At root level

Cli­mate change feeds ten­sions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - SHELLEY BUONAIUTO Shelley Buonaiuto of Fayet­teville is co-chair of the Arkansas Cit­i­zens’ Cli­mate Lobby.

There is a huge mango tree in the court­yard of a con­vent/or­phan­age in Gu­atemala I vis­ited re­cently. It reg­u­larly drops red and green man­goes on the ground, and when they hit the tin roof it sounds like gun­fire. The chil­dren gather the fruit, tear the skin with their teeth and suck the sweet, sticky juice.

As I con­tem­plated the tree, I no­ticed that the con­crete seat that en­cir­cled it was cracked and the ground lifted where the roots of the tree had bulged up­ward, and thought of the knowl­edge of those roots of un­der­ground forces.

The sweet faces of the peo­ple I met in Gu­atemala and El Sal­vador also con­ceal un­der­ground forces, trauma of which they are well aware. The beau­ti­ful town of Su­chi­toto, El Sal­vador, was the scene of sev­eral mas­sacres in the 1980s as the govern­ment strat­egy of coun­terin­sur­gency dec­i­mated the pop­u­lace to de­prive rebels of re­sources. This strat­egy was abet­ted by train­ing at the School of the Amer­i­cas at Fort Ben­ning, Ga. Afraid of com­mu­nism, the U.S. also sup­plied arms to the op­pres­sive El Sal­vado­ran and Gu­atemalan gov­ern­ments.

In Gu­atemala, some 400 indige­nous vil­lages were wiped out. At the Cen­tro de Arte y Paz in El Sal­vador, I met Ni­co­las, who showed me a video—scenes of dead chil­dren ly­ing in the street. The UN es­ti­mates that in El Sal­vador alone more than 75,000 were killed, 85 per­cent by the El Sal­vado­ran armed forces and death squads.

In 1954, the U.S. CIA car­ried out a covert op­er­a­tion that de­posed demo­crat­i­cally elected Gu­atemalan Pres­i­dent Ja­cobo Ar­benz and ended the Gu­atemalan Rev­o­lu­tion of 1944-1954, in­stalling the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship of Car­los Castillo Ar­mas, the first in a se­ries of U.S.-backed au­thor­i­tar­ian rulers in Gu­atemala. The Rev­o­lu­tion of 1944 that even­tu­ally brought Ar­benz to power through demo­cratic elec­tions had at­tempted to bring a min­i­mum wage, near-uni­ver­sal suf­frage, and land re­form to Gu­atemala. This an­gered United Fruit, which un­der pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments had man­aged to ac­quire 42 per­cent of the na­tion’s land and had been granted ex­emp­tion from all taxes and du­ties on both im­ports and ex­ports. United Fruit had lob­bied to top­ple Ar­benz.

Add to this his­tory the in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the tree, that of cli­mate change. The project “The Eco­nom­ics of Cli­mate Change in Cen­tral Amer­ica” came to the con­clu­sion that cli­mate change poses a se­ri­ous threat to Cen­tral Amer­ica, which it­self pro­duces min­i­mal green­house gases but is al­ready one of the re­gions most vul­ner­a­ble to the rav­ages of cli­mate change. In 2009, corn crops failed in four prov­inces and 400,000 peas­ant fam­i­lies needed food aid.

In El Sal­vador, Hur­ri­cane Ida brought mas­sive flood­ing, dis­plac­ing 15,000 peo­ple. In Mex­ico, the World­watch In­sti­tute re­ports, “de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion … is lead­ing some 600,000 to 700,000 peo­ple to mi­grate an­nu­ally. … Al­most 40 per­cent of the farm­land in­spected by the govern­ment has been af­fected by the drought … .” Dereg­u­la­tion of Mex­ico’s fish­ing in­dus­try means “Mex­ico’s fleet ac­counts for less than 10 per­cent of the to­tal catch, with the rest go­ing to boats from the United States, Canada and Ja­pan.” Gov­ern­men­tal cor­rup­tion, bad eco­nomic poli­cies, de­for­esta­tion, poverty and the vi­o­lence of the drug trade com­bine with cli­mate change to drive peo­ple north.

The U.S., hav­ing prof­ited off their land, de­posed their democ­ra­cies and con­trib­uted the lion’s share of car­bon emis­sions ex­ac­er­bat­ing their droughts and flood­ing, now talks of build­ing a wall to deny en­try to the coun­try that is reap­ing the ripe man­goes and leav­ing them with the cracked con­crete.

Look at the his­tory. The forces of so­cial up­heaval ex­ac­er­bated by the threat mul­ti­plier of cli­mate change are be­hind the des­per­a­tion of Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees leav­ing their homes and head­ing north­ward. It is in­cum­bent on the U.S. to rec­og­nize our ex­ploita­tive past and be­gin to make amends.

There is some ac­tion in Congress in this di­rec­tion. Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have in­tro­duced the Dream Act 2017, which would give young peo­ple brought to the coun­try as chil­dren a chance at per­ma­nent res­i­dence and a pos­si­ble path to cit­i­zen­ship. The pro­posal comes as the DACA pro­gram, which pro­vides tem­po­rary re­lief from de­por­ta­tion to those im­mi­grants, known as “Dream­ers,” faces a le­gal chal­lenge from 10 states.

What chance this bi­par­ti­san bill has un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is far from cer­tain.

Cli­mate change is ex­ac­er­bat­ing ten­sions not only in Cen­tral Amer­ica, but all over the world. A study from Columbia Uni­ver­sity’s Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Earth Science projects up to 700 mil­lion cli­mate refugees by 2050.

There is much we still can do: Ac­knowl­edge our re­spon­si­bil­ity as the na­tion that has prof­ited the most from the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els and suf­fered the least, honor the Paris agree­ment, en­act a Car­bon Fee and Div­i­dend which would speed up the tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­er­gies, cre­at­ing jobs and im­prov­ing our econ­omy, and es­tab­lish a fair and com­pas­sion­ate im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

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