Migrant Caravans and Climate Change

Here in the Just Atonement blog, we’ve spoken at length about the effects of climate change on human migration. As the planet warms, ecosystems are shifting unpredictably and sea levels are rising. As a result, coastal communities are facing enormous economic and lifestyle changes, and those who live further inland are dealing with droughts, storm systems, and water management issues. But there’s one population that will—and has already—felt the first serious impact of changing ecosystems: farmers.

Here’s an insightful article from the Guardian that addresses one example of this: the “migrant caravan” that appears to be moving north from central and south America this fall.

Those who make a living by growing food and other commercial goods appear to be providing early indicators of the changes that are yet to come for the rest of us. As farm landscapes and water resources shift, these people are among the first to feel the lifestyle and economic effects. And in many cases, these lifestyle changes are already pushing farmers, families and communities onto the road and into new geographic regions. As we’ve discussed in earlier blogs, this will mean massive numbers of people leaving one culture and entering another, with political and social impacts that are so far difficult to measure and predict.

How will the new arrivals be treated in their destination areas? Will they find assimilation and acceptance? Will they be easily able to move across political and cultural borders? When the do cross these borders, how will they reestablish themselves in their new lands, and how will they make a living?

Over the long term, the question we’ll all need to face is simple (though the factors that influence the answer are terribly complex): Can we navigate waves of human migration crisscrossing the surface of the planet while avoiding wars and political upheaval? Can we manage these changes without attacking each other? When migration takes place, it tends to bring fear, confusion, language and cultural barriers, and skirmishes over what are perceived as limited resources. Who has the right to these resources? Who belongs and who does not?

But migration also brings some incredible and positive tendencies, results that are not only essential to our ability to survive and thrive, but in fact have given us most of the things we celebrate about humanity: innovation, new ideas, connection, friendship and family, and the ability to grow and change as the world changes around us. As the planet shifts, will inevitable massive migrations bring out the best or the worst in all of us? We are witnessing the answer as we speak.  

Contact our team at Just Atonement to learn more. Find out how you can help us move toward our goal of a safer, wiser, more vibrant and sustainable world.  


Climate Change and Art

Here at Just Atonement, we typically consider the battle against climate change (the effort to prevent a critical two degree increase in planetary temperature) in terms of policy and legal action. In our blog, we review statements made by international organizations like the UN, and we discuss actions taken by public and private groups to limit society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels.

We recognize that fighting climate change is a multi-pronged effort, and the largest and most effective moves will likely be made at the highest levels of legal and political influence. For instance, when large municipalities (like New York City or the state of California) fund the exploration of sustainable fuel sources or increase tax shares on gas and oil companies, these moves create a larger impact than an individual person’s decision to recycle, drive a hybrid car, forego meat, or rein in their personal consumption habits.

All of us play a role, and every role matters, even though sometimes some roles seem to matter more than others. And when the impact of our own role seems to disappear in the grand scheme, this can lead to a host of existential frustrations and challenging mental exercises. These exercises, in turn, can push us toward larger questions about our role in the world and the purpose of our existence. If we follow this trail for a while, we find ourselves in a new place: a place of art.

An important intersection has opened up in the overlay between art and climate change. We don’t know what this means or where it will take us—Nobody does! But art, by nature, opens doors for us into new ways of thinking, new forms of action, new perspectives and new ways of looking at the same old world. Art expands us internally, pushing out and shifting the walls that define who we think we are and what we’re supposed to be doing here. And as it changes our inner lives, it also changes what we do, how we live, and how we impact the world outside of ourselves.

Check out this organization called Artists and Climate Change, and review the group’s latest series of interviews with artists who turn their attention to this issue.

Then take a look at this series of 12 contemporary artists who have contributed climate change-related works to this review in the NY Times Style Magazine.

And then of course, consider developing a project of your own that can demonstrate what these larger questions mean to you personally. If you have work to share with us—from photography to painting to writing or dance—please let us know!

UN Marks International Safe Abortion Day

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United Nations Human Rights experts issued a formal statement on Friday, September 28, in honor of International Safe Abortion Day. The UN Human Rights Council Working Group fights discrimination against women in both law and in practice, and the group opened its statement by acknowledging the central link between a women’s access to reproductive agency and her access to justice, equality, financial security and all aspects of public life.

A woman’s ability to make her own reproductive decisions lies “at the very core of [her] fundamental right to equality, privacy and physical and mental integrity and is a precondition for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms”.

And yet, 47,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortions. An additional five million suffer temporary or permanent disability. And an estimated 225 million women worldwide don’t have access to basic modern contraception, with girls under fifteen experiencing five times the risk of limited access and resulting unplanned pregnancy. If 225 million women could gain this access and prevent unwanted pregnancy, human health and human rights around the globe would experience a sharp increase.  

As stated by the group, “legal frameworks for abortion have been typically been designed to control women’s decision making through the use of criminal law.”

The World Health organization has demonstrated that criminalizing abortion does not prevent the procedure; instead, it pushes women to resort to unsafe and unregulated medical provision. In addition, in many cultures, women who have received abortions are mistreated by health professionals, denied emergency care, or are otherwise subject to forms of societal punishment that in many cases violate national and international law.

