MY VIEW • Poor planning will hurt when climate refugees pour in
I'm appreciative of Kat West's essay in your Eco-thoughts series (Portland should brace for 'climate refugees', June 9). I would disagree with her that there are no alternatives to welcoming climate refugees. She's right that we have to act as a region, and as a larger Cascadian bioregion, we have great access to rangeland, forests and fishing, as well as the fertile Willamette Valley.
Planning for the worst, if the predictions about drought in the Midwest are correct, we'll have a major problem feeding all of the expected climate refugees. This means that the poorest of our region will go hungry as they are priced-out by wealthier refugees. Morally, it seems wrong that we would choose the suffering of our fellow Cascadians so that those who chose not to prevent their environmental self-destruction can elbow us from the table.
The other option that was not mentioned by West is the secession option.
No state should feel obligated to rely on the federal government to assure our prosperity in the face of economic turmoil. The pace and effectiveness of our US government is not equipped to deal with climate change on top of recession on top of energy descent.
Our history as a bioregional government included the areas of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, with its first capital in Oregon City. A new government of this Cascadian watershed democracy, the kind of governmental system proposed by John Wesley Powell, would not be too unfamiliar to our independent pioneer sensibilities.
With the coordination of a bio-regional government, should the worst occur, one plan could be to politely close our borders to non-Cascadians save for a limited number of eco-refugees - a more appropriate term that includes economic as well as ecological displacement. As our bioregion's productivity can support more hungry mouths, while reducing our carbon footprint, so then we could accept more refugees.
A bioregion should only be expected to accept as many refugees as it can support - just as an ecosystem can only support a finite number of any one species before it collapses or makes a self-correction, both of which involve a 'die-off' of some kind. It would seem terribly unwise to have an open door policy for eco-refugees - the sure result being widespread food-insecurity, increasing poverty and civil unrest.
The first rule any emergency service provider will tell you in executing a rescue operation is: Don't become another victim as you attempt a poorly planned rescue.
Eco-refugees may bring with them capital and/or labor, which if used wisely could enhance our sustainability efforts - but can we predict which demographics they will represent? Will they bring their highly consumerist culture of degradation into our relatively sustainable communities? How much more of the natural resource pilfering and unchecked growth do we think we can take? How much more should we allow as a responsible bio-regional community?
Many leading climate scientists such as James Hansen are saying, 'no more.' It may not matter if there's an economic recovery; the ecosystem collapse from climate change will throw economies so far out of balance that we'll be lucky if we can feed our current population let alone double our food production to feed the hungry mouths of eco-refugees.
We need to prepare for more people, but not by building market rate housing and trying to reinvent old economic paradigms with a green label. I agree that the compassionate action is to help those in need, but we have a responsibility to not jeopardize our own sustainability in the process.
Focusing our efforts to increase our resiliency is a worthwhile step toward resource independence.
Jonathan Brandt of Southwest Portland is a landscaping and permaculture design consultant and member of the TransitionPDX Planning and Policy group.