Confronting a Rising Tide – House Commitee Forum

Today, the House Natural Resource Committee held a forum titled ‘Confronting a Rising Tide’ where community leaders from the frontlines of the climate migration crisis were asked to share their stories. The voices of those who are experiencing the first and worst impacts of rising sea levels needs to be at the center of policy discussions on how to address the crisis. The panelists explained how their communities are being displaced. From Marshall Islands in the South Pacific to Alaska tribal communities to lose living in the Gulf South, forced displacement because of climate and energy impacts are happening today.

Panelists included:

Honorable John M. Silk, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Marshall Islands
Deme Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw
Esau Sinnok, Arctic Youth Ambassador, U.S Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
Colette Pichon Battle, Director/Attorney, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy

with closing remarks from, House Natural Resources Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva

Climate Refugees in the USA

I found this Huffington Post article rather compelling and fitting for this site, especially the title. The short entry reads as follows:

“This is a chilling video of a voicemail from a Hurricane Sandy victim in the Long Island neighborhood of Rockaway Peninsula. With scientists telling us that climate change is raising sea levels — storm surges and the intensity of hurricanes — there is only one way to describe these folks: they are among the first North American climate refugees”

It is so important that we tell the stories of those people who are currently being impacted by climate change. There already are thousands of climate migrants from Mexico (also a part of North America) that have been leaving their homelands as farmlands dry up since water once flowing from the Colorado River now is at a trickle to supply cities like Las Vegas with their ever growing thirst. Thousands also lost their homes with Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005, many of whom have not been able to return. So yes, the people without shelter in Rockaway are now part of the thousands and will soon be a part of the millions of people struggling to survive the impacts of global climate change. That is unless we do something about it.

Día de los Muertos and Our Deadly US Immigration Policy

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one is worth thousands of lives. At the US-Mexico border in the past 10 years thousands of immigrants, many of whom are climate migrants, have lost their lives.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is a Mexican holiday where family members and friends gather to remember those who have passed. While many gather today donning their altars with calaveras (sugar skulls) and the favorite food and drinks of their loves ones, this artist /activist calls on us to remember those who may be outside of our family and have lost their lives.

The Huffington Post and New York Times reported this summer that while the total number of immigrants crossing into the United States through the Mexican border have decreased, the number of deaths annually has not. Despite the U.S. Border and Customs Patrol officials intentions of increasing security in part to prevent these deaths, many human rights groups explain that this is part of the root cause of the crisis. As quoted in HuffPo: “We never thought that we’d be in the business of helping to identify remains like in a war zone, and here we are,” said Isabel Garcia, co-chair and founder of the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos.

Since the economic collapse in 2005, the number of immigrants crossing over to the United States has dropped significantly. In the five year span between 2007 and 2011 there was a drop of about 62%. But the number of migrants losing their lives remains about the same, 398 people reported dead in 2007 compared to 368 in 2011. In the past decade, thousands of men, women and children migrating for better lives have died at the US border.

“The more we have militarized the border,” Garcia explains, “the more walls we put, [the] more technology, [the] more agents we put, people who find that they’ve got to cross — whether because they’re starving and, more and more right now, because they’ve got to come back and reunite with their families — they’re going further and further out into the more dangerous areas. That’s why we continue to see, at least ratio wise, an increase in the deaths.” As Garcia explains, there are intersecting factors that account for the increase in percentage of deaths, including a more militarized presence at the border, a President deporting record number of undocumented immigrants from the US, and the ever increasing devastation of climate change on local environments and economies across Latin America.

But it is important that we understand not only the statistics, but also the stories of these brave and desperate individuals. The NYT shared some of the stories of those who have lost their lives in the dangerous trip to the United States:

“Consider the all-too-typical story of Josue Ernesto Oliva-Serrano. A Honduran illegal [undocumented] immigrant living in Oklahoma with his American wife and their two children, Mr. Serrano was deported last year following his involvement in a minor traffic accident. (An illegal [undocumented] immigrant does not automatically become a United States citizen when he marries an American.) In September, he perished in Arizona in a desperate attempt to be reunited with his family. He had paid a coyote, or smuggler, to take him from Honduras to the United States-Mexico border, where he joined up with a group of roughly 20 other migrants to enter the United States through the desolate and searing terrain of the Tohono O’odham American Indian reservation in southern Arizona.

