Climate Change and Central America

More pressures on a region already struggling.

“A Complex Puzzle” by Steven L. Taylor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The NYT reports yet another reason that the issues of migrants from Central America to the US is not going to be a short-term issue: Central American Farmers Head to the U.S., Fleeing Climate Change.

farmers, agricultural scientists and industry officials say a new threat has been ruining harvests, upending lives and adding to the surge of families migrating to the United States: climate change.

And their worries are increasingly shared by climate scientists as well.

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

Central America is among the regions most vulnerable to climate change, scientists say. And because agriculture employs much of the labor force — about 28 percent in Honduras alone, according to the World Bank — the livelihoods of millions of people are at stake.

Last year, the 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.

This, of course, sounds like a fine time to cut aid the region.

Good thing that climate change is a hoax, else we might have a long-term problem to have to solve.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Latin America, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Tim D. says:

    Having lived in Nicaragua for 4 years I can attest to the truth of this. A bad harvest absolutely drives migration, some of it internal (rural areas to cities) or regional (e.g. Nicaragua to Costa Rica), and some to the U.S. And the farmers I spoke with were definitely seeing evidence of a changing climate, not just for coffee, but overall changing rainfall patterns.

    One issue that’s not mentioned here is that rising temperatures may be driving an increase in chronic kidney disease in the region, especially in (very hot) the sugarcane regions in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

    “An unforeseen example of human “climate canaries” has emerged in Central America and southern Mexico, where more than 20,000 sugarcane workers have died from chronic kidney disease most likely caused by extreme temperature and employment conditions that prevent adequate hydration and rest. Similar patterns are appearing in workers halfway round the world in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.”

    Time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuel interests on our politics.

  2. Kit says:

    I wish I could say that the intersection of climate change and immigration would a moment when reality would start to intrude upon the Fox mind. Unfortunately, I see this reinforcing right-wing orthodoxy, just as distrust in government justifies underfunding which in turn leads to greater distrust.

  3. Hal_10000 says:

    Color me skeptical of this connection. From what I can tell, Central American agricultural exports are stable. They cite weather issues and blight but that sort of stuff is always going on. The articles amount to, “We think this is going to happen; there might be some indications in some areas, therefore …” I think climate change is a much smaller factor driving refugees than gang violence, political instability and the drug war.

    It’s not that this isn’t a concern; it very likely is (although tertiary effects of climate change are notoriously difficult to predict). It’s just that I’m not sure it does any good to be continually jumping on the latest whatever to say, “Aha! Climate Change!” especially when the evidence to support it, to judge by the NYT, is mostly anecdotal.

  4. becca says:

    The utter disregard the GOP has for the environment, in all aspects, is the fundamental reason I hold the party in complete disdain. Pollution is their lifeblood, it would seem, by the way they defend the dirtiest and most destructive sources.

    There will be a reckoning and history, along with Mother Nature , will not be kind.

  5. Tim D. says:

    @Hal_10000: “the evidence to support it, to judge by the NYT, is mostly anecdotal”

    As with most things climate, there is a wealth of scientific information available if you’re interested in taking look. The NYT may use anecdotes to tell a story, but that’s not all there is behind it.

  6. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the face of climate change as the modern-day “Tragedy of the Commons” that I made reference to in another comment thread.

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Tim D. , @The abyss that is the soul of cracker: I think you are misreading Hal — he isn’t doubting global warming, he is doubting whether it is the driving force behind migration right now.

    The fine folks in Central America are not carefully reading the scientific papers, they at best have anecdotal data and a few articles they have read in the local equivalent of The NY Times, and maybe what they’ve heard on the street.

    A couple of bad growing seasons, they are very stressed. But, there have been bad growing seasons in the past. The violence is a more pressing and immediate concern in people’s lives.

    We aren’t seeing a massive influx of immigrants from countries that don’t have violence problems, are we?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The New Yorker recently did a very good 3 part series on climate change and other problems plaguing Central America. I have only read the first part so far, this is a link to the 2nd article:
    The Epidemic of Debt Plaguing Central American Migrants

    Links to the other 2 articles at the top of the page.

  9. Really, I think it is pretty straightforward, and why I posted the original story in the first place: it is fully reasonable to think that climate change will have a negative impact on an already difficult situation. Thus things like cutting aid and family separation/other deterrence-based policies will not stop the underlying push/pull that is creating the current problem.

  10. Tim D. says:

    @Gustopher: “he isn’t doubting global warming, he is doubting whether it is the driving force behind migration right now”

    Sure that’s fair, I’m just saying that there is a large body of literature on climate and ag/food security informing those judgments, not just anecdote. I don’t think I’ve seen a rigorous attribution study on the recent caravans specifically, but food security seems to be a fairly common theme with this issue, in addition (obviously) to violence and other factors. One example here from a few years ago.