Sorry, ABC News, Climate Change Is Not Forcing Guatemalans to Flee Their Country

A story on ABC Television news claims climate change is creating a dire situation in Guatemala, forcing its residents to choose between starving or migrating. This is false. Data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture organization show crop production and yields have increased dramatically in Guatemala during the recent period of modern warming, setting records numerous times.

In a story, titled “Climate change giving Guatemala’s families 2 options: Flee or starve,” ABC News reporter JuJu Chang opined:

Changes in weather patterns in the subtropical climate have wreaked havoc on a region. Many rural villages are experiencing catastrophic crop failure, leading to widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Climate Change is leaving so many with stark choices. Migrate or perish.

Nowhere is that choice more dramatic than rural Guatemala, where families who have lived on the land for generations are now starving, their children unable to get what they need to grow and thrive.

To the extent Guatemalans lack food, it is certainly not because of climate change or crop failures. According to official crop data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as shown in the graph below, Guatemalan crop production is continuing a history of long-term growth, as seen in the figure below.

Figure 1: Guatemala cereal crop yields per acre by year. Source: The Global Economy, reporting data supplied by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Guatemala crop yields per acre are currently:

  • double what they were in 1970 – 50 years of global warming ago;
  • 50% higher than they were in 1980;
  • 10% to 20% higher than they were in 1990 and 2000;
  • enjoying eight straight years of year-over-year improvement from the preceding year.

While data indicate climate change and declining crop production is not forcing people to migrate from Guatemala, other factors may well be encouraging them to do so.

Guatemala has among the highest crime and murder rates in the world.

Guatemala has the 19th highest murder rate in the world, and more than 97 percent of its homicides annually go unsolved. It is a also corridor for international arms, human, and drug trafficking. Many of its women and children are trafficked and forced into sexual slavery or other forms of forced labor. Human Rights Watch reports government official are often complicit in criminal enterprises including trafficking, saying Guatemala has “weak and corrupt law enforcement institutions.”

In addition, long-term poverty is endemic to Guatemala.

According to World Bank data, Guatemala suffers the from the 10th worst poverty rate in the world. It is the only country in the Western Hemisphere to break the top 10 for poverty.

It is not the first time corporate media outlets have tried to push the false narrative that climate change is causing Guatemalan emigration, nor is it the first time Climate Realism has debunked the claim. In June, multiple mainstream media outlets covered U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Guatemala during which she claimed global warming is breaking up Guatemalan families and causing the illegal immigration crisis at the U.S. southern border.

Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei was not amused with Harris’ claim, rebuking her during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation. Fox News recounted the interview:

But, in an interview aired Sunday, Giammattei said he and Harris ‘are not on the same side of the coin’ on the issue, and blamed what he saw as a more welcoming message to migrants by the new administration for the surge.

“The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children,’” he told CBS News. “The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”

“We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” he said.

Crime, lack of economic opportunities and poverty, and the Biden administration’s loosening of border controls and reduced enforcement of the U.S.’s laws against illegal immigration are all more likely factors than climate change to be contributing to emigration from Guatemala. Sadly ABC News ignored these factors, not mentioning a single one of them, in order to push the false narrative a human induced climate crisis is forcing people from their homes.

Shame on ABC for exploiting human tragedy in Guatemala in order to stoke climate alarm. Such reporting is not journalism, it is false propaganda.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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