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Climate Change Indicated in Forced Migration of 1.7 Million from Mekong Delta

Global sea level rise caused by fossil fuel burning is an issue that is creating worsening impacts to cities, nations, and civilization itself. And according to recent reports out of Vietnam, 1.7 million people have migrated from the low-lying Mekong Delta region over the past decade. Primary causes included climate change and poverty.

(Sea level rise now threatens all low-lying regions with increased flooding, loss of crops, and, in some cases, forced migration. Recent reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have already left the Mekong delta as a result.)

Rising oceans have forced Vietnam to erect a system of dykes of up to 4 meters in height in an increasingly complex system of coastal defense barriers. These barriers have saved lands from inundation as the ocean off the low-lying Mekong Delta continues to rise year-after-year. However, the dykes have not prevented salt water from moving further and further up the Mekong River. And during recent years, this salt water has inundated soils used for rice production.

Such salt water inundation has wiped out crops for many farmers. For example, in the Soc Trang region, the farmers of Thang Dong saw their crops completely wiped out during 2013 as salt water seeped into the soil and killed off food-producing plants. In low-lying near coastal regions, the story has been much the same for Mekong farmers. And with less reliable crops come increasing poverty.

(Salt water increases in soils as seas rise. The Mekong Delta is just one of many low-lying regions under threat by human caused climate change and its related sea level rise. Image source: Vietnam Times.)

When crop production is no longer tenable due to climate change impacts, many farming families have been forced to move on. A majority cite poverty as the root cause. But 14.5 percent are more aware — noting that climate change was what ultimately forced them to leave.

The Delta regions of the world are among the most agriculturally productive on Earth. But, as with Mekong, all such regions face ocean flooding and salt water invasion. As a result, a key aspect of global food production is under threat. A factor that has recently weighed in high average global food prices and an increase in the number of under-nourished people by 38 million last year.

 

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Rendered Uninhabitable by Heat — It’s Not Just Sudan, Parts From North Africa to the Middle East are Under the Gun

“North Africa is already hot and is strongly increasing in temperature. At some point in this century, part of the region will become uninhabitable.”Dr. Johannes Lilieveld

“The number of climate refugees could increase dramatically in future. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have calculated that the Middle East and North Africa could become so hot that human habitability is compromised.”The Max Planck Institute

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Heatwaves so hot that it’s impossible to perform any activity outdoors without threat of injury or worse. Raging dust storms that make the very air unbreathable. Massive droughts that wreck agricultural productivity and biodiversity altogether. Sections of Africa and the Middle East are currently getting a taste of these new, dangerous climate conditions. But their frequency could increase by five fold or more over the next 30-40 years — threatening harm, government collapse, and the forced dislocation of millions.

Sudan Could be Made Uninhabitable by Climate Change

Due to human-caused warming, these kinds of events are already happening in places like Sudan with increasing frequency. And a recent report by CNN shows that this North African state is under threat of becoming uninhabitable to human beings due to climate change.

africa-areas-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change

(A new infertile crescent. Climate change increases desertification risks for semi-arid regions across Africa. Image source: Grid-Arendal, Columbia University and CNN.)

Drought has impacted agriculture to the extent that 1.9 million people in this nation of 40 million could face hunger over the next couple of years. A further 3.2 million face water shortages. And in the ironic juxtaposition that often comes with climate change — since 2013 about 600,000 people have been displaced due to the deluges that have more and more often come at the end of the long, dry periods.

For Sudan, the problems are just beginning. By mid-Century surface temperatures in the region could warm by between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees Celsius. And so much additional warming will multiply the occurrence of the kinds of harmful heatwaves, droughts, and dust storms that are happening today many times over. In the end, Sudan is at risk of being abandoned as its lands are taken in by a climate unfit for human habitation.

