McKibben, "what can only be described as a concentration camp near the Mexican border."
The "tent city" located in the border town of Tornillo, Texas opened in June as a temporary shelter for undocumented minors who entered the United States without parents or who were forcibly separated from their families under the "zero tolerance" policy. After a series of delayed closures, the administration announced last month that the detention center would triple its capacity to house the record number of migrant children in government custody.
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"That camp is linked to climate change because, first, it's in a desert. If you searched high and low across the North American continent, you could barely find a place hotter and drier," McKibben points out. "But the link goes much deeper. Most of those migrants are from Central America and Mexico, and they might as easily be described as refugees fleeing gang violence (much of it rooted originally in the U.S.) and a changing climate."
Looking to a future that, based on World Bank estimates, could see 140 million climate migrants by 2050, McKibben warns:
This will, of course, get steadily worse in the years ahead—every climate forecast shows deserts spreading and water evaporating across the region. And of course more migration will follow, in every corner of the world. [...] Telling people to stay home is not an option—when there's no water, or when the floods come each year, or when the sea rises into your kitchen, people have to leave. Period.
And telling people to stay home is not a moral option, either. Because the climate chaos setting off waves of refugees is born above all from the unconstrained migration of carbon dioxide molecules from America over the last century... [W]e are a world without atmospheric borders, where the people who have done the least to cause the problem feel its horrors first and hardest. That's why, over the last half-decade, the environmental and migrant-rights movement have grown ever closer.
"The Trump years are a fantasy land where we pretend we can go on living precisely as in the past, unwilling even to substitute electric SUVs for our gas guzzlers, and able to somehow insist that the rest of the world stay locked in place as well," he concludes. "It's impractical, it's unfair, and when it ends up with camps for kids in the desert it's downright evil."