In Central India, during 2016, millions of farmers who have lost their livelihoods due to a persistent drought made worse by climate change are migrating to the cities. The climate change induced monsoonal delays and ever-worsening drought conditions forced this most recent wave of climate change refugees to make a stark choice — move or watch their families starve.
It’s a repeat of a scene that happened in Syria during 2006 through 2010, but on a much larger scale. A scene that will repeat again and again. In Bangladesh and the other low lying coastal and delta regions of the world, hundreds of millions will be uprooted by sea level rise. In the US Southwest, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southern Europe hundreds of millions more will be uprooted by drought. All because we, as a global civilization, failed to work together to halt fossil fuel burning soon enough and prevent a temperature increase great enough to wreck cities, states, and regions and to start to destabilize human civilization.
(In India, water sources like this Punjab well and major rivers are running dry. Climate change is melting glaciers in the Himalayas even as it is helping to delay the seasonal monsoon. As a result, millions of farmers have lost their livelihoods and are migrating to the cities. It’s a situation similar to what occurred in Syria, but one that is likely to ultimately produce a much larger wave of migrants. Will we, as a global community, do all we can to help and welcome these migrants? Will we provide the systems of global and national equality that are necessary to achieve this result? Or will we fear them, allowing such fear to have a deleterious effect on our various political systems as occurred in Britain last week? Image source: Commons.)
The Need For Global Unity and Equality in the Face of Severe Climate Externalities
It has always been a wondrous and difficult ideal to strive for global unity. During the 20th Century, the United Nations was established in the hopes of preventing cataclysmic world wars lead by nuclear-armed states. From these global treaties sprang numerous other agreements. These in turn facilitated trade and cooperation on a larger scale than ever before. In the 1980s and 1990s an international treaty called The Montreal Protocal enabled the prevention of a global catastrophe in the form of the loss of the protective ozone layer by internationally regulating the use of ozone-destroying chemicals. This was the first time global governments effectively worked together to prevent a major harmful geophysical change to the Earth System by reigning in corporate excess and, to one degree or another, agreeing to set aside short term gain in favor of long term sustainability.
The hope and example provided by this rational policy has since been undermined by what could best be defined as the deleterious influence of individual and corporate special interests. In many cases, international trade agreements — the upshot of global cooperation — have been co-opted by various corporate powers to promote private interests in the name of international unity. Trade has been used to erode the political power of national unions, to force fossil fuel dependence in various regions, and to undermine equality based policies of national governments around the world. Such use of international trade policies has promoted an increasing tragedy of exploitation of public and natural resources by private entities in which equality has been undermined, wealth has been concentrated at the top, environmental regulations have been removed, circumvented, or ignored, and the global atmosphere has been polluted with a devastating volume of greenhouse gasses.
(Greenhouse gas pollution forces global temperatures higher which in turn increases evaporation and loads the atmosphere up with moisture, which in turn drives increasing instances of extreme rainfall events on one end of the weather spectrum and extreme drought conditions on the other end. Over recent years, rainfall records have been shattered with greater and greater frequency as a result. And incidences of extreme flooding, like that seen last week in West Virginia, which has damaged or destroyed 500 homes, adds to the wave of climate refugees and lends urgency to need to work together on a global scale to mitigate the damage by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to help the displaced. Hat tip to Peter Sinclair for the above image provided by the 2015 Lehmann extreme rainfall study.)
If the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Climate Summit represent the best face of global cooperation, then trade agreements like TTIP can represent its dark side. One set gives an example of how the world must work together now in order to preserve the foundation of global civilization. The other has often become little more than a divisive monetary and political power grab by numerous giant corporations now ranging the globe (the Godzilla Zombie Corps of Growth Shock). One has the potential to save the world. The other — if it leads to increasing wealth inequality, increasing externalization of harms, loss of government regulatory control of corporations, and privatization of public assets — will inevitably wreck it.
