Earth Day 2021 Teach-In: Ann Lin

April 22, 2021 0:05:27
Kaltura Video

Hear from a diverse range of Ford School professors on how their fields of policy intersect with the environment.


Hey everyone, I'm Ann Lin.

Many thanks to the Ford

Environmental Policy
Association for

inviting me to talk about

how environmental issues affect

the policy area that I think
about, which is migration.

The dominant policy
understanding of

migration is that it's
an individual process.

So when the person leaves
one place for another,

whether that new place
is a new neighborhood,

a new state, or new country.

We think about those decisions as

individual calculations
of benefits and

cost. As fleeing from

danger or towards
better opportunities.

Many people like me who study

migration talk about these
as push and pull factors.

Policies are based
on pushes and pulls,

such as asylum policies for
people who are persecuted,

or student visas, for people
who want opportunities

in their home countries.

Climate migration forces
both scholars

and policymakers to realize

that there is a communal
aspect to migration.

Natural disasters
might destroy housing,

food, and jobs in
a particular area.

Weather or temperature
changes might

diminish the viability
of agriculture,

fishing, or other
traditional occupations.

A long-term drought or sea level

rise can make some
areas uninhabitable.

When this happens.

Multiple individual decisions to

migrate happen in
conjunction, changing

the individual calculus
of migration decisions

and multiply
their overall impact.

For instance,
consider the decade,

the impact of decades long

drought on staple
crops in the Honduras,

which has been recently
been exacerbated by

hurricane damage in
the fall of 2020.

These conditions obviously
create push factors for

individual subsistence farmers
who can no longer feed their families,

especially when they have also

accrued debt from
previous years of crop failure.

But migration as a response
also becomes more likely.

When smugglers see
this potential market,

focus their
recruitment areas on

these distressed areas or

with caravans of migrants join

together for protection
and resource sharing.

Migration policy has not

responded well to the communal
drivers of migration.

Take another communal
driver of migration,

war. As everyone who

has participated in
this year's IPE knows,

the legal definition of

refugee is an
individual definition.

A person who faces
persecution based on race,

religion, political belief,

or membership in a social group.

Yet most people who flee the
dangers and deprivation of

a war zone flee because

they are vulnerable
to collateral damage,

not because they have faced
individual persecution.

As a result, only 1% of

the world's refugees are
ever permanently resettled.

The rest often face

years of living in
the no man's land

of refugee camps. Or on

the edges of a refuge
country's economy and society.

Now, I should be clear,

international legal
definition has been

a lifesaver for millions of

refugees who do qualify
for protection,

whether that is through

permanent resettlement or
temporary countries

of refuge. It's not an indictment
of that definition, however,

to say that it does
not adequately

address a communal
driver of migration,

like war or destruction
rains down on

people regardless of

their political beliefs
and social identities.

And if that legal definition

can't address war effectively,

how much less likely is it
to address climate change,

which disproportionately

burdens already
marginalized peoples,

but really doesn't fit into
a persecution framework.

Climate change provides
an opportunity

for immigration policy
makers and scholars

to think seriously about
new and better kinds of

solutions for focusing on

the communal drivers of
large-scale migration.

We know that even
if countries get

serious about reducing
CO2 emissions,

we won't be able to
prevent or potentially

reverse climate impacts that

are already affecting migration.

But policy can potentially
act as a counterweight,

making it possible
for sending regions,

Develop alternative ways
of making a living,

of addressing health impacts,

or adopting sustainable
mitigation efforts.

Climate change could even
be a creative force.

Encouraging migration.

That then brings new ideas and

new energies to the places
where migrants settle.

And encouraging both
potential migrants and

residents to design

new solutions for
environmental damage.

Thank you.

And happy Earth Day 2021.