It is essential that governments reclaim this essential cornerstone of women’s reproductive rights through referendum, legislative and judicial action.

It’s also essential that concerns about unsafe abortion be addressed through public health policies and changes to relevant civil law including medical malpractice laws.   

Discrimination against women is a thread that winds through public and private life in times of both peace and war. It transcends national and cultural boundaries and is often fueled by power imbalances between women and men that are formally mirrored in laws, policy, and cultural practice. Many of these laws and practices are long-standing and deeply entrenched. But these laws can be removed with the systematic application of legal pressure and education; these are among the primary goals of the Working Group by the Human Rights Council. To learn more about the Working Group, click here. The next session of will take place in Geneva from October 22-26.

Climate Change and the US: Where to Move?

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This article published in the Guardian, while a bit sensational in tone, raises a question that many of us have been contemplating as the climate changes, weather becomes volatile, and policy actions fail to materialize: If certain parts of the United States become uncomfortable or uninhabitable, where will the occupants of those places migrate to? If our region of the country experiences untenable heat waves or flooding that we can’t properly insure our homes against, many of us may decide to move. But when we recognize that it’s time to pack up and go, how will we choose a destination?

For many of us, this remains a simple thought exercise. Our jobs, families and home equity determine our location for us, and we haven’t yet experienced any storms, fires or floods that have the power to permanently drive us out. But for those who live on vulnerable coastlines, the question takes on growing significance every year. And according to the researchers who contributed to the article, the answer can be summed up roughly in two directions: North and west.

Dangers Facing Southern and Coastal Homes

While Florida has experienced a sharp upward curve in population over the past few decades, most of the southern tip of the state will experience rising sea levels, increasing floods and a general increase in water-related damage and threats. Insuring homes in southern Florida will become more difficult and expensive, and most of what we now recognize as the coast will become submerged over the next ten years. The Gulf Coast will also become increasingly subject to flooding and storm damage, and the integrity of the coastline will become increasingly inappropriate for construction with every passing year as sea levels continue to rise. So Florida and Gulf Coast states are due for a population drift northward, in some cases to inland cities and in many cases out of the region altogether.

Why Go West?

Portland University climate change expert Vivak Shandas recommends destinations “above the 42nd parallel”, or the line that divides NY and PA in the east and Oregon and CA in the west. Moving north provides a buffer against blistering heat waves, and heading west can remove the threat of rising seas and property damage from elevated water tables. According to Shandas and also Jesse Kenan, a climate expert at Harvard, plenty of population centers inland and relatively close to the Great Lakes will offer a perfect refuge, especially those that fall east or west of the tornado corridors in the great plains.

Another things to consider: proactive municipal decisions that are likely to protect citizens from personal and financial damage. New York City, for example, appears geographically vulnerable (it’s a small island), but massive investments recently poured into infrastructure and flood protection are likely to minimize dangers over the long term. By contrast, unprepared urban areas will suffer a double impact as unrestrained flooding and storms drive residents away and weaken population and tax bases.

We don’t know what the future holds for population centers around the world, but the decision to move is often deeply personal. When the time comes to relocate, financial resources, family mobility, and destination choices will all play a critical role. Read more here.

Taiwan’s Participation in the UN Assembly

The historically complex region we now know as Taiwan was once a colony of Japan, which was relinquished by the country after Japan’s WWII surrender in 1945. Handed over to China by US forces, the island received a seat on the UN security council alongside the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and France, an honor it received for being the first UN nation to be attacked by an axis power.

This influential position became awkward four years later after the Chinese civil war. Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek lost the war to Communist forces and fled to the island, and a 20- year period began in which the Nationalist government of the island (then called the Republic of China) held a UN Security Council seat while China was closed out of the world body altogether.

Until 1975, Chiang held onto hopes of retaking China, and continually rejected a two-state solution in which the communist People’s Republic of China would hold Security Council seat while Chiang’s government would continue to hold onto the island (then called Taiwan or Formosa). Despite Chiang’s rejections of this option, the UN passed a resolution in 1971 that passed the seat to the People’s Republic.

Since that year, Beijing has aggressively promoted a “one-China” policy, which rejects the independent status of Taiwan and pressures the world community to consider Taiwan a part of China. China has block Taiwan’s participation in the UN and taken action against entities that reject or ignore the one-China position.

This week, the UN body will convene in New York. And this time Taiwan will not push for membership, as per custom. Instead, the island will be sending two ministers (digital and environmental protection) who will promote adherence to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, though they will not be able to participate in the Assembly itself. This is part of Taiwan’s ongoing and growing effort to present itself as a responsible stakeholder in world affairs.

Despite its past history of martial law and brutality, Taiwan is embracing its new profile as a defender of human rights. In fact, a sharp contrast is beginning to develop between Taiwan’s responsible reputation and China’s increasingly authoritarian government in which citizens cannot vote, speech is restricted, and Muslims have been detained in camps.

Though the UN continues to officially ignore Taiwan, and China continues its efforts to restrict Taiwan’s presence and influence on the world stage, a growing chorus of voices are recognizing Taiwan’s efforts to contribute to the world community. Follow us as we observe the proceedings of the UN assembly and in the meantime, learn more here and also here.