Brexit — The Culmination of Greed, Fear, and Climate Change
By the end of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st Century global unity was coming under strain due to these forces of systemic inequality and harm eroding global monetary policies coupling with the rising impacts of human caused climate change. Creation of laissez-faire markets combined with fossil fuel based energy dominance to first help drive major commodity price spikes in the early to mid 2000s and then to generate the wave of crashes during the 2008 financial meltdown. Corporate pushed austerity measures generated increasing inequality in Europe post collapse even as climate change enabled a wave of Middle Eastern refugees moving westward — spurred on by the Syrian drought. The synergistically destructive forces of rising inequality and fear of migrants — fueled by right wing political voices across Europe — generated large cracks in Europe’s economic union. Failure to identify the causes of loss of income, pensions, and healthcare among Europeans as the result of corporate-driven austerity measures lead to a wrongful scape-goating of migrants and inflamed hatred across the continent.
In Europe last week, these socially destructive cracks widened yet again. A campaign emerging out of a xenophobic UK-based right wing group named Brexit (feeding on the same anxieties as Trump in the US) leveraged mass migration fears to run a successful campaign against the UK remaining within the European Union. A primary focus of the Brexit movement was targeting Syrian migrants — the very individuals who lost their livelihoods due to a climate change induced drought. People who basically had to make the same choice as many living in India today — move or starve.
Underlying the xenophobic fears that helped spur the UK’s vote for EU succession was concern over the TTIP — a treaty that the EU is now considering and that many think would open the UK’s National Healthcare System to a deleterious privatization. Brexit capitalized on these fears by claiming that both migrants and the EU were a threat to UK citizens’ access to healthcare. In truth, TTIP is probably a worse threat to UK healthcare than migrants, but this particular concern fed into the overall Brexit fear mongering. And it was this combination of a very real threat of loss of equality and economic security driven by laissez-faire economic policies together with the ultimately imagined and inflamed fear of scapegoat migrants that spurred the UK’s economic secession.
The Dark Consequences of Economic Systems Engineered to Optimize Wealth Concentration and Externalize Harm
The thing to learn from all this is that market liberalization (a negative venture that all too often fosters wealth concentration, market collapse, and extremely harmful pollution and is not to be confused with the liberation of people, which is an entirely positive venture) and a failure to regulate and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions leads to very destructive political consequences. On the right, what we’ve seen is a fostering of immigrant scape-goating and climate change denial as a political smoke screen to mask the environmental and economic harms that their policies are causing. And the reliance on these two explosive communications strategies seeds a combined attack on science and destabilization of political systems. One that by itself represents a threat to the underpinnings of functioning and benevolent advanced societies.
(Erskine Fire burns along the southern rim of California’s Central Valley in 105 degree [F] heat on Sunday. The fire, which has now destroyed 250 structures and killed two people, is just one of many examples of how extreme events spurred by climate change can render people homeless. Sea level rise, drought, extreme rains, extreme cyclones, wildfires, and crop loss are all caused or made worse by climate change. Such events will inevitably result in a growing wave of global migrants. If we are to expect human civilization to survive without spiraling into worsening conflict, we must establish plans now to help those displaced by climate change and to ensure that those hosting migrant populations do not have fears and hatreds inflamed by rising inequality. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)
When facing climate change, we will have to first deal with the problems caused by failed neo-liberal thinking. We cannot deal with climate change without the necessary regulations on greenhouse gasses. And we absolutely cannot deal with climate change effectively in a situation where global inequality is worsened and social stresses threaten to tear the very institutions that allow us to cooperate apart. Joe Romm was absolutely right in his most recent essay — we have a choice now. Cooperate to deal with climate change and inequality — or fail. Fail in the ugliest most heinous way possible as hatred, xenophobia, and competition for resources tears international institutions and states apart. For, in the end, cooperation in dealing with climate change means that we will have to promote fairness and equality as a means to reduce a stability-wrecking panic. We will have to make the solemn and reassuring promise to help each other. To help those who are starving and migrating. To help those who are losing healthcare benefits and economic prospects. To help them both and to at the same time stem the spread of combined exploitation and global poverty.
In places like India and Bangladesh, in the US Southwest, in Brazil, in Southern Europe, in Africa, and along the coastal cities of the world, the next wave of migrants is building. They include many of the people who are now reading this blog. Will we do the moral, just thing — as the Pope has urged us — and resolve ourselves to help them? Will we ultimately resolve to help ourselves? For climate change is a crisis that prefers no race, no location, no nationality. And in the end it will make refugees of us all.
Hat tip to Peter Sinclair
Hat tip to DT Lange
Hat tip to 65 Karin
Hat tip to Webej