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Journalist speaks on environmental crisis, migration, borders

| Thursday, October 10, 2019

In a lecture titled “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homelands Security,” award-winning journalist and author Todd Miller discussed the current environmental crisis, highlighting its impact on poorer communities across the globe and the increase in border fortification in developed countries as a result.

While investigating the causes of widespread displacement in Central America, Miller met a number of farmers from Honduras journeying to America because they were unable to support themselves or feed their families because of a severe drought.

Serena Zacharias | The Observer

Author Todd Miller speaks Wednesday at Notre Dame. Miller discussed the implications of climate change has on security and migration, saying that environmental damage has the potential to amplify existing problems.

“I found out that it was indeed a calamity of very high proportions,” he said. “In Honduras alone, the government recognized over 400,000 people who were in a food crisis.”

Many of these people chose to emigrate, Miller said.

“They told me that they left Honduras because there was no rain, no harvest, no food and, thus, a crisis,” he said.

After speaking to empirical researchers connecting climate change and displacement, Miller said he learned that if the Earth continues to warm, staggering numbers of people will continue to migrate to developed nations to an extent without precedence in human history. However, with this mass exodus there will be nowhere for people to emigrate.

“There’s no climate refugee status,” Miller said. “If you look at the international definition of refugee, that is not included nor are the people who are suffering economic distress or economic violence.”

As a number of countries around the globe have undergone a massive increase of border militarization — including the United States — Miller said this trend will continue to accelerate, and the countries working to fortify their borders most aggressively are also the countries that have the greatest amount of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

“The United States has more carbon emissions since 1900, 700 times more than Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras combined,” Miller said.

In addition to traveling to a number of different countries in Central America to do research, Miller also went to the Philippines, the U.S.-Mexico border and Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference in order to speak to as many people as he could. In Tacloban, Philippines, Miller met a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged portions of Southeast Asia in 2013.

Miller said the man had been sleeping in a hotel when the typhoon hit and ripped the roof off of his room on the fourth floor.

“He told me that he started to plan for his own death. He was certain that he was going to die, and he was wondering if his family would find them in the rubble below the hotel,” Miller said.

While he managed to escape, the typhoon killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone. Miller said the Filipino man he spoke to said he helped gather 78 bodies in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“When you think of the Philippines, and you think of Tacloban and Marinduque, according to scientists, that’s the future and the business as usual situation,” Miller said. “And within that future are a lot of estimates of more displacement of people than we have ever seen in human history.”

Although he focused on the impact of climate problems for his book, “Storming the Wall,” Miller acknowledged that if he catalogued all of the different initiatives across the world working to combat issues of climate change, displacement, borders and immigration, he could have written a much bigger book.

“The climate strikes in the past week or so are very much bringing to the forefront of public awareness [this issue], along with Greta Thunberg standing in front of the United Nations and saying, ‘We are inheriting what you gave us and insisting that things have to change.’” Miller said.

To close his lecture, Miller expressed his unwillingness to accept today’s reality for tomorrow’s future.

“When you’re thinking about the past, certain things have been set into motion,” Miller said. “But is the future of borders and displacement and climate change — is this an inevitable reality? Probably certain dimensions of it are, but it could change.”

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a junior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin; however, she would never consume her state's precious cheese or any other cheeses for that matter because she's very allergic. Serena currently serves as a New Writer Editor for the Observer.

Contact Serena