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Dorothea Lange, Road to California (1936)

Coping with Katsaridaphobia

“Desert religions are all about scarcity, sea people invading, and Pharoah casting out the righteous, who go about looking for a savior.”

here are more important issues to be discussing than President Cobblepot’s latest tweet, but I feel the need to examine his wall fetish in a little more depth because lately, we are seeing Democrats, including all the 2020 candidates, buying into at least part of the Republican scare narrative. That bothers me. As a voter, even if my elections are rigged, I like to at least think there might be a difference between my choices. In the last couple of presidential elections, I voted for Jill Stein to become the first female-identified POTUS. But if she or whatever Green candidate were now to talk about our “immigration crisis,” I would blow a fuse.

According to the World Bank, by 2050 some 140 million people may be displaced by sea-level rise and extreme weather, driving escalations in crime, political unrest, and resource conflict. Even if the most conservative predictions about our climate future prove overstated, a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature during the next century will almost certainly provoke chaos, in what experts call climate change’s “threat multiplier”: Displacement begets desperation begets disorder.

The New York Times, April 10, 2019

First, let’s be clear. Immigration is a problem. So is emigration. Climate change will make both catastrophically worse. Most reliable estimates of the carrying capacity of the planet by mid-century fall in the range of 1 to 2 billion. By “reliable,” I mean science-based and factoring in the effects of rapid climate change on agriculture, water supplies, sea level rise, vector-borne disease, and biodiversity destruction. Some, like the Limits to Growth sequelae, even take microplastics into account through a morbid pollution equation.

Contrast that 1 billion with today’s 7.7 billion (April 2019) people, topping 8 billion by 2024, and projected, but by no means certain, to hit 9 billion in 2042. Like any exponential curve, this hockey stick began tilting upward after the Second World War and continues to incline more steeply by the year, abbreviating its doubling time with each generation. And yet, on the human evolutionary time scale, Homo colossus is a relatively recent phenomenon.

As we have seen from many competent studies of the rise and fall of great civilizations, human population adheres to a strict functional relationship with its food supply. It is in one-to-one equilibrium. As supply rises, so does fecundity. Conversely, when supply falls, for whatever reason, deaths outnumber births until a new equilibrium is established. One need only look to the droughts of Northeastern Africa in recent years for a current example of how that plays out. As the droughts worsened, hunger grew, civil society disintegrated, insurrections and civil wars erupted, and neighboring states were suddenly coping with massive refugee flows, conflict spillovers, and disease outbreaks. Fertility plummeted.

Since 1980, a period that includes all 20 of the warmest years in recorded history and 18 of the 20 most intense hurricane seasons in the satellite era, losses in the United States from storms, wildfires, and droughts topped $1.6 trillion — nearly a third of which occurred in just the last five years. And this exponential destruction is just the beginning of what David Wallace-Wells, in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” calls the Great Dying: a worldwide economic decline, sharply deteriorated living conditions, disruption to basic government functions and widespread hunger. Looking deeper still into the future, the predictions are even more dire.

The New York Times, April 10, 2019

Ripple effects from the African drought were felt in distant capitals like London and Paris, where anti-immigrant factions were happily empowered. While the US is buffered by oceans, the contagious meme had no problem crossing the Atlantic. If you tune to beltway babble these days, a major chord is our “crisis” on the Southern Border. This plays well in the Bible belt because desert religions are all about scarcity, sea people invading, and Pharoah casting out the righteous, who go about looking for a savior. At first glance, statistics seem to bear out President Cobblepot, which is perhaps why so many Democratic legislators have been lured into borrowing billions of dollars from future non-existent taxpayers to patch a nonexistent problem, at least for the present.

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Cobblerpot’s “crisis,” like the BREXIT meme contagion, is manufactured; built on a cascade of faulty-logic US immigration policies rather than by climate-related famines or US-intervention-based death-squad-blowback in Central America.

Malcolm Gladwell laid it out far more clearly than I can here in his Revisionist History podcast. In an episode titled General Chapman’s Last Stand, Gladwell described a Princeton study, the Mexican Migration Project. There, behavioral scientists looked at the pattern of movement across the US-Mexico border over many decades and a curious, perhaps even counterintuitive, pattern emerged.

The laxer the border restrictions, the less migration.

Prior to the 1970s, the pattern had been “circular migration,” where migrants traveled to the US to find work, usually seasonally, but then returned to Mexico for Christmas through Easter because that is where their family and ancestral roots are. Because of circular migration, the net immigration into the US was low.

Then Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson’s Great Society foundered on the shoals of Vietnam, and along came the corrupt and racist Nixon administration. Drawing their strategy straight from the GOP playbook, Nixon-Bush conspired to curry favor among Democratic majorities in the South by painting a picture of brown people invading the US and taking our jobs. In 1972, Marine Commandant Leonard Chapman was appointed to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service and, after reviewing his border legions, reported to Congress that good walls make good neighbors. Science says the opposite, but this is not about science. This is about religion and tribe. Red versus Blue. White versus Brown.

Anti-Mexican bias has swelled Republican ranks in the past. In 1955, the Eisenhower-Nixon Administration’s Operation Wetback rounded up some 1.3 million Hispanics and deposited them in random small towns in Mexico. In Texas, 25 percent of all of the immigrants deported were crammed onto boats later compared to slave ships, while others died of sunstroke, disease and other causes while in custody. During the 1930s, the US deported over 1 million Mexican nationals, 60 percent of whom were US citizens of Mexican descent.

It should come as no surprise that as soon as Cobblepot’s Homeland Security began choking off the commuter traffic at El Paso, San Ysidro and other ports of entry, and imprisoning and then losing the children of the immigrants, illegal immigration suddenly jumped to crisis proportions. Once you get across the border, do you think you will risk going home for Christmas? Heck, no. You will get an apartment and a car and keep your head down. You can send crypto home on your phone.

The solution to this crisis is simple. Tear down the wall. Open the border. Allow the same kind of flow between the US and Mexico as exists between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

To better prepare for the future, stop the bombing refugees and start planting forests. Yemen is a good place to start. For the price of one F-35 ($100 million and $10,000 per hour to fly) you could employ the displaced, planting trees and seeing them through to forest.

Of course, Cobblepot will not do that, any more than he would apply science to the US prison problem — millions behind bars for long sentences, many for conduct that is now no longer criminal. That’s because the prison system is also based on science-free myths and fables, baseless fears and tribal rituals.

A little sanity could go a long way. There are greater and more urgent threats we need to consider than a fake Mexican border crisis.

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Emergency Planetary Technician and Climate Science Wonk — using naturopathic remedies to recover the Holocene without geoengineering or ponzinomics.

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