500 Million People Under Extreme Heat and Drought in Africa and Middle East by mid-Century

But it’s not just Sudan that’s facing a flip into nation-wrecking climate conditions. By 2050, extreme heat related events will be happening five times more frequently as the Earth warms up along a desiccating crescent in Africa and onward throughout a good chunk of the Middle East. During summers, by mid Century, temperatures throughout this vulnerable zone could be as much as 5 degrees Celsius hotter than they are today.

increased-warm-days

(Temperatures are set to rise to extreme levels across Africa and the Middle East due to fossil fuel burning and related Earth System warming. The impacts produce a high risk for mass migration away from these regions as hothouse conditions take hold. Image source: The Max-Planck Institute.)

Including Sudan, more than 500 million people live in this region. And according to the Max-Planck Institute, extremely hot days — of which there were 16 each year within this vulnerable area from 1986 to 2005 — will increase five-fold to 80 by 2050 and up to 118 to 200 by 2100.

Added extraordinary and persistent heat will bake moisture out of soils, ruin forests, and advance deserts. It will produce days when wet bulb temperatures approach or exceed the limit of human endurance (35 C) time and time again. Such a high prevalence and intensity of adverse conditions will make the current problems faced by the region seem mild and moderate by comparison. In the end, numerous places are likely to become basically unlivable.

Call For Action

Given the coming hardship and what is likely to be a preventable mass migration, scientists and environmentalists are calling for action. CNN and others have highlighted a need for aid to Africa and the Middle East. But as helpful as aid is to those desperate and struggling to survive, the primary driver of the whole problem is human-based fossil fuel emissions. And unless that stops, this region and its highly vulnerable peoples, among others around the world, will be very hard hit.

Michelle Yonetani, a senior advisor on disasters from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center noted that encouraging governments to increase commitments to act on climate is “perhaps one of the most indirect ways [to help], but [it is] globally the most important. Now really is the time to push governments to act…” Otherwise, vast regions within Africa and the Middle East face destabilization, collapse, and mass migration over rather short time horizons.

Links:

Climate Change Could Render Sudan Uninhabitable

The Max Planck Institute

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

Grid-Arendal, Columbia University

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Britain Succumbs to Fear — Europe Shattered by Deteriorating Physical and Political Climate

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.

Punjab Well

(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.

Extreme Rainfall Events

(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.

Bakersfield Fire

(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.

Links:

Drought Migrants Flee to India’s Cities

Brexit, Trump Just the Beginning, Climate Will Drive Refugees and Resentment

LANCE-MODIS

Commons

West Virginia’s Deadly Flooding Disaster

Extreme Rainfall Events Increased Under Global Warming

Growth Shock

California Today: Wildfires Earlier Than Ever

Cameron Forced to Back Down From NHS TTIP Deal

The Keeling Curve (Please Support Public, Non Special Interest Based Science)

Pope Francis’s Encyclical

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to 65 Karin

Hat tip to Webej

Record Hot Arctic: NOAA’s 2015 Report Card Shows Signs of Failing Climates

In NOAA’s most recent annual Arctic Report Card, the records just keep falling as the litany of global warming related events appearing throughout the far north continued to crop up with ever-more dizzying frequency…

(NOAA’s Arctic report is a stark expose of the state of the Arctic climate. What we view now is a system undergoing a rapid and dynamic transition from its previously stable state to something that is entirely new and alien to human civilization. Video source: NOAA.)

The 12 month period of October 2014 to September 2015 was the hottest one year time-frame since record keeping began for the Arctic back in 1900. As a result of these record warm temperatures, Arctic sea ice during the Winter hit its lowest maximum extent ever seen. Summer sea ice extent was likewise greatly reduced hitting its 4th lowest extent ever recorded. Old, thick sea ice which represented 20 percent of the ice pack in 1985, has precipitously declined to a mere 3 percent of the ice pack today. Snow cover also took a hit, declining to its second lowest extent on record during 2015 and striking a range of 50 percent below the typical average for the month.

