Immigration Impasse? We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

February 16, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Climate Change, Environment, U.S. Politics, world water crisis | 1 Comment
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I don’t need to tell you that we are in a serious political and cultural mess regarding the question of immigration, not only here in the United States, but in Europe, Australia, and in many other countries. A million eight-hundred-thousand people brought to the US  as children risk deportation, the time-honored practice of legal immigrants bringing family members to the US is in danger of being abandoned, as is the visa lottery. And right-wing groups are gaining increasing political power by means of the immigration question .

But all of this conflict is, in effect, nothing more than the calm before the storm, the storm of climate refugees who will be surging across borders in coming decades. Indeed, many more of the current large numbers of immigrants are actually climate refugees than most of us realize. As Jeff Goodell reports in his new book, The Water Will Come, every year three times more people are made homeless by floods, storms and other “natural” disasters than are displaced by wars and other conflicts. And according to the International Organization for Migration, there will be 200 million climate refugees by 2050 (though some researchers predict as many as a billion). Yet, interestingly enough, climate refugees have no legal status in international law; to be a legitimate refugee, a person must have a “well-founded fear of persecution” on the basis of race, religion, nationality, social group or political position. For this and other reasons, many countries basically ignore climate refugees.

In light of all this, Goodell raises an interesting question. What do the nations who give off the largest percentages of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change owe to climate refugees, people driven out of their countries by climate-related sea-level-rise, drought, famine, etc.? He notes that at the various UN conferences on climate change and the environment over the past twenty-five years, the nations most responsible for climate change have fought tooth and nail against the inclusion in any UN agreement of taking financial responsibility for “claims and damages” against them by the most harmed nations.

Goodell suggests that a way to pay off such a debt is for the countries involved to take in the same percentage of climate refugees as they have emitted greenhouse gases in the industrial era. For the United States, that percentage is 27%–the most of any nation on earth, though the European Union comes pretty close, with 25%. Assuming that 100 million people will need new homes by 2050, Goodell’s proposal means that the US would take in twenty-seven million people over the next thirty-two years, more or less.

But Trump and his supporters are determined to exclude virtually all immigrants now, even those that can claim refugee status under international law. So how on earth –no pun intended–are we going to respond  to the millions of climate refugees coming north in the decades to come?



Can the Church Hurry Up?

March 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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To give you a little background on my approach to this question, I begin with a story. It’s 2000 or 2001 and my husband, the Baptist minister, and I are in Siena on holiday. We are visiting one of the basilicas in Siena; I forget which one. In the basilica we come upon a statue of a young man. Next to the statue is a sign that says “This is a statue of Blessed Joachim Piccolomini, who died in 1305 and was beatified in 1609. The Servite fathers and brothers of this basilica never cease to pray for the canonization of Blessed Joachim. If you or someone you know has been blessed by a miracle through the intercession of a Blessed Joachim, please notify the Servite Superior, Father So and So.”

My husband has learned to value much about the Catholic tradition in our quarter century or so together, but I have to confess, he began laughing hysterically as we read the sign.

“It’s been four hundred years since he was beatified!!” he shouted? “And they’re still praying!?”

“This should give you some insight into the women’s ordination issue,” I replied.

Blessed Joachim seems to have been a holy fellow, utterly dedicated to the poor. But he is not my main concern today. My concern is that in recent months I have been reading like a crazy person about climate change and related catastrophes–extreme weather, desertification, floods, climate migration by hundreds of millions, water shortages, and wars that those shortages are guaranteed to produce. (See Gwynne Dyers Climate Wars if you need the details.) By 2050 we are going to be into all of this big time. And some of it much sooner.

So my question is, can the Church–and here I mean the Catholic Church, the second largest religious body on earth–hurry up and get its members to focus on the imminent destruction of nature, including the Life with which it is otherwise so preoccupied?

