My last column was about the climate change crisis and how it is already affecting us here in Georgia. This is a big enough issue to merit a lot more discussion, and this week I wanted to take a closer look out how the global rise in temperature is affecting some of our neighbors to the south in Central America.
Severe weather has long been an issue for the countries just south of Mexico. They have been victims of both strong storms with flooding and crippling periods of drought in recent decades, and environmental scientists believe climate change has been making those problems progressively worse.
A particularly bad drought struck the area in 2014, and another one wiped out crops for many farmers this past summer. Both of those droughts pushed large numbers of Central American farm families to the point of starvation, and both coincided with big groups of them traveling through Mexico to U.S. borders hoping to be granted entry as refugees.
As I’m sure you remember, President Trump took to Twitter to motivate his base during the run up to the midterm elections by branding this year’s “migrant caravan” as a hostile invading force. He also asserted, without evidence, that the caravan was host to criminals and terrorists and even sent troops to the border to underscore the implied urgency of the threat they posed.
And remember, this is the same president who has done everything he can to undo all the initiatives undertaken by previous presidents to combat climate change by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
So if we pull back a bit and look at the big picture here, we see the most prosperous nation on Earth, which is also the biggest contributor to climate change on Earth, talking about building a wall to keep out destitute, starving people whose lot in life has been made worse as a result of that climate change. And that prosperous nation is being led by a man who ignores what the best scientific minds tell him about climate change and uses the specter of those destitute people trying to enter the country to gin up xenophobic fear to prop up his political fortunes.
This is definitely not our nation’s finest hour. And I don’t expect much to change until we have a reasonable adult in charge of the country again. When we do, he or she is going to inherit quite a mess. There are a couple things that I think our next president should do to put us on a smarter and less self-centered course in addressing the problems cited above.
First they should re-institute an aggressive agenda to wean the country off fossil fuels, which must include enforcing caps on carbon emissions and imposing stringent fuel economy requirements for new automobiles. We should become a world leader in the transition to green, renewable energy and not remain a slave to the fossil fuel industry.
The next president should also develop a pragmatic and humane policy for dealing with refugees from south of the border. This does not mean “open borders.” It’s a recognition of the fact that we can’t wall ourselves off from a chaotic situation that we’ve played a part in making worse in Central America and a backing away from the false image that’s been painted of these migrants as a gang of criminals seeking to rape and pillage the countryside.
How will we do that, specifically? That’s not a question I can answer in detail, but it will likely involve resettling more of these displaced people in the U.S. (especially those we can connect with jobs here) and offering more direct support of economic development within these troubled countries so people won’t feel the need to leave their homes to save their own lives.
And that would be a better investment of our money and moral capital than building a $5 billion wall.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.