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The Global Climate Wall: Wealthy Nations Prioritize Militarizing Borders Over Climate Action

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The world’s richest countries have responded by militarizing their borders and treating the humanitarian crisis as a security issue. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attended this year’s U.N. climate summit, marking the first time a top alliance leader came to the climate talks since they began. On Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at COP26 raised the issue of security during a press conference. “The richest countries are building a climate wall against the consequences of climate change rather than dealing with the causes and rather than providing the money that would enable people to stay,” says Nick Buxton, with the Transnational Institute and co-author of their new report, “Global Climate Wall: How the world’s wealthiest nations prioritise borders over climate action.” We also speak with Santra Denis, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, about the focus of the It Takes Roots grassroots delegation at COP26. She says that in order to protect frontline communities and workers, the U.S. should focus on investing in low-carbon and adaptation industries instead of border control.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, a giant puppet called Little Amal, the Arabic word for “hope,” arrived at COP26 in Glasgow, after walking some 8,000 miles across Europe to join an event highlighting gender equality. Little Amal represents a Syrian refugee girl. She was there to call attention to refugee children living on the frontlines of the climate crisis, which is a driving force behind displacement and migration, from sea level rise and drought to hurricanes, flash floods and fires.

The world’s richest countries have responded by militarizing their borders and treating the humanitarian crisis as a security issue. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attended this year’s U.N. climate summit, marking first time a top military alliance leader came to the climate talks since they began. On Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to the COP26, along with other Democratic lawmakers, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and raised the issue of security during a news conference. This is part of her exchange with Abby Martin of The Empire Files.

ABBY MARTIN: Speaker Pelosi, you just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget. This Pentagon budget is already massive. The Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined. How can we seriously talk about net zero if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change?

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: National security advisers all tell us that the climate crisis is a national security matter. It is, of course, a health matter for our children, the water they drink, the air they breathe, etc. It is a jobs issue between clean — good clean technologies being the future of our workforce, and the training for all of that.

It is a national security issue because of the — all of the conditions that climate crisis produces — I won’t go into all of them, but they do — are cause for migration, conflict over habitat and resources, and, again, a security challenge globally. … The Defense Department sees this systemically, that we have to stop it as a national security issue. And one way to do that is to stop our dependence on fossil fuels, which exacerbate the climate crisis.

With that, I thank you all for being here. Unfortunately, they’re telling us they have to clean the room.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Nancy Pelosi at the COP. And you can see our extended discussion yesterday on the military on the climate emergency.

Well, the press conference is over, that Pelosi spoke at, but we continue the conversation now with two guests from Glasgow. Inside COP26 with the grassroots delegation It Takes Roots is Santra Denis, executive director of the Miami Workers Center. And joining us outside, Nick Buxton with the Transnational Institute, co-author of their new report, “Global Climate Wall: How the world’s wealthiest nations prioritise borders over climate action.”

Before we talk about specific countries like Haiti, Nick Buxton, talk about your findings, this prioritization of the militarization of borders over dealing with the climate emergency.

NICK BUXTON: Well, I think it was interesting just hearing — thank you, Amy, for the invitation to be here. I think it was interesting we heard there that climate is being discussed by Nancy Pelosi, but it’s not being discussed as an issue of how we address climate migration. There, she described migration as a security threat. And that is the only way that climate and migration has been discussed at this summit.

And that doesn’t surprise me, because what we’ve looked at in our recent report was, really, where is the money going, because we know that money is one of the big conversations here. Are the richest countries going to deliver their promised $100 billion in climate finance? Which is wholly inadequate, and yet they failed to deliver that. So we decided to compare what they have actually delivered in terms of climate finance with how much they’re putting towards border and immigration enforcement.

And what we found is that the richest countries are spending — these are richest and the historical emitters of greenhouse gas emissions; we’re talking about seven countries here, U.S., U.K. being some of the two big ones — are spending twice as much on border and immigration enforcement as they are on actually providing climate finance. So what we’re seeing, really, is that the richest countries are building a climate wall against the consequences of climate change rather than dealing with the causes and rather than providing the money that would enable people to both stay, if they are affected by storms and extreme weather, or to leave and find safety, if they are forced to travel away from their homes because they’ve been destroyed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nick Buxton, how do these nations rationalize these policies, given the fact that international capitalism is constantly seeking to tear down national boundaries for the flow of goods, whether it’s lower tariffs, whether for the free flow of money and investment? So, how can they justify erecting walls against migrants while at the same time tearing down walls for capital?

NICK BUXTON: Well, I think, I mean, that’s really clearly part of this whole COP. I mean, we see it here, that really the whole — it’s unfolding that the climate negotiations are really about how to provide business freedom, and at the same time that depends on the control and the exploitation of labor. And the border has become a frontline for this. So, if we are to have corporations moving freely, if oil is to continue to extract, no matter of the costs, then we are going to have to have consequences, and so those consequences be controlled.