Now in point of fact, Pope Benedict XVI has made a number of statements about the seriousness of the climate crisis. At the Third World Water Forum in 2003 the Vatican representative  actually called the world water crisis, “in the broad sense of the concept, a right to life issue.”

Trouble is, I have never heard the world water crisis or climate change mentioned from a Catholic pulpit. Certainly not the way I have heard the rights of the unborn stressed from the pulpit. Yet truly, if the human race is washed away, or if it incinerates itself with nuclear weapons as Pakistan has already threatened to do to India over water shortages there, will this not be the killing of the unborn on a scale that abortion could never possibly effect?  So why aren’t the (remaining) Catholic priests in the US denouncing the massive  CO2 production by American Catholics (including me, let me add) that threatens God’s very creation? Why isn’t the Vatican ordering them to do this?

Now we know that the institutional church can hurry up. It recently decided to ignore the time limits on the canonization process–not on behalf of Blessed Joachim, from whom the Servites must continue to pray–but for Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified in May.

The question is, can the Vatican and the bishops get a move on with regard to the survival of nature, including all God’s children? Or is the beatification of one of their colleagues, with whose politics they identify, more important than that?

Climate Change Goes to the Movies

February 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sister Grail member Joy Garland and I went to the IFC, the film center on lower Sixth Avenue in Manhattan yesterday, to see three short documentaries that have been nominated for an Academy Award this year. I’m  really glad we did.

The first of the films, KILLING IN THE NAME, is the story of a Muslim man, Ashraf Al-Khaled  whose wedding ceremony in a hotel used by Westerners was blown up by an Al Qaeda suicide bomber, resulting in the deaths of 27 members of his family, including his and new wife’s fathers. The film follows Ashraf’s efforts to convince Muslims around the world that killing other Muslims does not qualify as Jihad. I was particularly moved by the segment in which he debates with teenage boys in a Muslim school in (I believe) Indonesia. It’s not clear that he convinces them, but clearly, this is the kind of courage the world needs if we’re to stop killing one another.

But I was much more taken with the other two films, which address the pressing and linked issues of the world water shortage and climate change. I am greatly encouraged that such films are up for an Academy Award. May we all be showing them in our church basements and community centers soon!

The first is the exquisitely beautiful SUN COMES UP, which follows the relocation of a group of indigenous people in the south Pacific from their island home to the nearby Bougainville section of Papua New Guinea. The Carterets may be the first climate refugees most Americans will ever meet—their islands are being washed away by rising sea water—though they surely won’t be the last; estimates have it that various aspects of climate change—rising tides, the desertification and salination of fields, and floods—will produce as many as 100 million climate refugees by 2050. Viewers learn about the particular effects of climate change that are driving the Carterets off their island home. But the primary value of the film, I think, is that it presents us with some real and deeply inspiring human beings as they confront this horrific situation. The shots of faces, of people dancing, of the residents of Papua New Guinea welcoming the Carterets into their community, all of this brings home to us what will be lost if, by ignoring the reality of climate change,  we allow millions of human beings to be washed away or die of starvation or thirst.

If SUN COMES UP fights climate change with its sheer beauty, THE WARRIORS OF QIUGANG attacks the world water shortage and related environmental harm head on, documenting the refusal of the residents of a Chinese village to let a chemical company continue to destroy their land and water. The film focuses on a deeply appealing farmer, Zhang Gongli. When Zhang’s fields become so poisoned he can no longer farm them, he teaches himself enough law to sue the chemical company that has caused the pollution, not once, but twice, losing both times. Eventually, though, he organizes the villagers and they force the government to close the factory. If you need to find some hope for the struggle, watch this movie. If you need to be reminded of the horrific impact of chemical contaminants on earth, water, and people, watch this movie.

