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Connecting the dots between climate, migration and the far-right

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Today, we're launching a project that connects the dots across three big stories. Our co-host, Ari Shapiro, is starting a reporting trip through three countries, and it tries to answer this question - what is the connection between climate change, global migration and far-right politics? Ari, I'm excited to hear about this trip. Thanks for coming in to talk to us about it.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's an honor to be on your show, Juana.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) All right. Where did the idea for this project come from?

SHAPIRO: I realized that lots of the most ambitious projects I've done as a host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED have returned to those same three topics. Like on climate change, I've covered sinking islands under rising seas in India. I've gone to U.N. climate summits in Scotland and France. When it comes to global migration, I've covered the exodus of Venezuelans through Colombia and Syrians going to Europe. And then, of course, we're always doing stories about the rise of far-right politicians. And so I for almost a year now have been thinking about, how can we tie these three things together, connect the dots and show how each one influences the other?

SUMMERS: Yeah. As you think about your reporting, is there somebody that you've met in your reporting before or your research who captures what you're hoping to get out on this trip?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, we reached out to this World Bank climate researcher named Arame Tall because she's an expert on climate change. She's from Senegal in West Africa. And so in addition to studying all of the numbers and figures and charts, she and her family know that the coastline is shrinking from rising seas. They know that farms are becoming unharvestable because of droughts and floods. But when I was talking to her about her research, I didn't realize that she also has a personal connection to this. She told me about her nephew, an 18-year-old named Amadou.

ARAME TALL: To the whole family's astonishment, he disappeared one night. And we looked for him. He couldn't be found. And it turns out that he took by night one of these boats headed to Europe in the night.

SHAPIRO: Except Amadou didn't stay on the boat. The captain warned that there was heavy rain offshore and it could be dangerous. And so Amadou disembarked, and the boat left without him, and he returned to his family a few days later.

TALL: Everybody else who jumped on that - who got onto that boat never came back. And they were confirmed to have sank in the Atlantic.

SHAPIRO: Oh, my goodness.

TALL: So he escaped. But you always wonder, what if he had actually taken that boat?

SUMMERS: What an incredible story. Ari, do we know how many people are going to be forced from their homes by climate change?

SHAPIRO: We don't. And even though there's been a lot of research into this, the challenge is there's really no definition of a climate migrant. The vast majority of people who are forced from their homes by climate change will stay in their own country or at least their region. But climate change can be what one researcher, Kayly Ober of Refugees International, described to me as a vulnerability multiplier, which is to say, if somebody is already under pressure from poverty or corruption, climate change might be the final straw. And so depending on how you define a climate migrant, the numbers can vary widely.

But where human rights advocates see climate change as a vulnerability multiplier, far-right politicians see it as a threat multiplier, and that's where the politics piece of this comes in.

SUMMERS: OK, and this is the part that I'm curious about. How do you tie in far-right politics to these other trends we've been talking about - climate change and migration?

SHAPIRO: Well, all over the world, we see politicians campaigning on a platform of stopping migration. I mean, remember, Donald Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign with a racist claim that Mexico was sending rapists to the United States.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And this year, from Sweden to Italy and beyond, we have seen far-right parties win elections on promises to stop migration.

SUMMERS: My friend, this is a huge undertaking. How are you going to tackle all of this, and how can I follow along? How can we all follow along?

SHAPIRO: There are a lot of routes we could have taken. This is happening all over the world. So, you know, we could have gone from Central America through Mexico to the U.S., or we could have gone from Bangladesh west. We've decided to start in the Sahel region of Africa. We're going to be in Senegal, up to Morocco, and then on to Spain. And the stories are going to air in November when the U.N. Climate Summit takes place in Egypt. But we are keeping a blog in real time. So you can follow along with our travels at npr.org and see who we're meeting and what we're learning as we experience it.

SUMMERS: That's our co-host, Ari Shapiro, and you'll hear lots more of his reporting on this project in the weeks to come. Ari, safe travels.

SHAPIRO: Thanks, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.