Climate change is the most pressing issue Earth will face in the coming century. Climate change is also the most pressing issue global politics will endure. US foreign policy must be prepared for action accordingly.
According to the UNHCR, weather-related disasters are currently causing over 20 million climate migrants annually. As extreme weather events continue to increase, the IEP estimates over 1.2 billion people?will be displaced globally due to climate change by 2050. A “refugee” is defined as one crossing an international border because of a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” However, climate migration is a more nuanced, conglomerate problem than the more historically understood forced political migration because it is increasingly difficult to find that place of refuge. That is, there is virtually no remaining place on Earth free from climate-caused deterioration.
Furthermore, this forced mixing is far from ideal when climate change causes humans to become less agreeable, more aggressive, and more anxious– increasing the social temperature in an already steaming geopolitical atmosphere. Heat waves have been linked to decreased IQs, increased mood disorders, and increased anxiety in affected regions. In Bangladesh, children aged two through nine observed a 10% increase in aggressive behaviors approximately six months before and after a community flooding. Furthermore, 21 months after Hurricane Andrew killed 40 in Florida, 70% of children in high-impact areas scored in the moderate to severe range of PTSD. For reference, 11-31% of soldiers returning from war experience PTSD at the moderate to severe level. Furthermore, Hurricane Mitch, a 1998 larger, Category 5 storm leaving 11,000 dead in Central America saw 90% of children in high impact areas experiencing PTSD. The larger the storm, the larger the impact, and unfortunately for modern society, the storms are only getting larger.
Climate variability is also estimated to have influenced between 3-20% of armed conflict over the past century. This translates to climate-induced violence projected to cause a staggering additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 rapes, 3.5 million assaults, and 3.76 million robberies in the US in the coming century alone. Children are an excellent sample to observe these personality changes in because they have had less time to develop strong characteristics for combatting grief and trauma. While this means that the changes observed in children are often magnified compared to the changes observed in adults, as with any sample it must be expected that the developments recognized in children will repeat themselves in all populations, even if at first on a smaller scale.
US foreign policy-makers must prepare for the increased diplomacy needed to tackle global climate change alongside the increased hostility and climate-induced violence all nations will face. U.S. foreign policymakers must prepare for this with 1) plans for where US climate
refugees can migrate, 2) plans for how many, where, and the criteria for which it will accept climate refugees into the US borders, 3) preparing infrastructure to withstand an increasing population accompanying deteriorating natural landscapes, and 4) solidifying its global leadership in combating climate change as instigated by the recent Inflation Reduction Act.
While I am consistently educated on the rising threats of China and Russia to global democracy, my argument to place climate action at the forefront of US foreign policymakers’ agendas is not to belittle these threats. Rather, it is to elevate the all too often forgotten threat that no amount of diplomacy will ever be able to escape. The time is now for the United States to become serious about climate action. Otherwise, soon, the time will be too late.
Emma Schoenauer is a University of Notre Dame undergraduate student studying Economics and minoring in Sustainability and Public Service