Humanitarian Disaster at U.S.-Mexico Border Just the Beginning of Climate Change Refugee Crisis

Interview with Josh Fox, director, best known for his Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary, "Gasland”, conducted by Scott Harris

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection face overcrowded and filthy conditions in detention centers in places like Clint, Texas. According to lawyers who visited that facility, children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing soiled clothing, are caring for infants placed in the same cell. Both adults and children had no access to soap, toothbrushes and little or no access to adequate food, water or showers.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that she is “appalled by the conditions” being forced upon migrants after they cross the southern U.S. border,” and was “deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions.”

Amid calls by progressive activist groups to close down what they describe as “concentration camps,” Democrats who control the House of Representatives will soon consider new legislation to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Many legislators were angry that the $4.6 billion emergency spending bill passed on June 25 included no standards for the Trump regime’s treatment of migrants at the border. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Josh Fox, director, writer and environmental activist, best known for his Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary, “Gasland.” Here, he talks about the humanitarian crisis he observed during a recent visit to Clint, Texas – and the refugee crisis’ links to climate change.

JOSH FOX: Like many Americans, I’ve been completely outraged at what I’ve seen at the border and what I’ve heard from reports of families being separated, rampant child abuse – the whole system basically, which is child abuse. And I wanted to go as a person who is a first generation American. My father was a Holocaust survivor, victim of basically, a survivor of a genocide and the beneficiary of a different type of immigration policy 60 years ago. If the United States hadn’t let my family in when we were facing a genocide, I don’t think I would be here talking to you right now. Uh, that’s definitely for sure. So I felt personally really compelled and also as a representative of New York City, which is the most diverse city on the planet, I know firsthand how, you know, culture in America is born of Immigration and benefits from immigration and diversity and a multiplicity of all nations and people.

So I felt really compelled. And I was performing last year, my solo piece, which is called The Truth Has Changed,” which is now a book and will become a film this year, which is about my family history and about migration and about xenophobia and racism and specifically about the connections between white supremacy and the oil industry. And, you know, I had performed a piece in a place called Cafe Mayapan in El Paso as we toured around the country last year. So I had contacts in El Paso who were indigenous activists who are not just fighting the fossil fuel industry, but they were also fighting for justice for migrants. And you know, so these dual crises propelled me to go down there this week, just to do a preliminary investigation for, you know a documentary which I will be making over the course of the next year or more.

You know, the current crisis is that we have 800,000 immigrants’ pending cases of asylum at the United States border. That’s nearly a million people. But, what the United Nations is telling us is that it’s possible within a decade, a decade and a half, that we will have up to 200 million to a billion climate refugees swarming to find new homes on the planet as we approached 2 degrees of warming. That’s all across the earth. But you know, even at a small percentage, that’s upwards of 100 million people trying to come into the United States. That is what makes what’s happening right now look like a walk in the park. Climate change will bring millions upon millions, hundreds of millions of new migrants all across the world. So we cannot model our policy on xenophobia, racism, detention, concentration camps and genocide. That is a Mad Max vision of the future, unlike any that I could imagine.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You’ve certainly discussed here tonight, the link between the migration crisis in this country and around the world to climate change. And specifically talking about the farmers in Guatemala who can no longer grow crops in many cases and are forced to abandon their land in their ancestral home to come to the United States or somewhere to eke out a living. You also discussed the UN estimates of 200 million to 1 billion climate refugees across the world in the coming years. It leaves one dumbfounded to how we as a country or we as a planet can, number one, try to do as much as we can with our very flawed political system that has not moved on addressing climate change in any serious way. And then how we can adjust our societies to address the coming extreme weather, drought, floods, crop failures and this migration crisis. What kind of optimism do you take away from this?

JOSH FOX: Well, actually, to be honest, I take quite a bit. You know, look, there are climate migrants in the United States, climate refugees in the United States. Everybody who lived in Paradise, California. Everybody who lived in Mexico Beach, Florida. Lots and lots of people who lived in New Orleans who suffered Katrina and then got hit in Houston by Harvey. People in Puerto Rico. People in the United States Virginia Beach, I mean we’re losing an American city per month. We have a climate catastrophe wiping a city off the map worldwide per week. We’re going to see a lot more of this to come.

This is what I have to say to America. I’ve traveled this country all across it – all over the nation for 10 years. Five hundred cities. Were getting boring and mean. Our cities are just strip malls at this point, across the country. I see nothing but Targets and Walmarts and Appleby’s and TGI Fridays and all of this heavily corporatized experience.

What makes life beautiful? What makes life great is art and individual initiative and creativity. Mom and pop stores, craft beers, amazing chefs, music, all the things that this white monoculture that is sweeping the nation tries to eradicate at every turn. I don’t think 200 million new migrants to America is a problem. I think 200 million new migrants to America is a solution. It will make us less boring and mean. It will make us more generous and more beautiful and it will make us more diverse and extraordinary.

How many Trump protesters did I see at the border screaming to keep people out, who then went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner? America is a gorgeous mosaic. As David Dinkins liked to say about New York City, we need to be more gorgeous. We need to be more diverse. We are becoming boring and mean. And we should not be boring and mean. We should be beautiful, accepting, loving and open.

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