Climate, migration and border militarization

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The two agencies of the U.S. government that take climate change most seriously are the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

They foresee droughts, floods and storms on a scale that will create global political instability and millions of climate refugees, mainly from countries already ravaged by war and poverty.  While other parts of the government dither and deny, they have spent billions since 2003 preparing for the coming emergency.

Their preparation, however, is not aimed at preventing or slowing down climate change, nor is it principally aimed at relieving distress.  Rather it is in protecting the U.S. homeland and American business interests from the desperate masses.

A journalist named Todd Miller did a good job of reporting on this in STORMING THE WALL: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security, published in 2017.

He attended a Defense, National Security and Climate Change conference in Washington, D.C., in 2015, attended by top military brass and government and corporate officials.  A NASA representative told how the Space Shuttle and F-35 fighter required chrome, columbium and titanium, which are sourced from South Africa, Congo and Zambia, all threatened with political instability due to climate change.

“If these stressing factor result in increased migration,” he said, “it will just increase the potential for instability and conflict,” which would affect the U.S. ability to obtain elements “critical to the alloys we need to support the system.”

It was at that meeting that Miller for the first time heard the expression, “military-environmental-industrial complex.”  Billions of dollars are being spent to, on the one hand, wean the U.S. military itself from dependence on fossil fuels and, on the other, maintain the political and economic status quo in the face of climate-driven upheaval.

He devoted several chapters of the book to migration from central America and Mexico into the southwest USA.  He showed that the border is not a line on the map separating the United States from Mexico.

The border area extends 100 miles into the interior of the United States, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acts like a military occupying force.  Miller noted that an order by President Obama against racial profiling specifically exempted the Department of Homeland Security.

It also extends down through Mexico into Central America, where there are a series of checkpoints, aided by U.S. military advisers and U.S. military equipment, designed to intercept migrants on their way.  There are fewer arrests nowadays at the international border, but this may not mean that fewer people are trying to cross the border.  It may just mean that more of them are intercepted before they get close.

The U.S. Coast Guard nowadays does more than guard the coasts.  After the 2010 earthquake, the Coast Guard patrolled the coast of Haiti, turning back anyone who tried to flee, and even set up a detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Migrants leave their home countries for many reasons—commonly poverty, war, tyranny or crime.  But, in the words of a Marine Corps general, climate change is a “threat multiplier.”  Events such as the 2015 drought in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua make all the underlying social problems worse.

The United States is not unique.  The new “smart border” between Turkey and Syria has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones, Miller wrote.

Experts say floods and a rising sea will cause millions to flee Bangladesh.  India has a 2,000-mile ‘iron wall” on its border and soldiers with orders to shoot to kill.  More than 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed between 2001 and 2011 while trying to cross the border.

A chapter of the book is devoted to the Philippine government’s response to Hurricane Haiyan in 2013, in which the city of Tacloban, among others, was devastated by waves two stories high.

The people of Tacloban organized a relief effort called the People’s Surge, and asked the government for a grant of 40,000 Philippine pesos (less than S1,000 US.).  They were accused of being an arm of the People’s Army, a guerrilla group.

Soon after, in 2014, the Philippine army began to occupy the area, Miller wrote.  They set up check points and stood guard at businesses, but did not help the relief effort.  Soon a number of People’s Surge leaders were murdered by masked men on motorcycles.

All this was under the comparatively liberal Benigno Aquino government. not the right-wing authoritarian Rodrigo Duterte, who was elected in 2016.  It is a foretaste of how militaries around the world are responding the climate disasters.


I have to admit that I don’t think the United States or any other nation can afford to have completely open borders.  I think there is a limit to the number of immigrants any nation can absorb without a breakdown of the economic and political order that made the nation attractive to immigrants in the first place.

Todd Miller

Germany and the other nations of the European Union were overwhelmed by the refugee crisis of 2015, which involved about 1.4 million refugees.  There are an estimated 22 million refugees in the world today.  What happens if they all start to move at once?  What happens if climate change doubles or triples the number of climate refugees or increases it tenfold?  Would attempts at border control matter one way or the other?

What’s wrong is trying to deal with climate migration as a military and police problem and nothing else.  Where are the billions for disaster relief?  Where are the billions for land reclamation?

Miller mentioned in passing an organization called Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO), which operates in Arizona, New Mexico and bordering areas in Mexico.  One of the things CLO does is to make galvanized wire cages called gabions, fill them with stones and bury them on stream banks and stream beds, sometimes going as deep at 18 feet into the ground.

When storms and floods come, they soak up the excess water, which stays in the ground and raises the water table.  He described this work being done within sight of outposts of the Border Patrol.  I’m not sure of CLO’s source of funding; it may get some government grants.  But what if land reclamation was funded on the same scale as border policing?  What could be achieved?


Todd Miler Home Page.

The Era of Walls: Greeting climate-change victims with a man-made dystopia by Todd Miller for TomDispatch and Huffington Post.

A World of Borders to Control Those Fleeing Climate Change, an interview with Todd Miller for ShadowProof.

Real Climate: Climate science from climate scientists.  Background on the science  of climate change.  The Discovery of Global Warming also contains good information.

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One Response to “Climate, migration and border militarization”

  1. Is Adaptation to Collapse the Best Case Scenario? | Marmalade Says:

    […] the U.S. homeland and American business interests from the desperate masses” (Phil Ebersole, Climate, migration and border militarization). There are many courses of actions we could take. And we know what needs to be done to prevent or […]


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