Trump’s executive order to ban refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries deepened the debate over U.S. national security and the refugee crisis. Many Americans felt torn between their responsibility to protect their country and caring for those unable to return to their own. People of faith felt as though they were asked to pit values against values, but, as research suggests, fighting climate change may address both issues.
In 2011, climate scientists concluded that the Syrian Civil War started over climate-induced water scarcity. Within a year, what began as a regional conflict had (d)evolved into the world's worst refugee crisis in decades. Between extreme drought and the civil unrest it caused, hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled the region looking for a safe place, but they aren’t the only ones forced to flee their homes.
According to the United Nations, twenty to thirty million people flee climate impacts each year (140 million total) — 85% of which hail from Southeast Asia. From the vanishing shoreline of the subcontinent to the arid deserts of Sahara Africa, millions of people are forced to migrate throughout Europe and America, and as long as climate impacts persist, this number will reach 300 million by the end of the century.
Every year, 300 million people around the world, including the United States, suffer from climate-related health issues, according to the World Health Organization. Sadly, 600,000 of them die from these impacts each year. These harsh realities are not only sad but expensive as they cost over one billion dollars in annual medical expenses (projected to increase to $2-4bn by 2030).
Climate Change Weakens National Security
Despite its inevitably, refugee migrations have met resistance from many politicians including President Trump, who cited national security reasons for ordering travel restrictions specifically targeting Syrian refugees. Despite the fact that Americans are more likely to be harmed by their furniture or toddlers than a refugee, we must recognize and address the swelling concern of our fellow citizens. To do so, we need to effectively communicate to our fellow Americans that if they really want to ensure national security, they should start by addressing climate change. If not for the refugees, then for the sake of our troops.
In 2014, the Pentagon called climate change “a threat multiplier” because “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” leading to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease…and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel encouraged “wise planning and risk mitigation” to ease the stress that climate change placed on our military whose strategic bases of operation are regularly forced to relocate. Pentagon reports went on to explain that the changing climate will only further endanger our troops if we don’t do something about it now.
Muslims Lead the Way in Climate Solutions
Apart from climate change exacerbating the refugee crisis and weakening our national security, Trump’s travel ban has significantly impacted the work being done to find solutions. Within hours of the executive order, climate scientists struggled to continue their work, much of which was reliant on their timely return from overseas. One Iran-born, Canadian researcher whose travels were interrupted by the ban found herself unable to conduct critical climate research in Greenland, jeopardizing months of data and valuable instruments that could help turn the tide on climate change.
National security, the refugee crisis, and uninterrupted climate solutions are only a few of the reasons President Trump should act on climate change. The values that we hold as Americans and people of faith compel us to care for God’s creation and that begins with addressing the root of the problem. Luckily, many Muslims have already started.
Prominent Islamic leaders are taking action to find solutions, including Blessed Tomorrow leader Imam Magid, former president of our partner organization, The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). With a legacy of climate action including their Green Masjid Task Force, ISNA re-avowed their commitment to interfaith climate action in a statement released during COP22 in Marrakech. That statement was shortly followed by their announcement to fully divest from fossil fuels in 2017.
Muslim leaders around the world are dedicated to caring for God’s creation, including the many signatories of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. And you can join them! Call your representative today, and explain why your concern for national security and the refugee crisis has made climate change a priority for you and your faith community. Tell them that you want a total and complete shut down of climate change.
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.