Rather than blame undocumented immigrants for the fires ravaging his home state, Sen. John McCain should be educating the public about something he used to profess to know something about: the climate crisis.

At a press conference last Saturday, McCain said, “There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally.”

This isn’t the first time McCain has talked about seeing the “substantial evidence.” In a 2008 speech at a wind turbine facility in Portland, McCain said of climate change, “No longer do we need to rely on guesswork and computer modeling, because satellite images reveal a dramatic disappearance of glaciers, Antarctic ice shelves and polar ice sheets. And I've seen some of this evidence up close.”

John McCain’s transformation from climate Dr. Jeckyll to anti-immigrant Mr. Hyde is a challenge for climate and a immigrant rights activists to find common ground.

Climate scientists have studied not only how increased global warming exacerbates fires across the western United States, but also how the drought caused by climate disruption drives more and more people in Mexico and across Central America to leave their parched homes and risk their lives to find work in el norte. A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that climate change's impacts on crop yields may force as many as seven million Mexicans to emigrate to the U.S. over the next 70 years. 

Now, the very immigrants that were driven from their homes by the climate crisis are being blamed for its impacts.

As climate disruption continues, it will exacerbate social conflict around the world. As Christian Parenti writes in his new book on climate conflict, Tropic of Chaos, “The United Nations has estimated that all but one of its emergency appeals for humanitarian aid in 2007 were climate related.”

The US border is not the only place where the conflict is coming to a head. India is already building a militarized fence along its 2,500 mile border with Bangladesh, a country that could see 22 million people forced from their homes by 2050 because of climate change.

Weathering the storm of the coming century will require immigrant rights, social justice, and environmental advocates to come together to offer a new vision of how society must deal with the multiple crises we face. Instead of building walls to stop the flow of climate refugees, we need to be building fair and sustainable economies that allow people to stay in their homes. And when refugees are forced to flee extreme weather, we need to show solidarity with one another, rather than cast blame on the most vulnerable.

In a different world, one could imagine Sen. McCain being a voice of reason on these issues. Instead, he’s decided to fan the flames of conflict. Let’s hope that by working together, we can begin to put out the fires.

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