Scott Underwood
Scott Underwood
Last week, I wrote about my daughter and her Peace Corps mission in Bajo Mosquito, an isolated mountain village in Panama.

The natives there are subsistence farmers, growing grains, yuca, pineapple and other crops. It’s a hard life, dependent on the timing and intensity of the rainy season and the harshness and duration of the dry season.

Climate change is making a difficult life more difficult. The older people in the village tell my daughter that the rains aren’t as dependable as in the past.

Sometimes they don’t come early enough; sometimes they come before the farmers are prepared. Sometimes the rains aren’t heavy enough, and sometimes they’re too heavy, washing away the topsoil and planted seeds and bulbs.

A Sunday article in the New York Times reported on the impact of climate change on farming in Central America and how it’s generating a surge of immigration to the United States.

“Gradually rising temperatures, more extreme weather events and increasingly unpredictable patterns — like rain not falling when it should, or pouring when it shouldn’t — have disrupted growing cycles and promoted the relentless spread of pests,” the article reads.

“The obstacles have cut crop production or wiped out entire harvests, leaving already poor families destitute.”

The New York Times’ reporting originates in Honduras, which is a hop (Costa Rica) and a skip (Nicaragua) north of Panama and a jump (Guatemala) south of Mexico.

Climate change’s disruption of agriculture is a shared crisis among these Central American countries, which are particularly vulnerable, given their vast stretches of coastline, proximity to the equator and economic dependence on farming.

In Honduras, nearly 30 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture. The figure is lower, about 17 percent, in Panama. But in rural regions, the Panamanian economy is based mostly on farming. In Bajo Mosquito, it would probably be close to 80 percent.

My daughter’s village is about 4,500 miles by car and bus from Anderson, Indiana, and to most folks in Madison County it might as well be a million miles away. The two communities would seem to have almost no connections.

Climate change, in a sense, will bring them closer together, shrinking the world by inducing emigration from areas where conditions no longer support the local economy.

“Last year, the (World Bank) reported that climate change could lead at least 1.4 million people to flee their homes in Mexico and Central America and migrate during the next three decades,” the New York Times article reads. “The United States has allocated tens of millions of dollars in aid in recent years for farmers across Central America, including efforts to help them adapt to the changing climate.”

But those efforts are in jeopardy.

President Donald Trump has promised to cut all U.S. aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — because of his perception that those countries have failed to stanch the flow of migrants into the United States.

The development of immigration policy in the United States is a top issue with the American public. To address it, we must grapple with the forces that drive it.

Already, climate change is drastically impacting the lives of people in Honduras, Bajo Mosquito and elsewhere across the world. And here in Madison County, we’re already feeling the ripples.

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