Saturday, September 30, 2017

Are We About to Witness the First Internal Climate Migration in America?

The term "IDP" or internally displaced person has become quite commonplace in violence-wracked areas such as Syria or Sudan. It occurs when large numbers of people are uprooted and flee their homeland, possibly never to return.

We've been warned for years to expect other mass migrations of IDPs fleeing the ruinous impacts of climate change. Scientists have said that even the United States could expect to see internal mass migrations due to sea level rise, hurricanes, the collapse of freshwater reserves, megadroughts and such, especially out of the southern states.

It remains to be seen whether the disaster in Puerto Rico could lead to an exodus of  a major part of the island's 3.4 million residents.  The US territory was in dire straits well before Hurricane Maria arrived. It was broke, bankrupt and has been for a dozen years. Its infrastructure was aging and decrepit. Puerto Rico was down and out when Maria showed up to put her boot in.

Trump has arranged the delivery of emergency water and food supplies to the docks in San Juan but there's really no effective means to distribute it. Some areas remain flooded. Roads have been washed out. And the power grid is kaput.  Large parts of the island may be without electricity for up to six months.  People haven't got power or even freshwater.

The exodus has begun. 

The halting parade of evacuees that has passed through the Orlando airport over the past week—and through Miami’s airport, too—lacks the visual drama of earlier crises in the Caribbean, when oppression, natural disaster or plain desperation pushed Cubans and Haitians onto crude homemade rafts or into the holds of leaky fishing trawlers. But this is every bit an exodus of that order. The means of escape is not a harrowing ordeal, but what’s being left behind most certainly is. And those lucky enough to get out are not so exhausted that they can’t summon anger at the government officials who they feel paid them less heed than hurricane victims on the mainland.

Bloomberg reports that the exodus could be a death spiral for Puerto Rico.

The choice is heartbreaking: stay to help other families, or leave to help your own. That’s the calculation thousands in Puerto Rico are making. The bankruptcy of the U.S. commonwealth, the culmination of years of decline, has accelerated an exodus that’s adding to the island’s economic misery.

The population drop is astonishing. The island has lost 2 percent of its people in each of the past three years. A comparable departure from the 50 states would mean 18 million people moving out since 2013. About 400,000 fewer Puerto Ricans live on an island of 3.4 million today compared with a decade ago, when its economy began contracting.

The departures have trapped Puerto Rico in a downward spiral. A grinding recession, with joblessness at 11.5 percent, and $74 billion mountain of debt that pushed the island to insolvency has made collecting taxes key to an economic rebound. At the same time, more Puerto Ricans from all walks of life are moving away to better their lives, meaning government revenue is dwindling.


The government doesn’t seem to have come to grips with the outflow. Puerto Rico’s turnaround plan -- a path to sustainability approved by a U.S. oversight board -- assumes the population will shrink just 0.2 percent each year for the next decade. It uses that number as the basis for its projections of tax receipts and economic growth.

“Most people believe that those forecasts in the fiscal plan are really, really optimistic and probably would have to be revised at some point,’’ said Sergio Marxuach, public policy director at the Center for the New Economy in San Juan.
Taxi Drivers

The exodus isn’t confined to professionals. Among the throngs leaving are construction workers and taxi drivers. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that college graduates make up roughly the same proportion of emigres as they do in the island’s general population, suggesting that the departures have touched every corner of the commonwealth.

“If people continue to leave the island at the pace that has been set in recent years, the economic potential of Puerto Rico will only continue to deteriorate,’’ authors including Jaison Abel and Giacomo De Giorgi wrote for the New York Fed. 

This exodus is not going to sit well with America's Racist in Chief. It is bound to infuriate his redneck base - more people of colour to dilute the lily-white majority.

More problematic for Trump is that Puerto Ricans had no vote while living in "taxation without representation" Puerto Rico. On the mainland those IDPs will be able to vote. And, once they reach terra firma, they're expected to settle in "swing states."  

In theory, some of these problems are fixable. The island's debts could be written down or bailed out. The federal government could invest tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild the island's infrastructure and economy. The Jones Act, making trade to the island more costly than it needs to be, could be repealed. But this menu of policy prescriptions requires the kind of high-trust society with well-functioning institutions that we sadly lack at present.

While many Puerto Ricans will want to stay, or lack the resources to leave, we should be realistic about what shape the rebuilding process will take over the next several months. Electrical systems need wholesale reconstruction. Water systems were damaged. Agriculture is in ruins. Cell towers and power lines need to be rebuilt. And that's to say nothing of roads, homes and schools. What Puerto Rico needs is a blank check of resources -- political will, labor and money -- in order to rebuild.

There's a sad chance that the resources simply will not be found. The mainland should prepare for an influx of Puerto Ricans over the next several months and years. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans seeking to move to urban centers in the Southeast, the Mid-Atlantic and Boston are going to put pressure on housing markets already struggling to keep up with current demand. Employers, however, may get some relief as they struggle to find workers.

And since every story has a political angle these days, consider this. Since 2010, Pennsylvania's Puerto Rican population has grown by 78,000. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by only 44,000 voters. Since 2010, Florida's Puerto Rican population has grown by 220,000. Trump won that state by 113,000 votes. If Democrats flip those two states in 2020 and every other state voted as it did in 2016, Democrats will win the presidency. Now imagine Pennsylvania takes in another 100,000 Puerto Ricans, and Florida takes in another 300,000 over the next few years, all of whom would be eligible voters.

Puerto Rico's future has been irrevocably altered as a result of Hurricane Maria. And as its residents decide where to move forward with the rest of their lives. Perhaps the rest of the country's future has changed as well.

Trump might wish he could afford to build a wall around Puerto Rico but that would make it a lot like Gaza, a concentration camp. Hell, in a lot of ways it already is. Dan Rather thinks Donald Trump will have a big political price to pay for his neglect of Puerto Rico.


Trailblazer said...

Gwynne Dyer wrote of this some years ago.
Dyer ,like Monbiot, has an ability to look to the future with a clarity few others have or can.

Has Dyer got rid of that shoddy old leather jacket yet?


The Mound of Sound said...

No, wishful thinking TB.

Anonymous said...

I think 6 months to get the power up and running is being optimistic, and the lack of power will end up causing even more people to leave than estimated.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) filed for bankruptcy in July, $9 billion in debt to NY vulture funds. The power infrastructure is old and poorly maintained partly because PREPA's creditors prioritize debt repayment. Power is generated by burning imported oil (1/2), natural gas (1/3) and coal. Puerto Ricans pay the second highest electricity prices in the US (behind Hawaii), and get frequent power outages. This was before the storms.

The combination of hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed 80% of the island's electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure. The Army Corps of Engineers may be able to MacGyver a power system for 3.4 million people in 6 months, but it'll only be a temporary patch.

Since the GOP is in charge, the goal will be to use the disaster to privatize. But what private company would want to come in and build a grid from scratch in a country with little industry and a minimum wage for young people of just over $4 an hour? The answer is solar power companies building microgrids which would make the system hardier against natural disasters. But with the GOP in charge, that'll be sabotaged for sure. Bottom line is that I think you'll see a lot more people leaving than expected.


Trailblazer said...

Perhaps this man will help.

A win win situation if I ever saw one.


e.a.f. said...

The climate will have contributed to the exodus but the real cause will be Donald Trump and his ilk. with nothing to stay for people will leave P.R. and find else where. As American citizens they will have the right to vote where they go to live. The Republicans may rue the day Donald Trump insulted the people of P.R. and refused to extend to them the same help which was extended to Florida and Texas.

It would not surprise me if half the population left in the next 6 months. Climate started it, but Trump was the real problem.

People will return to the devastated areas in Florida because they can rebuild and they are being assisted. The same for Texas Not in P.R.

the salamander said...

.. I have not read your article..
or the comments.. just your headline
Of course I will afterwards, even several times..
but the headline alone spurs me to reinforce
a deep belief.. I hold to.

Canada will be the 'last redoubt' ..

For those unaware of the meaning of 'last redoubt'
it's where the final holdout will take place..
The last place on earth where there is
relative safety of some sort, water, food
a place to gether one's wits, catch a breath

Its where people will send their children..
while accepting their part of the world
is dead or dying..

Going to read your article now Mound..
and breeze through the comments too
Keep up the fine work !