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Earth Day reminds us of the climate conflicts we’re already fighting in the U.S.


Happy Earth Day

Although the global climate crisis continues to rage on, it sometimes feels like we’re all discussing disasters that are yet to come rather than disasters that have us firmly in their clutches. But the inconvenient truth is that climate catastrophe has already reached our shores — by way of floods, wildfires and more

Last year, I pointed to Americans who fled climate events in one state only to face political oppression in another state as an example of the mounting climate-related conflicts. But that list wasn’t exhaustive. 

This one isn’t either, but in honor of Earth Day, it’s worth ringing the alarm yet again. Here are some of the climate-related conflicts that are already gripping the nation.

Water fights

In states that experience droughts, we’re already seeing communities in dispute over water access and use. In Arizona, for example, the city of Scottsdale is planning to end a water-sharing agreement with a neighboring town after a drought forced the federal government to limit the water Arizona can get from the Colorado River. That neighboring town is now searching for another water source.

Thus far, disputes like these are being handled using pens and paperwork, but who knows what they might look like if, as predicted, droughts become more common and things get direr?

Immigration fights

Climate change also perpetuates immigration crises, and the U.S. is experiencing this first-hand. Millions of people have been forced to flee countries like Mexico, where high temperatures, water shortages and crop failures have ravaged cities and caused residents to flee in search of a better life. Millions more have left central American countries that have been devastated by hurricanes and other climate-induced disasters.

Speaking to CNBC last year, Andrew Harper, a United Nations refugee expert, said, “Climate change is reinforcing underlying vulnerabilities and grievances that may have existed for decades, but which are now leading to people having no other choice but to move.” 

The trek migrants are forced to make to reach the U.S.-Mexico border has become more deadly due to climate change, which could be a boon to smugglers looking to take advantage of desperate refugees. And when migrants do arrive, they’re immediately thrust into our national political disputes over whether they should be allowed to stay. It’s a clear example of how neglect for climate has the downstream impact of feeding conflict. 

Food fights

Climate change also devastates the global food supply chain. 

In 2020, the Department of Agriculture shared a report that found climate change is “likely to diminish continued progress on global food security” as a result of disruptions in production, price increases, interrupted transportation routes, and diminished food safety. 

We’re already experiencing this. For example, droughts across the U.S. have endangered wheat production and contributed to price increases at a time when the global supply chain is being severely impeded due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. 

Beyond that, experts have warned extreme weather events around the world could keep U.S. food prices high for the foreseeable future, and the sociopolitical impacts of that are clear. Conservative opposition to a robust social safety net leaves millions of Americans in danger of poverty and hunger if prices increase. And as the Biden administration is discovering, inflation — no matter whose fault it is — is a political vulnerability that runs the risk of motivating some voters to do erratic things, like potentially handing Republicans control of the House and Senate. Yet again, we see the uncertain future of conflict that awaits us if we don’t get climate change under control.

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