Overall warming of the Arctic is at a much more rapid pace than the rest of the world. This accelerated pace of warming is due, in large part, to loss of snow and sea ice reflectivity during the Spring and Summer months. As a result, more heat is absorbed into dark land and ocean surfaces — a heat that is retained throughout the Arctic over longer and longer periods. And, though NOAA doesn’t report it in the above video, overall higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses like methane and CO2 in or near the Arctic region also contribute to a higher rate of warming (see NOAA’s ESRL figures). In a world that is now rapidly proceeding beyond the 400 ppm CO2 and 485 ppm CO2e threshold, this is exactly the kind of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification we would expect to see.

Warm Winds, Greenland Ice Sheet Melt, and Mass Migrations

NOAA notes a marked change in the distribution of life with mass migrations of all life forms well underway in and around the Arctic. Transitions and disruptions are most highly visible among marine mammals like walruses and polar bears — who are increasingly forced to live on land during the summer months. Meanwhile, an ever-broadening number of non-native fish are invading the Arctic from the south.

south-to-north-weather-pattern-alaska

(South to north weather patterns, like the one featured above, have increasingly drawn warm winds up and over Alaska. An anomalous new weather feature that has merited comment in NOAA’s recent annual Arctic report card. Image from “Arctic Heatwave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half”.)

NOAA also links the warm wind invasion events reported on widely here to the second worst wildfire season ever to strike Alaska in 2015. A dipole feature that displays teleconnections between Arctic snow and ice loss, the hot blob of water in the Northeastern Pacific, and the persistent trough that prevailed over the US East Coast during the Winter of 2014-2015.

Finally, Greenland Ice Sheet surface melt hit a maximum coverage above 50 percent for the first time since the extreme melt that occurred in 2012. NOAA notes that the amount of ice delivered to the ocean by glaciers also increased across Greenland even as recent studies continued to find an increasing prevalence of glacial destabilization and acceleration among Greenland’s ocean-terminating glaciers.

NOAA concludes: “Taken together, 2015 shows a continuing set of major changes in the Arctic.”

Links:

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Major Arctic Wildfire Outbreak

NOAA ESRL

Arctic Heatwave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

El Nino, Polar Amplification or Both?

Hat Tip to Alexandr

 

 

“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone” — How Climate Change is Spurring a Global Refugee Crisis to Rapidly Worsen

Over the past two weeks, news of the plight of a swelling wave of refugees fleeing to Europe has filled the mainstream media. We looked on in horror at reports of innocent human beings fleeing destabilized countries in the Middle East, of people suffocating while stuffed into the backs of trucks, of drowned children washed up on the shores of nations their families had hoped would care for them.

It’s all a part of a growing global mass migration. A tragic dislocation and diaspora. But this time it’s not only birds, or polar bears, or fish, or walruses, or insects, or plants that are being forced to move by habitat and food loss, by toxified environments or by increasingly dangerous weather. It’s human beings too.

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“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone”

(Dead Syrian toddler is not only a victim of conflict. He is a victim of a destabilized climate. Video source: Here)

In the above video we are rightfully compelled to compassion for a drowned boy and his family. A family suffering in a country ripped apart by conflict. A country fractured by insurgent forces that will use any form of brutality to gain and secure power. And in this very narrow frame we are provided with a perpetrator — ISIS — and an-all-too innocent victim. The call for warfare against the human monsters that make up ISIS is clear. But the conditions that created the monster in the first place, as happens all too often with climate change, are completely ignored.

Climate Change as Threat Multiplier in Syria

Syria was never a stable country. At least not so long as colonial and post colonial powers inhibited its development as a functional state. There was always a reason for interference in Syria’s affairs and for a related exploitation of its resources. As the fossil fuel age dawned, such interference became even more intense. Powerful nations and empires wanted Syria’s oil. And when Syria’s oil was gone and the country left suffering from the bitter after-effects of that resource’s deleterious curse, those same powers wanted Syria to remain both stable and weak. To remain sidelined so as not to influence the flow of oil from nearby countries. Countries like Iraq where the West has conducted an ongoing war since the early 1990s.

