You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The UNHCR recently reported that 65.3 million people were displaced around the world in 2015, or 24 people per minute. All indications suggest a higher figure for 2016. Civilization is a thin veneer, and when it rubs too thin, people move to a thicker location.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because he’s worried about immigration from the south. The British voted to leave the European Union partly because of fears over immigration and refuges. Yet many of these same fearful people refuse to believe climate change. Now that might seem like an abrupt change of subject, but it’s not. The major consequence of climate change is mass-migrations. Just look at the University of Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN). It ranks countries based on projected impact of climate change.

You can see the full ranking of 180+ countries here. Sooner or later, all the top ranked countries will want to build walls to keep refuges from the bottom rankings moving in. The United Kingdom is ranked #4, which makes it a prime destination for most folks fleeing collapsing civilization. The USA is #11. (Maybe England needs to worry about their American cousins moving back home.) Living in a top ranked country might seem lucky because you’ll avoid the worst of climate disasters, but it also means your country will be seen as a lifeboat to those who are drowning.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers are only pretending not know the truth. Just look at ND-GAIN’s map.

Climate Change Vulnerability Map

Most people in trouble will be moving north. I think wall building is either a conscious acceptance of climate change, or an unconscious awareness. It’s reality is starting to sink in.

Notice that most of the refuges the wall builders fear are coming from countries ND-GAIN are listing as vulnerable to climate change. Have climate change migrations already begun? Many countries in the southern hemisphere are suffering from economic collapse, and countries in the middle east are experiencing political, economic and social collapse. All of those locations also suffer from poor weather and limited natural resources. To solve climate change and mass migrations means solving wealth inequality. That’s a very liberal solution, which probably explains why so many conservatives refuse to accept climate change.

Will walls protect the haves from the have-nots? And why haven’t wall builders proposed programs to create stability in countries that are coming undone? Wouldn’t that be more realistic than building Maginot lines on our borders? Instead they want to tear up international trade agreements, which will only make things worse, and thus accelerate mass migrations. If they’d put the money they’d spend on a US-Mexico wall into the Mexican economy, wouldn’t that be more helpful? Wouldn’t a thriving Mexican economy become more effective than a wall?

Venezuela is #107 on the ND-GAIN list. Just read some of the news stories about Venezuela’s economic collapse. Will they become the new Syrian refuges? Brazil isn’t doing well either. How many wealthy South Americans are currently flying over where Trump wants to build his wall? Isn’t it in America’s best interests to make sure South America doesn’t collapse? If the goal of wall building is to stop refuges, isn’t it more practical to stop the creation of refuges than build walls to keep them out?

Rich people have always built walls to protect themselves from poor people. Whether it was walled cities in ancient times, castle walls in medieval times, or gated community walls in modern times, the solution is always the same – protect what I’ve got and to hell with everybody else. And if past walls are indicators, walls only work when the poor aren’t desperate. When wealth inequality gets too extreme, walls fail. And besides, do rich Americans really want to live like Israelis on the West Bank, or Rhodesians in Zimbabwe? (By the way, aren’t the sales of AR-15s a kind of economic indicator? Who are buying more assault rifles, the rich or the poor? And how many of the 99% think they will be walled in with the 1%?)

Donald Trump and all his wall building followers might do well to get into the wealth redistribution business like Bernie Sanders. I highly recommend they read the following books:

These books show us the future. We can solve our problems, or hide behind walls (for a little while).

Building walls are a last-stand tactic. Think how well walls work with zombies. Which makes me wonder if zombies aren’t modern metaphors for poor people, revealing everyone’s underlying fear of being overrun by world poverty. If you don’t want millions of people moving to America, fight climate change and wealth inequality.

What we want is a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly. Capitalism, as it currently exists, is a Ponzi scheme that’s transferring wealth from the many to the few, with the huge side-effect of creating climate change. It will collapse if we don’t fix it. And we can’t fix climate change without fixing capitalism. If we don’t change things, the 1% will try to wall off us 99%. Trump’s wall is just the first of many that will fail. Denying climate change is merely sticking your head in the sand. Building Trump’s wall is acceptance of climate change, but no actual protection. Trump’s wall is no more practical than The Tower of Babel.


