David Carlson: It’s all connected


“It’s all connected.” That’s a sentence we hear frequently, but what is the “it” that the sentence refers to?

The connection a friend of mine made recently is one linking undocumented workers at our borders, failed countries to our south, and climate change. That might sound like a stretch, but my friend made a good case for the connection.

I have listened to those who want to stop the flood of migrants entering or wishing to enter our country without legal permission. I have paid attention to similar concerns that many Europeans have about migrants coming up from the Southern Hemisphere. I sympathize with some of their concerns, especially the way that greedy business owners bid low and win contracts by exploiting migrant help. That is unfair to legitimate workers and unfair to desperate migrants.

What my friend observed is that most of our attention is given to schemes to close borders and too little attention is given to answering the question, “Why are so many people on the move around the globe from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere, and why now?”

Let’s start with the assumption that most people would prefer staying in their countries of origin, speaking the language they grew up with, and living in their familiar neighborhoods if there were good jobs, decent schools for their children, decent health care, and safe communities. Conversely, why would parents who love their children remain in communities where there are few decent jobs, poor or no schools, inadequate health care, and government-sponsored gangs roaming the streets?

If we want to understand the migrant crisis, we should be studying the mounting instability in countries on or near the equator. These are the countries suffering most from rising temperatures and droughts brought on by climate change. Drought leads to famine, famine leads to disease, and frequent famine and disease destroy a country’s economy and overwhelm a government’s response. Revolutionary elements exploit the situation and add to the chaos.

These countries on or near the equator will soon be too hot and too violent for human habitation. Leaving those countries is not a choice for families; it is a matter of survival. If Europe and North America are concerned about the present numbers seeking entry, the future will undoubtedly be worse if nothing is done.

So what can governments like ours do to address this present and looming crisis? It is an evasion to say we can do nothing and should do nothing. The United States already gives considerable foreign aid to equatorial countries, but how much of that aid is spent by those governments on military purposes? Even more damning is the issue of how much of the military spending in those countries returns to U.S. weapons manufacturers. That’s not true foreign aid; that’s a shell game where dollars go out so that they can return to arms dealers here at home. When we allow this, we are simply making a buck off the pain of innocent people.

Our hypocrisy extends also to the climate front. When we pretend that there is no climate crisis, our personal lives, depending on where we live, might become slightly more uncomfortable. But the major sufferers of our convenient denial are these equatorial countries.

A simple example says a lot. Fewer and fewer Americans live on a farm, yet pickup trucks have the biggest sales of any vehicle in automotive history. Did something change in the American way of life where a pickup truck becomes a necessity? Not that I can see, but what that trend means is that we are quite happy driving vehicles getting eighteen miles or fewer per gallon and, in the process, further polluting the planet.

We might even have the nerve to drive these gas-guzzling vehicles to political rallies where we cheer candidates who want to build walls and close borders.

As if we’re not all connected. But we are.

David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].