According to accounts from the other migrants, the coyote told Mr. Serrano that Phoenix was only a day’s walk away (when in fact it was four days under the best of conditions) and that the two gallons of water he was carrying would suffice. The temperatures soared to triple digits the day the group set out. They ran out of water within hours and resorted to drinking water from cattle ponds. Mr. Serrano soon fell ill. He succumbed to the heat, a victim of hyperthermia and dehydration, the most common causes of migrant death. His mummified remains were found many days later by Tohono O’odham tribal members whom Mr. Serrano’s wife had contacted to help locate her husband.”

So this Día de los Muertos please remember not only the 100+ people who have lost their lives because of Hurricane Sandy, but also the hundreds that die every year leaving their dried up farmland and devastated communities for a better future. One more clear reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation here in the United States.

Kiribati and 100,000 climate migrants

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean and currently home to 100,000 people. It is part of a division of Pacific islands known as Micronesia and has 33 coral island divided up into three groups: Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands. Several people from Kiribati have been in the news recently, because of the direct impact that climate change is going to have on the existence of these islands and their people.

As the arctic melts and sea levels begin to rise, the islands themselves will be washed away. The threats the communities face include access to land, water and food. The President is currently working to develop opportunities for people to migrate and find new homes. But as David Lambourne, Kiribati Attorney General, explains the existence of a people is at stake. “No culture wants to basically abandon ship and be spread to the four winds. Because I think everybody accepts that there is no way we could as a community retain our sense of identity. No country is going to accept 100,000 Kiribatis to come and set up a new country somewhere else.”

Watch this 5 minute documentary, where both President Anote Tong and Attorney General Lambourne in Kiribati explain the challenge that they and their people are facing today:

Climate change might meant the end of the Kiribati people. We need to accelerate the adaptation efforts for communities like those in Kiribati who are already facing the impacts of climate change.

Movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) is by far the best movie I’ve seen this year. While much credit should be given to the director for the piecing together this incredible story, the 6 year old protagonist blows this film out of the water. Now 8-years-old, Quvenzhané Wallis got some attention for telling off Jay Leno earlier this year. This powerhouse actress does an incredible job pulling in viewers to life in the Bathtub and taking them along for the full ride in a post-Katrina Louisiana.

The movie dances an incredible line of telling the human impacts of climate change without ever becoming didactic or impersonal or ever saying the words climate change. Hushpuppy you are my hero for negotiating fluid and challenging gender roles, surviving a hostile environment, fighting for your home, and not for a second losing an ounce of your humanity.

This movie is a must see, and brilliantly lays out a story of climate migrants. There have been some critiques by Black feminist authors about relegating Black folks to a master narrative of primitive or even savage, but I agree with New Orleanian Jarvis DeBerry’s analysis. Spoiler alert: read it here from Colorlines.com. I will write a disclaimer that this film has a fair amount of emotional violence, so if that is a trigger for you this might not be the best one to view.

“Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.” Welcome to the Bathtub.

Happy Birthday Occupy!

Photo Credit: Gene Taylor, BusinessInsider.com

It’s not a coincidence that I am launching this blog on the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. One of the most beautiful successes of the Occupy movement has been to link different issues together under a shared political analysis. While right wing media critiqued Occupy Wall Street as lacking clarity, in actuality the analysis of our current crisis is in dire need of a more comprehensive framework. Housing foreclosures, student debt, private prisons, mass deportations and environmental degradation were being talked about in the same space. This is something that the non-profit-ization of justice-focused work has made more challenging over the past few decades. (For full disclosure, I am happily and fully employed by a well-established, national nonprofit organization.)

The past few weeks I have been engaged in some intense organizing for justice on the national stage and I found myself torn between issues. By day, I was spending my long work hours organizing against climate change and local environmental pollution; and by night, I was supporting the work of my friends in the struggle for immigrant rights. It was during this space that I was again deeply reminded of the need for progressive movements to align our interlocking struggles.

The past few weeks I also confirmed my fear that the climate justice movement and immigrant rights movements in the United States are rarely in communication with one another. (At least, several  major players on the national level are not.) And yet, we desperately need to work together in the coming years to deal with the global crisis of climate refugees and climate migrants (the direct overlap between climate change and immigration crisis in the undeniably potentially devastating form).

As the impacts of climate change grow more real every week, scarcity over resources like food, water and land will push more people to leave their homes and migrate to resource rich countries. One day many of the world’s poor will have nothing to eat but the rich. This blog is my attempt to link some of the conversations within these two movements. It is my call to action for the environmental and social justice communities to unite before we are torn apart. Afterall, we are the 99%.