After writing this I began to wonder how often people and society change. Are we condemned to always follow the same behaviors? That made me think of When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. After I had read that book I realized our society had changed more because of women’s rights than the introduction of computers and smartphones. We’re constantly adapting. And that’s hopeful to realize.


8 thoughts on “You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall”

  1. Limited resources in Africa? Right, that’s why all those colonial powers took over those places and modern Chinese invest there. There’s a reason why there is a concept called “resource curse”.

    No mention of fertility rates and their correlation to the nations with the biggest number of migrants? Oh, right, those rich Westerners have been hording contraceptive technology.

    Free trade advocates often link free movement of goods with free movement of peoples. Limiting both would seem to curtail the number of migrants. And the current trade agreements don’t seemed to have curtailed migration.

    These migrations are occurring before event the putative effects of global warming have occurred. Therefore, the causation link seems a little weak.

    Civilization is indeed spread thin — and it’s spread thinnest in the places where the migrants come from. Immigrants bring more than new food with them. They bring their cultures and ethics — which often made their own countries such poor places to live.

    Movements of people can be controlled. It’s not a problem of technology or physics. It’s a problem of politics, will, and how brutal you’re willing to be. Any of those three can change fast.

    I see automation and eugenics as ultimately changing the economic order more than climate change.

    Finally, no mention of India and China … How are you going to talk them into going along with the proposed solution?

    1. I freely admit there’s great reserves of resources in Africa and South America, but they aren’t going to the local population. I’m not against immigration. Immigration is currently tied to economic growth. But I am against Trump and his wall. I’m telling his followers that if they want to stop immigration, if that’s their main worry, a wall won’t do the job.

      No, I assume because of modern transportation and weak borders, the populations of the world will continue to slosh around until diversity is common everywhere. I also agree with you, Marzaat, that diversity generates new ideas, new lifestyles, and new economic endeavors. However, I would think it wiser to patch up the places where civilization has worn thin rather than relocate millions and millions of people. There’s really not enough room on Earth to write off any territory, especially when we need to find more territory for animals.

      1. In regards to immigration, to quote the Chinese Premier when Jimmy Carter was lecturing him on not allowing Chinese emigration, “How many millions would you like?”

        Except it’s not millions that want to come to the West and live in societies whose features they have been unable, for whatever reason, to replicate. It’s billions.

        The smartphone has become, throughout the world, a billboard for immigration to developed countries.

        I don’t think there’s a solution that doesn’t avoid a lot of tears and misery and death. I just don’t want my family, friends, and neighbors to be the ones suffering.

        The brotherhood of man is an abstract idea that doesn’t work in practice given the human predilection for kin and tribe. Best to work with that than against it.

        As to diversity’s benefit in the form of more immigration, I mostly assuredly do not see its practical benefits. Ideas can travel without people. Japan seems to be doing relatively well, including developing robot substitutes for immigrant labor, without added immigration and changing their homogenous population. And what great innovations have come out of the lands those immigrants hail from? Will the soil of Europe and America magically transform these immigrants?

        Yes, the resources of Africa and South America and the Middle East don’t seem to benefit the general populace? But why is that generation after generation? Perhaps those countries are benighted because of their people and their habits and abilities. It doesn’t help when their best and brightest are siphoned off by developed countries either.

        Automation is going to put a lot of native-born Americans and Europeans out of work? Immigrants will just add to the social costs.

  2. I don’t mean to nitpick, but… ‘The British voted to leave the European Commonwealth mainly because of fears of refuges moving north.’
    1. It is the European Union not the European Commonwealth.
    2. The main drivers for the Out vote were (a) sovereignty and (b) the uncontrolled migration of EU citizens from EU countries–who are significantly different from refugees from Syria, Lybia, Sudan, Ethiopia, etc.

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