Thursday, February 26, 2015

If We Dust-Bowlify Mexico and Central America, Immigration Policy Will Have to Change - by Joe Romm

Immigration policy and the funding of the Homeland Security Department are front page news.  But here is a rarely-asked question raised by a new NASA study that builds on considerable recent recent drought research.

If the United States, through our role as the greatest cumulative carbon polluter in history, plays a central role in rendering large parts of Mexico and Central America virtually uninhabitable, what will that mean for Homeland Security?  And will we have some moral obligation to change our immigration policy?

People often associate environmental refugees primarily with sea level rise, and that is likely to be the case in places like Bangladesh and the South Pacific.  But for North America, the primary cause will be the near-permanent Dust Bowls we are creating.

Recall that during the U.S. Dust-Bowl era, some 3.5 million people fled the region.  As I noted in The Next Dust Bowl, a 2011 Nature article reviewing the literature, “Human adaptation to prolonged, extreme drought is difficult or impossible.  Historically, the primary adaptation to dust-bowlification has been abandonment; the very word ‘desert’ comes from the Latin desertum for ‘an abandoned place’.”

Nature-Dust-Bowl-smallBut what scientists tell us we are doing to our climate will be much worse than the Dust Bowl of the 1930 — worse even than medieval U.S. droughts.  Indeed, Climate Central quotes Lisa Graumlich, Dean of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, saying that the Southwest drought from 1100-1300, ”makes the Dust Bowl look like a picnic”!

Remember, the Dust Bowl itself was mostly contained to the 1930s, whereas multiple studies project that future Dust Bowls will be so-called “mega-droughts” that last for many decades — “at least 30 to 35 years,” according to NASA.  Further, the 1930s Dust Bowl was regionally localized.  As the NASA map below makes clear, we are on track to Dust-Bowlify much of the U.S. breadbasket and Southwest, and virtually all of Mexico and Central America.  Other recent research makes clear we would also turn large parts of Amazon, Europe, and Africa into near-permanent dustbowls.  And this would be “irreversible” on a timescale of centuries.

These bleak projections are not new.  As far back as 1990, NASA scientists warned that severe to extreme drought in the United States, then occurring every 20 years or so, could start coming every-other-year by mid-century if carbon pollution trends continued.  A quarter century of dawdling later, NASA wants us to know that the situation is even worse than they initially warned.

The researchers’ findings are unusually robust, explained lead author Benjamin Cook of NASA:  “The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at.  It all showed this really, really significant drying,”

Here’s a video explaining their findings:

If we stay on business-as-usual CO2 emissions, we will turn the normal climate of our southern neighbors into “severe drought.”  Would it then be incumbent upon us to change our immigration policy?  (Credit: NASA)  Click to view.

Read more at If We Dust-Bowlify Mexico and Central America, Immigration Policy Will Have to Change - by Joe Romm

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