It’s happening right now.
We’re seeing what author Christian Parenti called “the politics of the armed lifeboat” play out right in front of our eyes. The “armed lifeboat” is a rich country that, instead of working in community with the rest of the world to solve the climate crisis and support those harmed by its impacts, simply uses its privilege to take care of its own elites while shutting out climate refugees with increasingly militarized borders.
The United States is the armed lifeboat.
Last week, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as a class 5 storm, killing scores of people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Inevitably after such a storm, people are permanently displaced, losing not only their homes but also their livelihoods. They seek hope and a better future elsewhere, as is their right.
In response to Bahamians fleeing the devastation of Hurricane Dorian and seeking entry into the United States, Donald Trump turned straight to the standard white nationalist playbook: pretend that all non-white people who wish to enter the U.S. are dangerous criminals. These people, Trump said, might include “some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
This is the awful nexus between climate injustice and anti-immigrant sentiment driven by racism and xenophobia. The two things feed each other in a vicious cycle. The only way to break that cycle is to build a sense of shared humanity and challenge the elites who will fight tooth and nail against any change to the status quo – particularly the corporate interests, and their political lackeys, that profit directly from the destruction of the climate and our environment.
To be clear, the Bahamas and Hurricane Dorian aren’t the first instance of climate change and anti-immigrant rhetoric running into each other. While there are many factors driving migration from Central America, particularly conflict and violence, drought is definitely a factor as well. And the literally murderous U.S. response to migrants from Central America tells us all we need to know about how our country, left to its worst impulses, might respond to climate-induced migrants.
This is only the beginning. As long as certain politicians refuse to publicly acknowledge the reality of climate change and climate injustice, they’ll continue to rely on racism and xenophobia to drive their so-called “solutions” to increasingly severe climate impacts. That way lies climate catastrophe and increasingly violent divisions between people based on arbitrary lines of race, nation and privilege.
The climate crisis and the crisis of ethno-nationalism that we face in the U.S. but also in many other countries around the world are inextricably linked. On the side of neo-fascists like Donald Trump, the solution is stoking racism and xenophobia to provoke angry and violent responses against people seeking a better life, in many cases after falling victim to crises not of their own making – but directly linked to actions taken by the U.S. and other rich countries, as with climate change.
On the other side is the vision of progressive internationalism, a kind of global cooperation that acknowledges we are all facing a shared problem and must work to solve it together, in such a way that benefits all of humanity and not just its elites. Any real climate change policy has to be that comprehensive, or fails to offer an alternative compelling enough to compete with the fascists.
That’s why we fight for the vision of a Green New Deal and policies of that scope and ambition. Because we don’t need an armed lifeboat. We need to stop the ship from sinking.