Guest Blog by: Jim Ball

“My grandfather, father and I have worked these lands.  But times have changed…the rain is coming later now, so that we produce less.  The only solution is to go away, at least for a while [to the United States].”

— immigrant from Mexico

Global warming and immigration are two of the most contentious issues in public life today.  For many they are partisan political issues.  For Christians they are moral matters that must include a policy response.  Laws are needed, laws that help to create the common good.  Creating and passing such laws should not be partisan exercises, but right now they are.  We need good laws for both, but it’s anybody’s guess as to if and when they might pass.

Here’s the thing.  While our poisonous partisanship helps to paralyze progress on vital policies, global warming continues its inexorable march.  And along the way it will create more situations where people feel they must migrate to create better lives for themselves or simply to survive.

Reports from our military and the CIA highlight this number: climate change could create 200 million “climate refugees” by 2050.  And such migration is happening now, including in volatile regions of the world.  As former Army Captain and national security expert Andrew Sloan stated as he testified before the Senate on the security implications of climate impacts:

“Who among us would stand by and watch our loved ones slowly wither away and die from starvation? Who would not look to relocate if the areas where you lived contained less and less drinking water, year after year? Or if the land you lived on was flooded so often that you and your family were almost permanently living in water, unable to find food and increasingly susceptible to diseases such as malaria, dengue fever or cholera? The question that we must be asking is not just where will people go, but how are the people already living there going to react?”

One region of the world that could have already been impacted is Darfur.  As Gen. Chuck Wald put it: “The Darfur region was already fragile and replete with threats – but those threats were multiplied by the stresses induced by climate change.”

Closer to home for those of us in the U.S., climate change will exacerbate situations that cause people to immigrate here.  Mexico and Central America are dealing with climate impacts today, and it is only going to get worse.  Such consequences include dryer droughts, fiercer floods, harsher hurricanes, more water scarcity, more hunger, and increases in infectious diseases (some of which are coming our way, too).

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Agricultural crop production could suffer by as much as 30 percent in Mexico because of global warming. By 2050, half of the agricultural lands in Latin America and the Caribbean could be subject to desertification and salinization.
  • By 2025 anywhere from 20-80 million people could face water scarcity because of global warming.  By 2055 it could be 130-150 million.
  • Global warming will bring about more flooding and intensify such flooding.  The floods of Mexico’s state of Tabasco in November 2007, brought about by the worst rains in over 50 years, serve as an example of the devastation floods can bring.  700,000 people were displaced, 100% of crops were lost, and 70% of the state was temporally underwater.
  • One of the consequences of floods is the increase of disease.  For example, in central Mexico floods increased illnesses in children under five by 41%.  Another consequence is that floods can also push people into poverty.  In Ecuador after the 1997-98 floods those impoverished increased by 10%.

All of this makes it clear climate change and immigration are inexorably linked.  Major policy solutions are essential.  As Christians, we cannot shut our eyes to these problems and remain faithful to Christ’s lordship.  Especially in this time of intense partisanship, we must create common ground for the common good.


The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change at the Evangelical Environmental Network and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated. 

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One Response to Global Warming Means Welcoming More Strangers

  1. Anne says:

    Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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