President Donald Trump continues to focus on immigration and the crisis at the Southern border, Democrats have made fighting climate change a headlining policy ahead of the 2020 election. But in some cases, these issues might be one and the same, as increasing changes in weather patterns threaten food security in Central America.
While violence and corruption are often cited as reasons for the record number of border crossings into the U.S. this year— 76,000 migrants illegally crossed in February, an 11-year high—climate journalist Nina Lakhani believes many migrants are fleeing climate change and environmental destruction.
“For hundreds and hundreds of years, their ancestors, their families, have lived in a very sustainable way… and all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore,” Lakhani said at the Women in the World Summit in Manhattan Wednesday night.
She cited the plight of Central Americans who historically gained a sizable income due to coffee harvests. The crops used to be safe from a fungus that is killed by lower temperatures, she said, but now that the planet is warming, this fungus is more populous. It has killed 70% of the coffee crop in the region over the past five or six years.
Moreover, many of these cash crops are exported to societies in the west, and as droughts and floods increase in frequency, “people just don’t have the resources to live off anymore,” said Lakhani. “Food insecurity is up there with violence, and they’re very interconnected.”
A lack of resources tends to drive people to first migrate to cities, and then to other countries, like the U.S.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year that drastic changes would be needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but there remains little action to address the issue—other than the 2015 Paris Agreement, from which the Trump administration has withdrawn.
Speaking on the panel alongside Lakhani, Christiana Figueres, a founding partner of Global Optimism, warned of the need for universal cooperation in the face of climate change:
“From now on, either we all lose, or we all win together.”