Human Migration

Farming, Fate, and Difficult Decisions

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 11.12.40 AM.png

Imagine yourself a farmer in the early summer of 2019. (If this already describes you, the exercise should be easy.) Imagine the corn crop you planted, or attempted to plant, during the regular spring planting cycle has been damaged or washed away by a season of intense rain, unusual cold and strong flooding.

Now you’ll have to make a difficult set of decisions that may not only impact your own family and finances, but also the complex fluctuations and intersecting factors that put food on tables across the country.

You’ll need to either:

(1)  Plant your corn three weeks later in the season than you usually do, trusting that the floods are over, and raising a crop that may or may not be high and valuable enough to cover your loans by the season’s end.   

(2) Switch to a soybean crop, which tolerates a later planting and which farmers often do during spring seasons that are inclement for corn. The risk: soybeans are typically delivered to markets in China, which have been threatened by the current trade debacle. What if you grow a crop you can’t sell?

(3) Accept a subsidy so you can stay in the business…or not. Subsidies promised to farmers by the Trump administration require eligibility parameters, and these payouts will be limited or unavailable to farmers who have not planted anything yet due to flooded fields.

And then, the truly hard questions: If you hold a crop in storage while waiting for prices to return, what will you do if that never happens, or the water ruins your stored crop?  Will exiting farming now protect you and your family from a lifestyle with shrinking prospects? If you leave, what will you do instead? Where will you go?

And finally, consider the questions that fall not to you, but to the rest of us: What will we do if a year (or two or three) of painfully difficult decisions push farmers to exit the profession in critical numbers?

A healthy society and a functioning civilization depend on several things, including a democratic system of governance; a sustainable economy; ingrained support for education, culture and art; just, flexible and fairly enforced laws; and a system that brings accountability to those in power who work to undermine and corrupt it. But at the very core, none of these pillars can stand without universal access to clean water and food.

Without food, democracy, laws, culture, human rights, transportation, infrastructure and commerce fail quickly. And while climate change strikes at the heart of all of these things, none of our systems are more directly connected to the climate than our food system.

The United States doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and by simply examining the larger world, we can already see how climate change upends the lives of those who depend on the land for a living.

We may not all be able to grow our own food (though backyard gardens can supply us with both tomatoes and crucial lessons about the knowledge, labor, patience, experience, cost, risk, and moxy that it takes to grow a tomato, which can breed a healthy respect for farming). And we may not be able to protect ourselves from food shortages by implementing policy changes and price protections; a broken system, once broken, is difficult to rebuild, and abandoned fields don’t return to instant fecundity once lost overseas markets reopen.

But we can do one important thing, right now in the summer of 2019: Help farmers to make the difficult decisions in front of them by supporting farm-friendly policies and standing up to poor and reckless trade decisions. Most important: we can recognize the impact of climate change that’s taking place before our eyes, and we can look around the world and into the future as we search for ways to adapt.  

Over Three Million Refugees Leaving Venezuela, Carrying Global Questions and Answers

Through years of legal activism and engagement with both scientific and political data gathered from around the world, we recognize two major problems facing the planet over the coming decades: climate change and socio-political upheaval. We also recognize that these two forces are directly related. Together, these two can potentially destabilize a variety of systems from infrastructure to food distribution networks, but the first and most daunting challenge they present is already upon us and already requires immediate global attention: involuntary human migration.

Preparing an Appropriate Response  

Before the international community can anticipate and prepare for massive unpredictable population shifts, we must observe and gather information from shifts that are already underway. So as 3.4 million refugees and asylum seekers leave the turmoil surrounding them in Venezuela, the international community bears two key responsibilities. First, neighboring nations must find ways to manage and accommodate this influx. In this case, the largest number of migrants have been hosted by Columbia (1.1 million), followed by Peru (0.5 million), Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil. A smaller number of migrants have been accepted by Mexico and countries in Central America.

Second, nations everywhere must observe and monitor how these countries process, shelter, and assimilate this spike in asylum seekers without slipping into the grip of a humanitarian crisis. Calling for compassion first and sanctions second when faced with a neighbor in turmoil can help, according to this UN human rights expert. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/01/1031722 So can the development of stable channels and precedents for the delivery of humanitarian aid, as outlined in this report.

If neighboring nations gather data and examine best practices, the transfer and assimilation of large migratory populations can take place in the future with a minimal amount of uncertainty, danger, and threats to the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and the disabled. A study of best practices can also reduce the threat of violence, including trafficking and sexual assault, that can often occur when border crossings and processing procedures are chaotic and disorganized.

Why is this research important?

While the best response to any political or environmental crisis is advanced preparation and prevention, an unpreventable crisis can bring valuable lessons that allow the global community to prepare for a recurrence of similar events, from political turmoil to other drivers of migration, including natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

What we learn today from the events in Venezuela can help us prepare for both the challenges of climate change and the politically destabilizing events that may take place at the same time. Please join us as we follow the decisions and actions of the UN and those of South American nations facing a spike in permanent and temporary refugees.  

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.