We justified this under such international relations terms as the realism-based ‘rational self interest of nations.’ And it was this self interest paradigm that national and international businesses — primarily oil companies — used to justify an ongoing exploitation of an increasingly fractured land, its people, and of a resource itself whose continued burning would make an ugly situation far, far worse.

On October 13 of 2014, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called human-forced climate change, through the fossil fuel based dumping of carbon into the atmosphere, a ‘threat multiplier’ saying:

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

What he failed to mention, however, was that for Syria and ISIS it had already happened.

The Drought that Forged ISIS

Before there was ISIS, there was drought. A three year long drought beginning in 2007 and finally ending in 2010. A drought so severe and intense that it basically wiped out Syria’s farming industry. The farmers, mostly family farmers, were faced with a situation in which water use was terribly constrained (due to the combined drought severity and the short-sighted policies of the Syrian government). Farm after farm failed. By 2011, more than 1.5 million people had migrated from the ruined and desiccated rural farms to the cities. Cities that, in turn, became hot-beds of unrest and insurgency.

NOAA Syria worst drought on record

(Map published by NOAA in its 2011 report on Mediterranean drought during 2005 to 2010. In a related finding, Syria experienced its worst drought on record during 2007 to 2010 resulting in the mass loss of farmland and the displacement of 1.5 million people to urban centers. Image source: NOAA — Climate Change Probably A Factor in Syria’s Civil War.)

A scientific report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March found that Syria’s epic 2007-2010 drought had been developing over the course of a century of warming. That the drought was both spurred and made more severe by human forced climate change. And that the increased intensity of drought added by human forced warming likely pushed Syria’s rural farms past the breaking point. The report noted:

There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

The drought, therefore, led to desperation, hunger, anger, and unrest. It provided a mass of displaced persons who had lost the means to provide for themselves and their families. It provided both the trigger and the means for the development of what would later become ISIS (for more on how the Syrian drought helped destabilize the country you can read this brief, but very informative, comic strip). Threat multiplier indeed.

Worst Heatwave in 130 Years Forces Russian Crop Failures, Spurs Arab Spring

As is well known, the flood of refugees coming to European shores are not solely Syrian. Libya, Egypt and a broad number of African and Middle Eastern countries now face destabilizing unrest, violence, and growing numbers of internally displaced persons seeking asylum in other countries. It is this now endemic instability and displacement that can be primarily linked back to two events — drought-spurred crop failures in 2010 and the related food riots that ignited what is now known as the Arab Spring.

For as Syria was experiencing its worst drought in a century, the most intense heatwave in at least 130 years was in the process of also crippling Russia’s agriculture. This terrible heatwave spurred fires, wrecked crops and resulted in the hothouse mass casualty deaths of over 50,000 Russian people. It was an unprecedented event that climate scientist Stephan Rahmstorf identified as 80 percent more likely due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere and oceans. An event that put Russia, typically a major grain exporter, in such a terrible food security situation that it was forced to halt grain exports entirely.

Wildfires and Pyrocumulous Clouds over Russia During the Great Heatwave of 2010

(Wildfires and pyrocumulous clouds over Russia during the great heatwave of 2010. A heatwave that killed 50,000 people and crippled Russia’s agricultural industry. Image source: Earth Observatory and Discovery News.)

By 2011, global food prices — spurred ever-higher by wide-ranging droughts and extreme weather — put millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa in a desperate situation. Food became less and less accessible. In Egypt, the plight of a child set off mass food riots. These food riots spread across the Middle East resulting in the collapse of Egyptian, Syrian, and Libyan governments. Setting in place the severe refugee situation we see today.

Climate Change as Trigger to Europe’s Refugee Crisis

In emerging threats terminology, given the scientific basis for climate change’s influence on extreme weather events related to the refugee crisis, related to the destabilization and collapse of nations, we can identify the Syrian and Russian droughts and heatwaves as precursor crisis influencing and trigger events. What the US Department of Defense terms threat multipliers. Climate change, in this instance, made the Syrian drought and the Russian heatwave worse. These impacts in turn increased desperation, displacement, and hunger in numerous countries spurring unrest and, in some cases, societal collapse.

In Syria, 1.5 million people were directly displaced as the result of a climate change worsened drought. In the Middle East as a whole, nations were indirectly destabilized due to a crop-destroying and climate change worsened heatwave in Russia which set off a wide-ranging food crisis. This destabilization, in its turn, led to still more internally displaced persons in places like Libya and Egypt. Many of whom eventually joined the rising flood of human traffic to the still greener shores of Europe.

And it is in this way that climate change is a root cause to Europe’s refugee crisis. For without climate change we remove the extreme weather amplifier which is a trigger to the whole growing disaster.

Refugee Crisis is Massive, Global, and Growing

Unfortunately, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are not the only regions seeing growing bodies of internally and internationally displaced persons. This week, President Obama in a recent visit highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of Alaskan coastal dwellers whose 31 communities are being devoured by an increasingly stormy and rising Arctic Ocean. In Pakistan coastal farmers are fleeing inland as the fertile lands in the Indus River Delta are being tainted with salt. So far, the count of migrant climate change refugees due to farmland loss is 150,000 Pakistanis. But as seas continue to rise, the situation only worsens. In Bangladesh, cities are already overcrowded with tens of thousand fleeing a rapidly receding coastline. And in the Pacific, low lying island dwellers in the Maldives, Kirubati, and hundreds of other shrinking atolls are seeking homes in far-flung countries possessing lands well above the rising tides.

Kivalina Alaska Washed Away

(Kivalina, Alaska is one of 31 communities now being devoured by the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea due to a combination of sea level rise, permafrost thaw, and increased wave action due to loss of sea ice. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

In total, around the world, 158 million people were displaced by extreme weather events related to climate change since 2008. The fires, floods, hurricanes, extreme droughts, heatwaves and other storms are all growing worse, more violent, more likely to destroy homes and livelihoods. And it’s due to the heat we’ve added into the Earth’s climate system that extreme weather is now a greater direct cause of displacement than even the terrible scourge of warfare.

Some of the persons driven from their homes by such worsening events are able to eventually return to their livelihoods. But some are bereft of necessary aid — living in regions or nations which lack the resources to help. Such persons eventually become tent dwellers or add to the ever-growing tide of people seeking refuge in other, more seemingly stable, countries.

Climate change, extreme weather, human displacement and related political instability are thus now linked in a broad web that spans the globe. And the situation keeps getting worse and worse. It’s a situation that won’t change anytime soon. And one that can only be abated by a concerted response by nations — all of which are now under threat — to both help those people put in this terrible situation and to stop worsening the damage through a rapid cessation of fossil fuel based carbon emissions. Otherwise, by failing to rapidly act, by focusing instead on broadening warfare and conflict rather than root causes, more and more nations and regions will fall under the threat of destabilization, mass impoverishment and collapse as this climate change spurred crisis grows in scope, breadth and intensity.

Links:

Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone

US Secretary of Defense: Climate Change is a Threat Multiplier

Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought

Russia, Crippled by Drought, Bans Grain Exports

Climate Change Increased Likelihood of Crippling Russian Heatwave by 80%

Obama Visits US Climate Change Refugees

Sea Level Rise Sets off Mass Migration in Pakistan

Bangladesh: Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land

Has the Great Climate Change Migration Already Begun?

Climate Change Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Climate Change a Factor in Syria Civil War

The Great Russian Heatwave of 2010

Native Alaskan Villagers Among First US Climate Change Refugees

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