And, of course, behind this is a whole industry. We’ve discovered that it’s quite interesting that the biggest border security companies are also not only controlling the border, but they’re are also working with the oil firms to defend their assets. So, what we really see here is that security — freedom of capital and the chance to exploit and to make profits also depends on the control of borders and of vulnerable peoples. And that comes — and there’s a whole industry now that is profiting from the consequences of climate change, not just the oil industry, which of course has a business model which is based on wrecking the planet, but there’s also now an increasing industry arising who can see that — who also benefit from more and more grave consequences, a military and a border security industry, that is expected to be worth $65 billion — that’s a gross underestimate, it’s just part of their industry — by 2025. But it’s an industry that is really profiting from this climate crisis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how are some of the major fossil fuel companies, Chevron, ExxonMobil — are they also involved in border militarization?

NICK BUXTON: They’re not directly involved, but, like I said, they contract the services of these border security companies. So, for example, ExxonMobil works with L3Harris. Now, L3Harris is one of the major U.S. border contractors that’s involved on the border, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, they also work with ExxonMobil to provide what’s called maritime domain awareness — essentially, controlling the area of the Niger Delta where we know huge amounts of pollution have happened, and people, communities there have been fighting for a long time to both end the extraction that’s destroying their life and that is destroying our planet. Now, ExxonMobil is using a border security and an arms firm to do it. So there are very strong — there are very strong ties between these two industries.

Another clear example is BP is working with Palantir. And there’s big campaigns in the U.S. right now about Palantir because it’s very much involved in ICE, in surveillance operations of migrants in the U.S. Well, it also provides real-time drilling data to BP. So, these industries are very much tied.

And they also share — they even share corporate executives. So, we found that Chevron has the former CEO of both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman on its board. So, there’s a lot of — there’s not — there’s a lot of indirect ties. Like I said, they’re both industries that can profit from a climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Santra Denis into this conversation. Nick is outside the COP, in Glasgow, though, and, Santra, you’re inside the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, just in front of that revolving globe. You’re with the Haiti — the Miami Workers Center. You’re Haitian American. I can’t think of a country that is more affected by the climate right now. I’m wondering what words you have for the Biden administration. President Obama just gave a speech, President Biden last week. Nancy Pelosi just gave it. What message you have for the Biden administration about what should be happening when it comes to — would you describe Haitians as climate refugees? And talk about what asylum seekers in Miami, where you’re from, what they’re fleeing.

SANTRA DENIS: Absolutely. And again, thank you for having me. For sure.

Just a few months ago, we saw 17,000 Haitians and people, Black folks from Africa, at the Texas — in Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border really being denied their human rights, not necessarily — not even given a chance, the majority of them, to even ask for asylum, which is a right of theirs. In turn, what we saw was, again, an increased, you know, Border Patrol, folks really being rounded up, horses, and, you know, what we would say, whipped.

And that was the response when folks were actually — people from Haiti were fleeing the 2010, 2021 now earthquake that just happened. We’ve seen homes decimated, increased heat. We’ve seen folks lose all of their belongings in one day and, you know, having to flee their homes that they actually don’t want to leave. And so, when their environment that folks are living in actually is destroyed before them, they also are asking for countries, such as the U.S., who — one of the, you know, biggest countries that pollutes the Earth, should be accountable. And that’s not what we’re seeing.

And that’s what we’re hearing from folks in Miami, that they are not leaving their homes because they don’t love their homes, but, again, they’re leaving because they don’t recognize their homes anymore, based on the climate disasters, earthquake after earthquake, hurricane, storms, drought, their food sources being poisoned, so much that’s happened in their country. Those are the stories out on the ground that I definitely wanted to lift up.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Santra, you’re on the inside at the COP as part of the It Takes Roots delegation. What are you focusing on in the meetings? And what’s been the reaction of the national delegations or delegates that you’ve been able to talk to?

SANTRA DENIS: Absolutely. We are focused on real solutions. There’s been a call for net zero. We know that is not the solution. We want real reductions, which equates to real solutions. And for us, that is growing the care economy, a low-carbon industry where people who are on the frontlines — overwhelmingly, Miami Workers Center organizes domestic workers, folks who are our first responders. We believe that instead of investing in more Border Patrol, what we should be investing in is in the people in these industries that are low-carbon but also are the first folks to respond when there is a climate disaster. That’s what we’re lifting up. We’ll continue to lift that up and really tell the stories of the folks who are on the frontlines, who are the first impacted and worst impacted. This net zero that folks are talking about doesn’t work for us. 2030, 2040, you know, we don’t have that much time, because people from Haiti, people in Miami, people in coastal cities are experiencing the impact of climate change right now and have been experiencing it for quite some time now.

AMY GOODMAN: Santra Denis, we want to thank you for being with us, with the Miami Workers Center and the It Takes Roots delegation at the COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow. Nick Buxton with Transnational Institute, we’ll link to your report, “Global Climate Wall.”

Next up, we’ll speak to the famed Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, author of the new book The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. Stay with us.

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