Why Immigration Opponents Should Worry About Climate Change

The Americans who want to keep immigrants out will be dismayed by the latest climate report.

Climate change is a hoax. If it’s not a hoax, it’s overrated. If it’s not overrated, it’s a problem for other countries, not for us. It’s just a pet issue for panicky liberals.

If you believe any of these things, I have bad news: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—basically, the world’s best weather and earth scientists—has just issued a report on rising temperatures and the problems they’re causing around the world. One of the problems is migration. People are fleeing the hotter parts of the world. If we keep burning coal and oil, we won’t be able to build a wall high enough to keep out the millions of refugees heading north.

The IPCC report outlines this threat and the research behind it. From 2008 to 2015, more than 100 million people were displaced by floods, 60 million by storms, and nearly a million by extreme temperatures. Over the past four decades, the rate of such dislocations has increased by 60 percent. The number of likely “environmental migrants” or “environmental refugees” is projected at 50 million to 200 million.

Scientists are documenting the precise effects of temperature on migration. Two years ago, a worldwide study based on 30 years of data found that in countries reliant on agriculture, every one-degree increase in temperature on the Celsius scale—that’s about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit—correlated with a 5 percent increase in migration to other countries. A study published in 2015 found that in 142 countries, a one-degree rise in Celsius was “associated with a 1.9 percentage increase in migration flows” to the United States, Western Europe, and a few other highly industrialized nations.

The principal factor seems to be agriculture. “Extreme heat is correlated both with lower crop yields and higher outmigration flows,” says the 2016 study. A separate report, published last year by scientists in Germany, explains that heat destroys rice and wheat, causes diseases in animals, and accelerates soil degradation. In Pakistan, a study published four years ago found that high temperatures drove migration by “wiping out over a third of farming income.”

By WILLIAM SALETAN for SLATE
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