Our Common Wisdom

Donald Trump will soon begin his first 100 days in office. The transition of power will fuel executive actions and build momentum for some of his boldest and most contentious proposals. As transitions can either build momentum or engender resistance, Trump will undoubtedly look for some early wins to build an excess of political capital. There are many policy proposals in Trump’s 100 day plan, but immigration and climate change are likely the initial targets. His proposals in these areas will have extreme consequences for humans, animals and the Earth.

Trump hopes to exploit natural gas, oil and coal as he doubles down on the fossil-fuel economy. In a blow to environmental organization, Trump will also push big infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. In addition, Trump will cancel research funding for the United Nations climate-change programs. This last move is likely a precursor to backing away from international climate agreements.

Trump will also come down hard on immigration. In his first 100 days he pledges to deport more than 2 million people. He also seeks to suspend immigration from the war-torn regions of the world and hinder human migration generally. Furthermore, Trump looks to build a wall separating the populations of the United States and Mexico.

Trump may view immigration and the environment as two separate issues, but they are intricately intertwined. His sweeping proposals are simple solutions to very complex problems, and they will fail. We live our daily lives in the environment. As climate changes, so too does all life. Recent research published by Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), the United Nations University and CARE International notes that by mid-century there will be massive human migration across the planet — in fact, we are already witness to major shifts in human population ecology.

The CIESIN report notes ecosystem-based economies (farming and fisheries) will break down as climate shifts. Economics will be the leading driver of forced migration. Regarding the southern border of the United States, we now directly observe an increase in the intensity of natural disasters. Perhaps most notably there is a prolonged drought throughout the southwest. If the drought continues and projections are correct, precipitation in Mexico and Central America may drop by as much as 50%. Agriculture is a major industry in the south. Farmers are already heading north because of failing crop yields. We can only expect more people to search for hospitable environments. As it stands most migrants come from low-income communities. To improve their human existence, to escape conflict and ecological collapse, they will look to wealthier nations for acceptance and help.

These climate projections and impacts to the human population should not be dismissed as hyperbole. We know, from historical perspective, that massive human migrations have occurred across the planet as a result of changing climate. We are an African species. Current fossil evidence notes all living humans are descendants from early populations in Ethiopia. Sixty thousand years ago a massive global cooling event devastated the human population. This flux in climate forced the great human migration to Asia, Europe, Australia and eventually the new world. In the most basic genetic sense we are all one people, whose cultures and attitudes are shaped by the ecosystems we live in.

Climate will continue to influence human dispersal. Trump’s proposals will exacerbate climatic change, increase human and animal suffering and force massive uprooting and migration — then they will hit his wall. His wall is as symbolic as it is a physical structure. It represents a separation from the “others.” It serves to deny our shared heritage and thus the common good. If we are to respect the lives of human beings it is important to resist such an ethic.

To deal with issues as complex as climate change and human migration it’s best to ignore waves of populism and look to common solutions. We all live on a planet with finite resources, but by building complex policy we can sustainably utilize resources without fighting wars or building walls. Emergent findings in the field of adaptive collaborative management and natural resource conflict resolution reveal we can develop very sensible rules to manage resources. We can build a mutual society, built on reciprocity, and welcome all who need a space to labor, leisure and realize their human capacity. Our potential solutions will be ours; they cannot be imposed from above.

Caring for our commons and each other will engage us all. Organized from the ground up, local and regional problems will be met with multiple strategies. Global issues will be met with the complexity they deserve — there is no panacea!

I hope we stand on the dawn of a new era. An era where our unique human potential is actualized. Humanity would do best if we could exploit our common wisdom in full.

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The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory