Week 140: Trump Ignored Climate Change’s Role in the Migration of Guatemalans—and Then Cut Off Aid

Plus, the BLM’s new location will be next door to Big Oil, and it just issued a hilarious new bit of climate change denial (something about Vikings and grapes).

September 27, 2019

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

A migrant woman from Guatemala standing at the border wall in California's San Diego County, with her sons, ages 5 and 9.

Adrees Latif for Reuters

The Cold and the Clueless

President Trump claims to care deeply about preventing illegal border crossings. He’s using this alleged concern as an excuse to undermine our reputation abroad, discard our national values, spend billions in taxpayer dollars, and harm the environment to build a massive wall. He cares so deeply, he’d do almost anything. . .

Anything except acknowledge climate change.

According to an NBC News story released late last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection presented a report to senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security last year showing that the increase in illegal border crossings was largely due to crop shortages in Guatemala. Climate change is a major contributor to the situation, which forced 100,000 Guatemalans to head north.

Instead of acknowledging the climate crisis and the role that our country’s own carbon emissions have played in exacerbating it, President Trump cut off aid to Guatemala and its neighbors. Some of that money was earmarked for farmers who are struggling with the effects of climate change. Then, in an agreement foisted on the Guatemalan government, Trump decided to send border patrol officers in place of aid money for food and farmers.

This sad situation isn’t the first time the Trump administration has ignored clear links between climate change and global migration patterns. In January, the Government Accountability Office released a report criticizing the administration for shortsighted foreign policies and diplomatic strategies that brush off the role that climate change plays in disrupting societies worldwide.

The evidence is already overwhelming, and the problem is only getting worse. Analysts estimate that environmental stressors have already displaced tens of millions of people and that climate change alone could uproot 140 million people by 2050.

Cutting off food aid, while redirecting money to build a wall to keep hungry people out, has to be among the most misguided pieces of foreign policy in recent U.S. history. Some people beat swords into plowshares. President Trump beats plowshares into a border fence.

Knock Twice to Exploit Federal Lands

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has repeatedly claimed that the plan to move the lion’s share of Bureau of Land Management jobs from Washington, D.C., to Colorado is intended to bring the workers closer to the people they regulate. This week we found out what he really meant. The BLM headquarters will be located in an office complex that also hosts a state oil and gas association, an independent natural gas exploration company, and the oil and gas giants Occidental and Chevron.

Of course. The Trump administration seems to believe that BLM workers’ main job is auctioning off our federal lands to oil and gas companies. Now they won’t even need to leave campus to do it! They can just mosey down the hall and ask fossil fuel executives which areas they’d like to exploit. And think of the savings! In addition to effectively firing workers who can’t relocate their families to Colorado, BLM officials will no longer have to spend a fortune on taxi rides to get their instructions from oil and gas interests.

Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, has an amusing take on the situation. “Since you can’t physically get in bed with industry,” he says, “it seems like Bernhardt did the next best thing by moving in next door.” Don’t rule anything out, Jayson. As a former Big Oil lobbyist, Bernhardt clearly has a thing for his old flame.

Much Ado About Vikings

The Bureau of Land Management issued an unusually confusing piece of climate denial this week, even by Trump administration standards. The BLM published its responses to public comments regarding the plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One group pointed out that drilling in the refuge would exacerbate the climate crisis. BLM responded, “The BLM does not agree that the proposed development is inconsistent with maintaining a livable planet [i.e., “there is not a climate crisis”]. The planet was much warmer within the past 1,000 years, prior to the Little Ice Age, based on extensive archaeological evidence (such as farming in Greenland and vineyards in England). This warmth did not make the planet unlivable; rather, it was a time when societies prospered.”

Medieval English winemaking does not disprove the science showing that human-induced warming threatens our economy and lifestyle. It is true that wine grapes were grown in England 1,000 years ago. (The Domesday Book includes a catalog of England’s wineries produced for William the Conqueror.) It is also true that wine grapes were grown in England 50 years ago, and they are grown in England today. That doesn’t say anything about the climate. Using the presence of grapes as a measuring stick for the global climate is idiotic, particularly when using it to contradict mountains of actual evidence.

The claim of farming on Greenland is just as silly. While climate scientists agree that there was a slight and extremely localized temperature bump in the North Atlantic about 1,000 years ago, it likely did not extend to Greenland. Norse settlers, who arrived in the late 10th century and stayed for about 400 years, survived on meat from livestock and wild seals. There is no evidence they were growing papayas and lounging on the beach because of the balmy temperatures.

This is what happens when an administration chases out most of its scientists and ignores the few who remain. The BLM is responding to serious inquiries with internet-driven conspiracy theories and nonsensical pseudoscience. This document is headed for federal court, where some judge is going to have a nice laugh at the BLM’s expense. We are, too.

Stop David Bernhardt

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onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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