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Borderless societies would be the biggest boon for tackling the climate crisis

Reformist or piecemeal change will do little to address the climate crisis; the damage is total, and so any viable solutions must be total.

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Vlad Hilitanu/Unsplash

The global argument for border abolition is often linked to social and political injustice, and rarely to the environmental consequences of border enforcement.

We are navigating a planet that is on fire, whilst borders drawn on maps hundreds of years ago are exacerbating the crisis. These borders harm the planet in a myriad of ways and are often afterthoughts when it comes to political decision making.

Physical Barriers

The impact of physical barriers, such as fences on walls, can have a wide-reaching impact on the environment. This extends beyond the initial aim, to keep groups of ‘unwanted’ people out.

Physical barriers fragment ecosystems, such as in the Sonoran Desert on the United States-Mexico border. Borders in the desert damage critical habitats of species such as jaguars, ocelots, and wolves, hindering their ability to roam and reproduce. The wall built by the Trump administration makes these species more vulnerable to threats such as droughts, given they are now unable to roam freely.

In other places, species rely on seasonal migration for breeding, food, and water. Physical borders can obstruct migration routes, causing irreversible damage. In Central Asia, the saiga antelope is known for its migrations that can span thousands of miles. However, due to an inability to roam freely, the species is under threat due to increased vulnerability to poaching.

In Central Europe, borders throughout the Danube River can affect the complex life cycles of aquatic species. These borders can block migration routes, affect reproduction patterns of fish and change the way sediment moves throughout the river. Even underwater, physical borders are damaging the environment.

Physical borders created and policed by humans create extensive damage to biodiversity, and is yet another cap in the feather of a human-made climate crisis.

Indigenous Groups

The relationship between borders and indigenous groups is deeply intertwined with environmental concerns. Borders cause damage to traditional territories, disrupt cultural practices, and often involve the extraction of resources within historical indigenous land.

The United States-Mexico border has divided the homelands of approximately seven different indigenous groups. The impact of border enforcement and militarisation has meant the ecological destruction of indigenous land, threats to sacred areas, and the impediment of movement across indigenous territories.

The establishment of borders is often used to facilitate resource extraction, which is particularly devastating to indigenous communities. Indigenous lands are frequently targeted for mining, logging and hydroelectric projects, which often pollute waterways, destroy habitats in the region, and disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity. The lands of indigenous peoples are not respected, and are instead used for financial exploitation.

The creation of borders has further marginalised indigenous people and undermined the right to self-determination. Environmental justice cannot be a realistic possibility when indigenous lands are used for resource extraction by colonial nations, whilst facing the brunt of the climate crisis.


Further, in the 21st century the increasing militarisation of borders is a central factor in the acceleration of climate change caused by carbon production in the name of defending a certain area of land.

The Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), one of the most militarised borders on the planet, has led to the widespread destruction of habitats. The DMZ, which separates North and South Korea, contains forests, wetlands and rivers that are home to a range of endangered species. Fences, landmines and the presence of military infrastructure has degraded these habitats, threatening the survival of endangered species such as the Korean tiger.

Furthermore, military activities such as training and both the testing and use of various weapons can result in pollution and contamination of the environment, with often unknown long-term risks to human and environmental health. In Vietnam, the effects of Agent Orange used by the United States military in the Vietnam War still impacts the nation’s waterways, has caused genetic mutations in wildlife, and will likely never be reversible.

Militarisation itself, in the name of protecting borders, is a huge contributor to climate change. Militaries are estimated to produce 5.5% of all total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, a total higher than 600 million cars or 500 million transatlantic flights. Demilitarisation would not only save countless lives worldwide, but would drastically slow the climate crisis humanity has created.

Potential solutions

Whilst borders have caused problems for the environment across the planet, there are solutions and real-world examples that work to prevent some of these issues. Crucially, the ability to move freely across a borderless society would solve many of the issues that physical borders cause.

The real-world solutions require cooperation beyond borders. Whilst we are quite some way off such a goal, there are some promising examples. The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area in Southern Africa, for example, spans five countries and promotes biodiversity, sustainable resource management, and cross-border cooperation to help mitigate the impact borders have on wildlife and migratory routes.

In Central America, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Initiative has helped to protect biodiversity and ecosystems in the region, with buffer zones to limit the land that humans can use to build or obtain natural resources.

There are countless ways in which borders harm the environment. However, new transboundary initiatives are being put in place to slow down these impacts. The significant factor is that these initiatives require big, bold thinking from a wide range of countries. World leaders have been unreliable on this, given large numbers of countries are already failing to meet climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

These initiatives have made a start on this, but humanity needs to be bold and embrace the idea that freedom of movement and demilitarisation is important to far more than just our own species. Reformist or piecemeal change will do little in this area; the damage is total, and so any viable solutions must be total.

Unless global powers demilitarise borders, allow for genuine cooperation across nations, and give land back to indigenous peoples, little will change. Working towards borderless societies remains a goal that would benefit humans, animals, and the planet as a whole.

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