The chasm between Trump administration policies and reality is most evident in its open war on illegal immigration and its stealthy campaign against climate science.
Climate change is one of the most potent drivers of illegal immigration, both directly (to escape flooding, drought and other weather-related disasters) and indirectly (to flee violent conflicts sparked by desperate competition for increasingly scarce water, food and arable land).
Yet President Trump promises to stanch the wave of illegal immigrants to the U.S. with a “beautiful southern wall” while promoting anti-environmental policies which threaten to turn the wave into a tsunami with the power to crash over and around any wall he builds.
Last month, Maine native and former U.S. Interior Department Director of the Office of Policy Analysis Joel Clement, speaking at Bates College, recounted the disturbing saga of his futile battle against climate-change deniers during his tenure in the Trump administration.
Clement, an environmentalist with nearly seven years of service in the Department, examined and publicized the effects of climate change on over 30 Native Alaska coastal communities, located on narrow spits of land being inundated by rising ocean levels, thawing permafrost and melting protective sea ice.
But in June 2017, Clement was reassigned by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee, from a job supervising 25 analysts and economists to a meaningless post without any staff in an accounting office for oil and gas royalties in Oklahoma.
Clement contends the reassignment was intended to pressure him into resigning, which he did in October. He has filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, asserting that his reassignment violated federal whistle-blower protections.
Clement is only one of a number of senior executives at Interior who have been similarly treated. At the Environmental Protection Agency, which has overlapping responsibilities for climate-change issues, Administrator Scott Pruitt barred scientists whose research was being funded by the EPA from serving on its science advisory boards, thereby stripping the Agency of much of its best scientific talent.
Clement has been blunt in his criticism of the Trump administration and the GOP. In his speech at Bates, he accused them of becoming a “willing host” to climate change deniers and a shill for the oil and gas industries. Climate change, he said, “is real, it’s dangerous, and we’re causing it.” Maine, he said, was “on the leading edge of climate impact in the lower 48 states.”
Even those who stubbornly refuse to accept the almost universal scientific consensus that current climate trends are primarily driven by burning of fossil fuels can hardly ignore that the planet is warming, polar and glacial ice are melting, sea levels rising, coastlines eroding, deserts spreading, and extreme weather phenomena becoming more severe. These changes are making large swaths of land uninhabitable and driving out their inhabitants.
In “Rising Tides: Climate Refugees in the Twenty-First Century” (available at the Auburn Public Library), authors John R. Wennersten and Denise Robbins present the case that these phenomena are already responsible for a mass movement of refugees, both internally and across international boundaries, that are overwhelming resources and stressing political and social systems in many countries. They advocate sustained international efforts to limit greenhouse emissions (such as the Paris Climate Treaty of 2015, which Trump repudiated) and to strengthen organizations, such as the United Nations, whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and possibly resettle climate refugees in an even-handed manner (the exact opposite of Trump’s policy).
Researchers have estimated that currently about 25 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of climate change, and the U.N. estimates that number will climb to 50 million by 2020. Even those apparently fleeing political conflict are often, in the final analysis, climate refugees.
Starting about 2014, for instance, a wave of refugees trying to escape the Syrian Civil War surged dramatically into surrounding Middle East countries and into Europe, sparking an anti-immigration backlash. Yet this migration, according to Wennersten and Robbins, was an indirect result of a drought in Russia and China in 2009-2010, which led to a world-wide spike in wheat prices, to food shortages in the Middle East and North Africa, and ultimately to popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
In Somalia, drought-induced famine and flash flooding, along with political violence, have displaced over 1 million people, thousands of whom have found their way to communities in the U.S. like Lewiston.
Closer to home, in drought-stricken areas in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America — western El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica — crop failures have propelled hundreds of thousands of refugees north through Mexico to the U.S. Threat of starvation, rather than (as the Trump narrative would have it) motives of murder, rape and drug-running, has caused caravans of men, women and children to attempt the hazardous journey.
Yet Trump persists in demanding a border wall with Mexico (estimated to cost between $10 and $15 billion), while simultaneously pushing policies which exacerbate climate causes of mass migrations – such as increasing off-shore drilling areas, relaxing coal-mining and power-plant regulations, easing motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards and refusing to participate in international efforts to limit greenhouse emissions.
Instead of seeking funding for an expensive wall that will inevitably be circumvented, Trump should be advocating spending to prevent climate change and working with other governments and international agencies to remediate its impact.
But that’s unlikely to happen in an administration which treats scientific research on climate change, like mainstream journalism, as “fake news.”