Migration and climate change

Invasion, conquest and occupation are features of human history. The British Empire was either acquired or held together by the force of arms.  And as Britain acquired such territories as India, Pakistan, Cyprus, the islands of the West Indies it sent its people to those places to exploit the wealth, resources and industry of the people who lived there. Exploitation was on a massive scale with the people of the Empire mostly being denied the basic decencies of life – the vote, the right to learn and freedom – on account of the colour of their skins or the race to which they belonged.

My father was born in Cyprus and his family lived in a village called Amiandos literally “asbestos” because of the local mine. The village men worked in the mine and lived on average to the age of less than 40. No one in authority bothered to enquire why the men of Amiandos died thirty years earlier than the men of other villages. That is the way that empires usually rule – the whole point of an Empire is for the owner of the empire to acquire wealth rather than to dispense justice or create freedom.

Empires never last forever in the case of Britain, people from those places came to live in Britain treasures of Britain and tried to benefit economically from the wealth and treasures of Britain, which their ancestors had in the former empire had significantly helped to create. It was payback time and that in effect is the morality of immigration, no matter what we say now.

Of all the empires that have been built up the United States of America is the most powerful. It acquired its land from two people – the Native Americans and the Spanish Mexicans. The Native Americans are few in number because there was a ruthless policy of what we would today call genocide in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Native Americans have no state of their own and are too weak and too few in numbers for payback to be effective.

The Mexican position is different. The names of the Western states of American are Spanish and were acquired by the United States by aggression. Had it not been for such aggression the land stretching from Houston in Texas, through Denver Colorado to the state line of Northern California (and possibly beyond) would be part of the United States of México rather than the United States of America.

In the border region between Mexico and the USA there has been much immigration that has not been authorised by the USA. A huge wall has been built in an attempt to keep the Mexicans out. But the influx of Mexicans is not caused by imperial expansion or by a desire to exploit another race or nation. It is driven by the human desire to improve. Humans want to improve their life chances, their survival chances and the opportunities for their children and many Mexicans see the best opportunity for improvement by settling in the land that was once theirs and now belongs to a rich northern neighbour.

Part of the motivation that drives Mexicans north is the not unreasonable desire to eat. Mexico is warming like all other places at its latitude. As it warms so the yields of its farmers lessen. As yields lessen farming becomes unprofitable and so farmers and their families move on, in this case to the United States.

One group of researchers blame the Mexican migration on climate change and even offer that for every 10% of crop yield declines 2% of Mexicans will go north, suggesting that somewhere between one and a half and seven million Mexicans will migrate in the next fifty years. Personally I think that kind of formulation is nonsense.

There is a link between migration and climate change but that link will be most apparent by migration caused by drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures not by more subtle effects of global warming.

What usually has happened is that migrants settle in another country mostly with a sentimental attachment to the place where they were born. Some migrants return home after they have made a successful life. Others never do. However the place from which migrants came gradually increases its standards of living and almost imperceptibly becomes as prosperous and then more so than the target country and that is when migration stops or goes into reverse.

Until then migration from Mexico to the United States will continue. Some states are passing harsh laws in an effort to stem the flow of people. Some politicians are exploiting the fears of the American population of being “over run” by Spanish speaking folk. They would do well to remember that the land that they wish to keep free from migrants was never really theirs in the first place.

5 Responses

  1. I’m reminded of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ where the peoples’ liberation front of Judea, before embarking on an assassination of the local caesar, justify their action by asking themselves “what have the Romans ever done for us?”

    The Judeans may not have wanted aqueducts, vineyards, drainage and civilisation, but they got it anyway.

    No one’s perfect.

    • I think the Judeans were reasonably civilised before the Romans came and brought slavery, crucifixion and other problems. Eventually the Judeans had their land ploughed up and salted by the Romans to prevent it from being farmed. This was 30 years or so after Brian, so perhaps it doesn’t count?

  2. Rob, I think conquerors tend to treat the conquered as badly as their own people.

    Victoria’s Empire treated the poor of England Wales & Scotland just as badly as the poor inhabitants of the Empire. Children worked in mines and many adults died before they were 40 due to TB cholera etc. Hanging for theft was common.

    My father was brought up in an orphanage. He worked to secure an education and advance himself. Like most people in this country, he did not benefit from the British Empire either. That’s why just being British is no reason to assume guilt.

    • I understand your point but there was a great improvement in living standards in the United Kingdom as a result of the Empire. Many “philanthropists” like Cadbury, created charities in the UK for UK people while having slaves as assets on their subsidiaries operating in the Empire’s balance sheets.


  3. There’s no evidence that most peoples’ standard of living in Britain benefited from the Empire, unless you count working in cotton mills. But that resulted from trade, adding value to raw cotton. So the benefit in jobs for british working people resulted from british labour and trade, not from exploiting cotton pickers. The company owners made the profit from exploitation.

    Of those who made fortunes, like Joseph Cadbury, some did improve work practices in all their industry others took the most they could.

    Slaves were not a unique phenomenon to british companies but in any case, many british people were ‘tied’ to the factory owner by virtue of being housed and fed by the factory owner. No freedom there either!

    My final point, do we still blame the german people for Hitler’s empire building in Europe? The legacy of any Empire will be mixed but surely the British Empire has left a much better legacy that many others.

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