McCain should blame climate change, not immigrants, for Arizona wildfires

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.

7 Responses to “McCain should blame climate change, not immigrants, for Arizona wildfires”

  1. 1 Jackie Jun 22nd, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Why don’t you do the research to find out WHY he said that. How do you take the fact that a campfire in the same location the previous year known to have been set by illegal immigrants crossing the border and John McCain’s statement that at least one of Arizona’s fire which began in the same location may well have been started by illegal immigrants and state that he’s obviously making it up? This is well documented by the farmers who know and live in these areas. This article is a great example of false deductive reasoning. Its time for you to grow up.

  2. 2 Ed P. Jun 22nd, 2011 at 1:03 pm
  3. 3 David Carroll Jun 22nd, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Texas Forestry confirms that immigrants are starting fires. Was climate change the reason for the dust bowl too? You sure have a stack of opinions and a hole where your facts are.

  4. 4 Lawrence MacDonald Jun 24th, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    An inspiring action that deserves wide support.

  5. 5 Lawrence MacDonald Jun 24th, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Jamie – Actually, my comment above was intended for your other post — the letter from Bill McKibben and others calling for civil disobedience in August to help stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. THAT is an inspiring action.

    But I also wanted to comment on your excellent piece on McCain blaming migrants for the Arizona fires. He is indeed missing an opportunity to help educate Americans about the link between runaway climate change and the fires, while blaming the victims of our own irresponsible actions. That the U.S., the richest and most powerful nation in the world and the single largest contributor to climate change, with some of the highest per capita emissions in the world, should slam the door on people driven from their homes by the effects of climate change is a moral outrage.

  6. 6 Deborah Hilleren Jun 28th, 2011 at 11:07 am

    A thoroughly enjoyable piece, this is. I find it especially thought provoking, given its timeliness. Global climate change is a topic worthy of national discussion. Aside from just the wildfires, we mustn’t ignore the increase in the number of recent tornadoes, floods and other incidences of extreme weather that have created so much devastation and heartache.

  1. 1 » Earth On The Brink Of Mass Extinction - Irregular Times Trackback on Jun 22nd, 2011 at 12:04 pm
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About Jamie

Jamie is the co-coordinator of, an international global warming campaign. A recent college graduate, he lives in San Francisco, CA. In 2007, he co-organized Step It Up, a campaign that pulled together over 2,000 climate rallies across the United States to push for strong climate action at the federal level. He's also an early member of the youth climate movement, leading one of Energy Action's first campaigns in 2005: Road to Detroit, a nationwide veggie-oil bus tour to promote sustainable transportation. He's traveled to Montreal and Bali to lobby the UN with youth, but he's a strong believer that change happens in the streets not in meetings. Jamie received the Morris K. Udall award in 2007 and has been recognized by the mighty state of Vermont for his work on climate change. You can also find him blogging at Campus Progress' "Pushback,", and

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