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Open Borders Must Be Part of any Response to the Climate Crisis

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The ice is thin and getting thinner. On May 16, one Italian and four English scientists published the results of 25 years of satellite monitoring of the Antarctic ice sheets. Their findings were discouraging: The vast Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are thinning five times faster than they were in 1992; 24 percent of West Antarctica is now “in a state of dynamical imbalance.” Four days later, another study predicted that under a “business as usual” scenario—i.e. the current plan—sea levels will swell by more than two meters by the end of the century, resulting in the displacement of 187 million people. That figure does not count those displaced by other climate-related catastrophes: desertification, drought, wildfires, floods, crop failures, hurricanes, etc. Even so, the authors wrote, there will “clearly” be “profound consequences for humanity.”

We are already beginning to suffer some of them. The racism and fear that dominate the terms of the “immigration debate” prevent us from seeing it, but the climate crisis is one of the major factors spurring the movements of human beings across borders. Severe drought in Central America has been pushing Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans north through Mexico to the United States. Droughts in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin have been driving many thousands from both north and sub-Saharan Africa to risk the journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe. A sustained drought in Syria caused massive internal displacement, helping to spark an uprising that degraded into war, causing hundreds of thousands to flee across borders that, for all their apparent permanence, didn’t exist a little more than a century ago.

The timing could not be worse. In the absence of an actual world war, national borders have never in human history been as militarized as they are today. Borders, like nations, present themselves as natural and eternal. They are neither, but movement is. Humans have been on the move for hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of years. For centuries, institutions like slavery and serfdom restricted the movements of the sectors of society that did most of the work, but until just over 100 years ago, per John C. Torpey’s The Invention of the Passport, there was no “consensus for the view that states had an unequivocal right to bar foreigners from entry into their territory.” Passports were not generally carried or required until the First World War. The United States had no Border Patrol until 1924. Borders as we now understand them—the fixed and impermeable shells of what the political economist Karl Polanyi called “the new, crustacean type of nation”—did not exist when my grandparents were born.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !