THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND MIGRATION
Questions from ND-LINE ONLINE: Climate Crisis Special
Answers by Prof. Jose Maria Sison
24 October 2021
Although migration has been part of human nature for so long, in the second episode of our NDLINE ONLINE: Climate Crisis Special, we will discuss the cause and effect of climate-crisis-driven migration.
- To begin our session, can we define what migration is and how essential migration is in sustaining our economy and (bio)diversity?
JMS: If we look back to humanity’s long prehistory and history, it was evidently through steady migration that our ancestral communities were able to people most habitable regions of the planet, leaving former homelands that had become less habitable or less capable of supporting bigger populations due to many factors – which at first were mostly natural, then increasingly man-made. Migrations continued throughout ancient and feudal civilizations, and became even more marked under capitalism due to increased mobility of people.
In the modern era, communities of varying scales are known to have migrated within a country or across borders due to climatic changes such as deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, melting of the icebergs, rise of sea level and coastal erosion as well as drastic climatic or environmental changes and extreme weather conditions such as super-typhoons, floods, droughts and earthquakes.
The migrants stay away from their original homeland for different lengths of time within their own country or go to nearby countries or further away. In the 1970s, a combination of super typhoons and floods in Mindanao and intensified military campaigns of suppression compelled millions of Moros to migrate to Sabah. Of recent memory is the super-typhoon Yolanda which swept away people’s homes in several Visayan islands and compelled the people to seek shelter and relief elsewhere for some years.
From the late 1970s, there is also the long-running phenomenon of millions of Filipinos migrating to the Middle East and other foreign countries to take low-wage jobs in order to augment family income drastically decreased by the crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal system and by the climate crisis.
- Climate changes naturally. We had the Ice Age. Some of our rivers were deserts before or vice versa; why do we sound the alarm now on climate change? And why only now?
JMS: We are not in the cusp of any geologic cataclysm or any drastic climatic change due to the natural cycle like the one that occurred when the earth shifted from the Ice Age. But due to the long-running irresponsibility of monopoly capitalism from the 20th century onward, we are on the brink or close to the tipping point where we can no long reverse the course of global warming and drastic ecological changes that will lead to the massive existential threats to if not the extinction of humanity and other biological species.
- What is happening to the coastal areas, plains and meadows that propels people to quit their traditional livelihood and migrate? Can’t we adapt to the ever-changing nature to sustain ourselves or start anew, in particular this drastic climate change?
JMS: Coastal areas are being flooded and eroded because of the rise of the sea level and the melting of the icebergs. Deforested mountains mean loss of hunting grounds, more landslides and silted rivers for upland peoples, and more destructive floods in the lowland valleys. Plains and meadows are also subject to extreme conditions such as prolonged droughts and desertification. At the same time, big comprador-landlords and high bureaucrats take advantage of these conditions of proneness to disaster and reduced productivity in order to further hasten land conversion into tourism, real estate and infrastructure projects, which in turn act as further disincentives to agriculture especially food production.
What is happening is causing the people to quit their traditional livelihood and migrate. Our scientists should start checking how many of our thousands of islands have already disappeared or about to disappear and how many of our traditional coastal and island fishing villages have likewise disappeared. Even before our coastal areas and rich fishing grounds are markedly destroyed by global warming, these are already rapidly degraded by unregulated sand-quarrying, toxic pollution, and intrusion by big foreign-owned fishing fleets and beachfront landgrabbers.
Adaptation to and mitigation of the drastic climate change are still being tried in many places because in the first place the impoverished people cannot just migrate, except by
walking or riding short distances. But the accelerating rate of global warming is alerting us to the danger of the tipping point or point of irreversibility of global warming being reached soon. Take note that more than ten million English-speaking Filipinos have migrated abroad due to the social and environmental crisis.
- Agricultural countries like the Philippines must have funds for the sustenance of our agricultural workers. Is there an existing budget for agricultural development in the country? If there is, is it enough to sustain the 75% of our population – the peasant class?
JMS: The reactionary state in the Philippines has no policy or program or budget for genuine land reform and agricultural development that can sustain peasants and agricultural workers, who compose the majority of the people. The Duterte regime has gone to the extent of terminating the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and launching a bloody anti-communist campaign of military suppression.
It has violently and unjustly reacted the proposals of the NDFP for agrarian reforms and rural development as well as as national industrial industrialization and economic development in the Draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. It is desperately trying to preserve the semicolonial and semifeudal system of oppression and exploitation.
The reactionary government, having adopted neoliberal policies such as trade liberalization, deregulation and so on in the past more than 35 years, can no longer so easily reverse the impacts of these policies on Philippine agriculture, such as lack of support for local food production and increased dependence on food imports, and over-reliance on unsustainable livelihoods based on tourism, labor export, and real estate.
As a result, the peasantry may appear to have shrunk in size, but that’s only an illusion because the majority of the rural population are still heavily dependent on the land and its shrinking resources. They may be more mobile due to expanded road networks and cellphone usage, but only because these help them eke out increasingly marginal and precarious livelihoods where they work for longer hours and yet take home very low incomes.
Sinking deeper and deeper into poverty and desperation, many rural people become victims of exploitative usurers, labor recruiters, human and sex traffickers, and other sorts of anti-social or criminal schemes that are run or protected by the big civilian and military bureaucrats. On the other hand, they seek radical solutions to the social crisis and become more open to agrarian revolution and sympathetic to the people’s army.
- The government mentioned that the young farmers are choosing to leave their farmland and look for a more lucrative job other than farming, is there truth in it? If so, what makes them choose or want something else?
JMS: It is fake news from the reactionary state, its economists and statisticians that the youth are abandoning the farms in favor of more lucrative jobs other than farm jobs. The fact is that that unemployment is rising rapidly in both rural and urban areas. What the young farmers after the harvest season do is to seek odd jobs in mining, plantation and logging areas or go to the urban areas for odd jobs in construction and street peddling in urban centers and slums and areas surrounding some factories.
But a big bulk return to the rural areas because the natural cycles of farming and and rural social traditions, and other semifeudal forms of commodity production and construction projects that pop up here and there, continue to provide them some economic opportunities however transitory and marginal. In fact, during the nearly two years of Covid lockdowns and school closures since March 2020, there has been a marked tendency for young people to return to their villages and try to revitalize farm and garden production.
The big problem is that there is no agricultural and industrial development in the Philippines, as in the tiger economies of Southeast Asia before the Asian financial crisis of 1997. And the reactionary state tries to conjure the illusion of development by maximizing the share of the service sector in the economy by up to 58 percent. This is the most import-dependent and consumption-oriented sector of the economy and mixes up big, middle and small type of enterprises and abstractly assumes as employing tens of millions of workers who are mostly either on five-month contractualization or are mere odd jobbers or “self-employed” in the so-called informal sector of the economy.
The reactionary state deliberately minimizes the share of agriculture in the economy by deliberately reducing it to only 7 to 9 per cent, ignoring the undocumented consumption of the peasants themselves, the rent paid to landlords and sales to merchants. And entire peasant family, including 9-year old children, participate in agricultural production and related small-handicrafts . But only the heads of peasant families are considered peasants and only the year-round farm workers connected to farm machines and warehousing are duly accounted as farm workers but not the millions of seasonal farm workers.
- How will the Philippines or the world survive without the agricultural workers or the fisherfolk community? How can we sustain ourselves? Can we rely on urban farming and GMO farming? What is Urban farming and GMO farming? How do they affect the livelihood of the traditional farmers and our consumption?
JMS: We cannot survive without the peasants, farm workers and fisherfolk of the world. They produce the food for the Philippines and other countries of the world. Despite global warming, there are still wide areas in the Philippines and most other countries that are suitable for agriculture. In fact, a number of countries with vast deserts like in the Middle East and Central Asia have realized that they must use at least a hefty slice of their newly acquired industrial capacity and petrodollars to efficiently manage and even increase their freshwater resources (including cheap conversion of saltwater to freshwater) in order to reclaim the deserts and turn them into rich farmlands.
Urban farming, GMO farming, and so-called aquaponic technologies, have their special roles to play in maximizing certain technologies and skills related to agriculture and food production. It is, for example, a good thing for urban households and communities to maximize marginal lands for vegetable gardens, fishponds and small livestock. But such technologies, particularly GMO-related, can also be misused to exploit the people, especially in the hands of huge imperialist monopolies driven by superprofit motives.
In underdeveloped countries like the Philippines, we cannot simply resort to urban farming and GMO farming. These are even more costly methods of farming dependent on piped-in water and imported construction materials, seeds, agro-chemicals and other things from foreign agri-corporations. It is much better to rely on the combination of traditional and modern technologies, made more scientific and environment-friendly through such methods as agro-ecology, and of course in the context of thorough-going land reform, national industrialization, and the empowerment of the working class and peasantry in close alliance.
- Can we say that one of the reasons for the decreasing population of indigenous people is climate crisis? How does it take place?
JMS: As far as the Philippines is concerned and other underdeveloped tropical countries, the indigenous people (like the Aetas, the Igorots, the Dumagat, Mangyans, Lumad and the like) have no choice but to stick to their place in order to defend their ancestral domain, their farms and the environment. In fact, it has been the closeness to the land and native conservation practices of upland people and some far-flung island peoples that have, in effect, served to buffer their communities from the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
So far, it is not yet the climate crisis that is compelling them to leave their homes, farms and local ecological niches but it is the sequence of mining, logging and monocrop plantations and military operations and more recently of tourism-oriented and real-estate-oriented enclaves and related infrastructure coming in to force them out of wide areas. Subsequently, these intrusive operations contribute to the climate crisis that adversely affects the indigenous people who usually transfer from one part of the Sierra Madre, Cordillera or Pantarong mountain range to another.
Out-migration among indigenous people (especially among the youth) from their ancestral homelands to the more developed lowlands and urban areas was starting to be felt even before the climate crisis became a major global problem. The gradual intrusion of cash economies and erosion of natural self-sufficient economies created push-and-pull factors for indigenous youth to seek farm and off-farm work elsewhere. But, in most cases, this did not result in an absolute decrease of the population of indigenous peoples but rather their spread into the shrinking frontier areas and melting-pot lowlands – where they tended to reproduce the indigenous lifeways of their ancestral villages.
- What do we exactly mean by climate-crisis-driven migration? How does a crisis on climate forces people to flee? Can you give concrete examples? What happens to the climate migrants and refugees? From which sector or class do they usually come? Where do they usually go to when they migrate?
JMS: It is in large areas of Africa and the Amazon, especially on the Brazilian side, where we see the long-running invasion by foreign monopoly agri-corporations, deforestation and desertification causing large-scale migration of the people at the first instance and the climate crisis consequently arises. Blaming the climate crisis as the culpability of the entire humanity and not that of monopoly capitalism is an obscurantist trick of the imperialists to befog their criminal responsibility.
In the Philippines, which is a tropical archipelago, the indigenous people tend to stick to their ancestral domain even as the better part of their land has already been grabbed by foreign and local agri-corporations. They try to survive by getting jobs from the mining, logging and plantation companies and do swidden farming, gold panning, wood-cutting and food gathering in the vicinity. It is a different story when Duterte and the Chinese casinos take over the entire Boracay island and push out the indigenous people entirely from the island.
- What other forms of oppression and exploitation do these climate migrants and refugees face? How can we organize them or what better way can we organize these groups to contribute to the national democratic revolution?
JMS: In the case of the Philippines, after the land grabbers that include not only foreign and local mining, logging and plantation corporations but also bureaucrat capitalists and traditional landlords and merchant usurers, do not drive away the indigenous people entirely from a wide area but allow them to stay to serve as mostly irregular wage-earners and to have small plots of land to farm in the vicinity.
The revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines has paid attention to the indigenous people or national minorities from the very start in the Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution. Thus, mass organizations and alliances have been formed to uphold, defend and promote the rights of the indigenous people to self-determination, to their ancestral domain and to self-development against all forms of oppression and exploitation.
The legal forces of the national democratic movement and religious missionary formations have also worked to support the indigenous people, help to protect themselves from oppression and exploitation, oppose landgrabbing, provide assistance for the development of agriculture and sideline occupations, social services (especially education, health and better housing) and improve relations with nearby poor peasant settler communities and other communities.
- How are climate migration and climate imperialism interrelated?
JMS: The climate crisis is the result of the plunder, destruction and degradation of the environment by the monopoly capitalist corporations. These are the main instruments of climate imperialism. By causing the climate crisis, they further cause climate migration in the Philippines and various countries of the world.
- Some say that the reason for the climate crisis is overpopulation. Which one of the solutions should be population and space control (where spaces for human settlement will be occupied by companies or businesses); what can you say about this?
JMS: Blaming overpopulation as the reason for the climate crisis is a clear case of blaming the victims and absolving the criminal corporations. After the best land for agriculture is grabbed from them, the indigenous people and other poor peasants are forced to resort to the traditional swidden farming.
Then the monopoly capitalist giants and their apologists blame them for destroying the environment and assert that because of science and technology being in their hands the world is still capable of producing twice the amount of food that now feeds the nearly 8 billion people of the world. They also obscure the fact that artificial food shortages are manipulated to generate higher profits for themselves.
- How does the revolutionary movement address climate migration and its victims? What can be done to stop this other form of migration?
JMS: The revolutionary movement must inform and arouse the toiling masses of workers and peasants among the indigenous people and entire people, build their mass organizations and alliances and mobilize them in various forms of political, economic and cultural struggles in order to fight and defeat foreign monopoly capitalism and the local exploiting classes of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists.
The objective of the revolutionary movement is not merely to demand higher wages for the farm workers and to seek concessions from the indigenous communities but ultimately to dismantle the mining, logging and plantation operations, take back the land from the land-grabbers and give the land to the indigenous communities and the poor peasant settlers because they are class brothers and in dire need of land.
Too many people, 10 to 12 million Filipinos, have gone out of the Philippines as migrant workers due to the general conditions of oppression and exploitation and the consequences of land grabbing and climate crisis, and yet their foreign exchange earnings are misused by the reactionary state to favor the foreign monopolies and local exploiting classes. The environment and natural resources of the Philippines are being plundered to a point where the the archipelago is pockmarked by open pits and soil erosions. And the mineral ores of so many kinds are undocumented and are being smuggled out.
- What effect do haciendas and plantations in the semicolonial state have on the worsening climate crisis and migration? How do the revolutionary forces educate and defend the farm workers in these areas?
JMS: The haciendas and plantations are big comprador-landlord operations. They are the bases for the production of export crops and the foreign exchange income is used for the importation mainly of consumer manufactures and secondarily depreciable producer goods. They engage in monocrop production and use a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals are carried by the streams to the farms producing staple food for the people and are poisonous to these. The mining operations use even more poisonous acids for primary processing, kill the fish in the streams and poison the staple food-producing farms.
The haciendas and plantations are the hotbeds of the worst kinds of exploitation and oppression. Only a few of the farm workers, who operate the farm machines and man the warehouses, are employed and compensated the whole year round. The overwhelming majority of farm workers are hired seasonally at subhuman wages through labor contractors as in the old cabo system, now euphemistically called “workers cooperatives” in some plantations of Mindanao. The combination of class exploitation, environmental degradation of climate crisis limits the incomes of the peasants and farm workers and pressures them to seek odd jobs and swidden farms elsewhere.
- Low lying areas in Metro Manila and other places in the Philippines are in danger of being submerged due to the rising sea levels brought about by Global Warming. How this problem should be solved in short term and long term?
JMS: Indeed, the worsening flood problem in Metro Manila and other places in the Philippines is due to the blocking of water from the Sierra Madre and the rising sea level brought about by global warming. The short-term solution is to stop the reclamation projects of the Chinese casino syndicates in Manila Bay. These projects block the outflow of water from the Sierra Madre.
The long-term solution is to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions on a world scale and prevent the temperature of the earth’s surface exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius because beyond this point heat waves and forest fires will accelerate towards and beyond 2 degrees Celsius, which is threshold to the earth’s incineration.
- There is a threat to Small Island Developing States in the Pacific (as well as other places in the globe) of being wiped out and having climate refugees in massive proportions in the next 100 years due to global warming and rising sea levels. What will happen to the nation state status of these poor countries? How this problem should be solved?
JMS: If these small developing states in the Pacific are wiped out by being submerged, then they shall cease as nation-states because their communities shall have drowned or shall have migrated to higher ground in bigger islands nearby or in other countries. At any rate, it shall give time for them to regroup as nation-states elsewhere. As a matter of fact, millions of Filipinos have already become migrant workers as a result of the social and environmental crisis. But they can be thrown back to a drowning Philippines by the same social and environmental crisis worsening in the host countries.
In this regard, although the Philippines is by no means a “small-island state”, we can expect analogous tidal-flooding events to become more and more frequent and destructive in coastal areas, and perhaps even fully or partially submerge certain island groups in Pangasinan, Southern Luzon, Palawan, elsewhere in the Visayas and Mindanao, and especially in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. These are expected to further fuel climate migrations within the country and out-migration as well.
- What are the lessons that can be learned in Cuba’s emergency response system in times of disaster?
JMS: Cuba is located at the opposite side of the globe compared to the Philippines, but both are similarly situated in terms of being tropical archipelagos subject to annual cyclone and monsoon cycles. Cuba is at frequent risk of natural calamities like hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts, especially because of the effects of global warming. Thus, the people and civil defense agencies of the state need to be well-prepared to reduce the destructive impact the natural disasters, bring large numbers of people to safety, provide shelters, food, clothing medical and other forms of relief and enable rehabilitation and reconstruction as soon as possible.
Cuba and the Philippines even have a similar (and to some extent even a parallel) colonial and feudal, and later semi-colonial and semi-feudal, history of exploitation and oppression as well as people’s revolutionary struggle. But there the parallel ends, because the Philippines continues to be ruled by reactionary classes beholden to US imperialism. This basic difference shows in the state response to many social problems, especially in health care and disaster response.
Cuba has been exemplary in having a ruling communist party, the state agencies and mass organizations of various types to mobilize the population and material resources for overcoming the problems brought about by natural disasters. The Cuban people have a high level of fighting spirit and resilience tempered by a long period of revolutionary patriotism against US imperialism and they have the spirit and methods of cooperation that they developed in the course of striving to build socialism. ###