As with all films, a few quibbles trail along behind. For one thing, in the case of the Carteret Islanders, it’s hard not to wonder what the survival expectations are for the section of  Papua New Guinea to which they are relocating. At least it’s inland, but it’s hard to imagine that that’s the last we’ll be hearing about climate refugees in Papua New Guinea. And toward the end, THE WARRIORS OF QIUGANG raises its own question: will the government prevent the chemical company from doing the same harm to the area where it has moved (5 miles away) as it did to Quigang? Maybe Zhong Gongli will ride over there and fill the neighboring villagers in.

Prudence or Terror?

February 16, 2011 at 11:46 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A while back I read a book about climate change by the journalist Gwynne Dyer. It’s scared the be-Jesus out of me. Here’s the review I wrote, which was originally published in Kerux, the newsletter of Pax Christi Metro New York, the local branch of the international Catholic peace movement:

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats, by Gwynne Dyer. Oneworld Publications, 2010. 288 pp. $24.99.

As Christians, we strive to consider the burgeoning environmental crisis in the light of God’s gracious gift of creation and in the hope of redemption.  This is not the approach Gwynne Dyer adopts in Climate Wars. Instead, Dyer, an internationally-known  geopolitical analyst, deploys ten grim scenarios likely to play out over the next fifty years as a result of climate change.  As one on-line reviewer observes, if you woke up this morning wanting to read a book that will “scare the living  #$! out of you,” Climate Change is it.

Included among Dyer’s scenarios are the death of three-and-half million Bangladeshis from cyclones between 2022 and 2025; the installation in 2025 of a fence armed with land-mines and remote-controlled machine guns along the entire US/Mexican border to keep out  millions of “climate refugees” fleeing unremitting drought and famine;  the cessation of agricultural production in California’s Central Valley and the high plains of the American West by  the mid-2030s; and in 2036, a six-day nuclear war between India and Pakistan over the water in the parched Indus River.

Following each scenario is an analysis of the climate change factors that make it likely. Dyer begins by explaining the “feedback mechanisms”–the melting of polar sea ice, methane release from thawing permafrost, the disappearance of heat-reflective glaciers–that make it likely that by 2050 the CO level will actually be higher than is currently predicted. Next we learn that biofuels are no solution to global warming because their production has already massively reduced world grain reserves; soon, according to Dyer, millions of people will face starvation so that some of us can have eco-friendly fuel for our cars, with wars inevitably following (55).  Neither will cap-and-trade alone solve our problems, for reversal of the levels of carbon emissions we have already reached demand at least a concomitant massive restoration of the rainforests .  Finally Dyer details the obstacle to carbon reduction posed by the conflicts between developed, developing, and almost permanently impoverished nations. Only a colossal assumption of responsibility (and cost) on the part of the developed nations can possibly resolve them.

Christians may object to the cynicism of Dyer’s world-view, as when he asserts, early on, that “the (climate change) crisis was foreordained from the moment that the first woman planted a seed” (44).  And many environmentalists will loathe his advocacy of geo-engineering solutions to the climate change crisis–spraying droplets of seawater into the air to make clouds more reflective of sunlight, fertilizing the oceans with trace elements to foster growth of CO2 -eating phytoplankton, or  in the worst  case, shooting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block solar radiation (232).

In one way, however, Dyer’s argument sounds almost Catholic.  In 2001 the US  bishops issued a letter, “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good.” In it, they  acknowledge what most scientists say: that the earth is warming and human activity is causing it.  Our response to climate change, then, must be  “rooted in the virtue of prudence.” Despite some remaining uncertainty about the extent of climate change, according to the bishops, “it seems prudent to take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.”

Gwynne Dyer does not speak of prudence, but of something similar. Confronting climate change now, he writes, is like taking out insurance. Few homeowners reject buying insurance because there’s no proof that their home is going to burn down. They buy insurance because their house could burn down, and without insurance, such a fire would ruin them.  In Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer demonstrates that our planet may very well burn up, and sooner than we thought.  Like sensible homeowners, we need to determine the coverage we need and write that check quickly.

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