Since the lead-up to the last mid-term election, political partisans have been milking the humanitarian crisis on America’s southern border for all it’s worth. Cable news, inspired by the worst trends in reality TV, boosted viewership statistics with a breathless, superficial coverage of the crisis, but has failed to dig deeper into the structural factors leading to it.
Researching this issue myself, I have been struck by the extent to which climate change’s impact on agriculture is playing a major role in the issue – despite what Representative Dan Crenshaw says.
To give Crenshaw credit, earlier waves of illegal immigration occurred due to factors not related to the changing climate. Understanding the background history is important to seeing what’s going on now.
In the 1990s and 2000s, immigrants mainly came from Mexico for reasons that, while complex, had mainly to do with trade and economics. NAFTA, which became law January 1, 1994, had an effect on migration, as did the rebellion in Chiapas, the devaluation of the peso, and the Mexican government’s failure to invest in domestic infrastructure. (This NY Times article, written in 2007, provides a nice summary).
More recently, however, shifting demographic and economic trends have changed the face of Mexican migration. Research by Douglas Massey of Princeton University suggests that “…undocumented migration from Mexico…has ended and at this point more unauthorized Mexicans are leaving the country than entering it.”
How does professor Massy’s data square with reports of caravans of migrants amassed at the southern border?
The uptick in illegal crossing of the southern U.S. border is real, as measured by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s statistics.
However, a look at the country of origin of the people seized in these apprehensions paint an interesting picture. Massey’s article shows that Central American families and children now represent a large proportion of border apprehensions.
Note the countries listed here: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These are all countries that straddle the ecologically fragile “dry corridor” that has been hit in the last few years by alternating droughts and drenching precipitation which climate scientists have shown is related to warming global temperatures.
Recent reporting from Jonathan Blitzer at the New Yorker and John Carlos Frey at the Marshall Project makes a convincing case that climate change is a major underlying cause of the recent pick-up in northward migration from Central America.
Climate change’s effect on migration is not linear, so can be misinterpreted – as it is by Representative Crenshaw. Central Americans are not migrating from their own countries because Central America has suddenly turned into the Sahara.
The nations spanning the dry corridor have lots of social problems, a long history of autocratic rule (supported for some time during the 20th century by U.S. fruit companies, leading to the term “Banana Republic”), and enormous disparities in wealth.
Because around a third of the population of these countries is involved in subsistence farming, slight perturbations in harvests can have a large effect on the populace’s capacity to subsist. After a few crop failures, rural peasants are forced to head to nearby urban centers, which are controlled by criminal gangs and corrupt officials.
Faced with breathtaking violence and corruption, many displaced rural peasants make the rational choice to head north in hopes of finding economic security and the rule of law.
These migration dynamics are ones the U.S. military has been researching, warning about, and preparing for for a long time, as I pointed out in my article Invest in Reality.
It is clear that the instability brought by mass migrations has real ramifications – political and economic – and to attempt to ignore the underlying reasons leads to the creation of superficial, stop gap policies.
Scientists and military strategists have been making forecasts regarding the environmental and strategic implications of climate change for decades. Those forecasts are being proven accurate. For an investment analyst who is used to looking for subtle, fleeting indicators that a company or economy has reached some inflection point, the warning signs that negative climactic effects are kicking in are flashing red and the klaxon is screaming.
The smart money is investing in ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Investing in this way will be the only way to build and maintain intergenerational wealth in the 21st century. Intelligent investors take note.