Climate migration: a challenge to our humanity

Calais migrant chaos is a taste of what a warmer world may bring

is the title of a short New Scientist article (paywalled) with the message that climate change may already be a factor in social breakdown, unrest and war. Nevertheless during this century it will likely become a direct and real threat to population stability.

Le Page points out that there was a

    severe drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011, forcing more than a million people off farms and into cities in search of work. This added to the instability and unrest that led to war.

Some of those displaced from Syrian farms are now in Calais, seeking entry into the UK. Hunger, poverty and war is driving people to seek a better and more stable life elsewhere, rather than a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”, the words of the UN refugee convention.

The US Department of Defense says:

    “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity… are projected to increase…”

Drought and extreme weather is one cause, sea level rise is another. Le Page tells us, for example, that a half-metre sea level rise would displace 1.5 million people in Alexandria in the Nile Delta, according to a 2004 study. What Le Page does not say is that the UN refugee system will simply break down under the pressure of mass people movements, if it has not already.

Googling turned up an interesting paper by Adrienne Millbank from the Social Policy Group of the Parliamentary Library. It was from September 2000, but update the figures (double or treble them) and it could have been written yesterday.

Millbank’s main message is that the UNHCR system was designed in 1951 for different circumstances, and that even then in the year 2000 it was essentially broken.

The ‘fear of persecution’ definition was too narrow. The politics of accepting continued refugee flows was getting more difficult. The majority of externally displaced refugees don’t get to present a case for asylum. They simply land in a camp. Within the camps women and children predominate. The Convention-based system favours those who move, mostly men, especially young men.

She summarises the problems thus:

    The problem with the Convention can also be summarised in simpler terms, of what it doesn’t include. It doesn’t confer any right of assistance on refugees unless and until they reach a signatory country. It confers no right of assistance on the ‘internally displaced’ at all. It imposes no obligation on governments not to persecute their citizens, or to guarantee their safe return. It imposes no mechanism for preventing mass outflows, for burden sharing between states, for ensuring speedy assistance for those most in need, or for maximising the effectiveness of international resources. And it takes no account of the capacity of receiving states.

Now the call is to solve the problems at source, by trying to stabilise the countries producing refugees, as David Cameron said recently. This seems beyond us. Moreover in the case of climate change we are already committed to change that will be significantly destabilising.

Philosophically I believe we are on this planet to look after each other, and our concerns should not be limited by the boundaries of nation states. As people movements become more unmanageable, however, harsher policies may well become the order of the day. Yet by not helping those in need our humanity is diminished.

Gwynne Dyer, in his book Climate Wars speculates on drought-ravaged Mexico becoming a failed state and the Mexico-US border being militarised to keep people out, of Northern Europe similarly drawing a line at The Alps. These are illustrative scenarios rather than predictions, but he knows that Russian defense planners are concerned about 100 million Chinese deciding to move into Siberia. Yet the most direct threats of sea level rise are to the coastal cities and river deltas of Asia.

In the final chapter of Climate Wars, Dyer argues that climate change is a historic challenge to humanity. The challenge for our species is to move to a “higher level of social and ecological understanding”.

    He uses the analogy of an examination.

    “We just barely scraped through the mid-term exam in the last century; we acquired the ability to destroy our civilization directly, by war, and we managed not to use it.

    “Now it’s the final exam, with the whole environment that our civilization depends on is at stake. It’s not just about knowledge and technical ability; it is also about self restraint and the ability to cooperate. Grown up values, if you like.”

    Dyer believes that successfully preventing runaway climate change would be a coming of age, a “childhood’s end,” for humanity.

If we fail to adopt and meet suitable targets, global temperature rise will soar past 2°C. And climate migration will soar along with the temperature.

15 thoughts on “Climate migration: a challenge to our humanity”

  1. It is worth noting in this context that the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are now polling 19.4%, which makes them Sweden’s third most popular party. Germany is now seeing a resurgence of Nazism and dozens of refugee centres have recently been attacked.

    Most of the current wave of refugees are Muslims from the Middle East. It is no secret that their cultural values- honor killings, forced marriages, the elimination of homosexuals, the subordination of women etc… are a throwback to the Dark Ages. It is also no secret that their values contribute to the problems in their homelands. Again, it is no secret that they bring their values to any country that takes them in.

    My answer to this problem is complete western withdrawal from the Middle East other than mutually beneficial trade. Let the locals get their house in order. I believe they can do it. Europe did it. But in the meantime let’s quarantine ourselves so that we don’t destabilise our own countries.

    If Australia does decide to take in large numbers of refugees, I’ll change my vote to whatever anti-immigration party emerges to oppose it. I will not do this because I am selfish, I will do it for the sake of my daughters.

  2. Karen, I’ll make two comments.

    First, if your characterisation of Muslim values is accurate then so be it. If it is a negative stereotype then you open yourself to the charge of racism. My very limited contact with Muslims suggests you’ve overcooked it.

    Secondly, there is a point where helping others can harm ourselves, and we are under no obligation to go beyond that point.

    I worry that a country like Germany can realistically absorb 400,000 refugees annually in a population of some 80 million in cultural/social/economic terms. I did hear fleetingly the other day that the figure had been upped to 800,000.

    A quick search indicates that 800,000 is what they expect and it’s highly problematic.

    Merkel has vowed, no tolerance of hatred, so we’ll see how it goes.

  3. First, if your characterisation of Muslim values is accurate then so be it. If it is a negative stereotype then you open yourself to the charge of racism. My very limited contact with Muslims suggests you’ve overcooked it.

    Nonsense Brian.
    Muslim, for the umpteenth time, is not a race.
    Why so many people are confused by this, I can’t even guess.

  4. Brian,

    Britain established a Forced Marriage Unit in 2005 to deal with forced marriages. Here are the 2014 stats in PDF format. Note that Muslim countries are grossly overrepresented, thus indicating that the “negative stereotype” is accurate.

    If you do some googling on Muslim attitudes to homosexuals and honour killings you will see that I am likewise vindicated.

    It is mendacious and unethical for someone to use heinous accusations like racism to try to cover up a reality that impacts so many women and other marginalised peoples.

  5. On the homosexual point, have a look at the Pew Global Survey here Brian. Note that the Muslim countries are as backward and reactionary as the barbarians who inhabit Black Africa.

    The fact that you are innocent of such realities suggests you must live an incredibly cloistered life. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone with such limited social knowledge.

  6. Here is another one.

    Note how less than half of all Muslims in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq say that it is never justified to kill a woman to restore family honour.

  7. That the United Nations has neglected to overhaul all of the post Second World War agreements and arrangements for dealing with people displaced by war is an unforgivable disgrace. This six decades and more of neglect to reform has been a delight to organized criminals and aggressors alike.

    Solid grounds there for Australia to consider leaving the United Nations.

    Any reformed conventions, agreements and the like would have to be framed so as to avoid using contaminated terms such as “refugees”, “migrants” and “asylum seekers” and replacing them with more exact terms to designate:
    1. Those invited to move permanently from one country to another.
    2. Those seeking to work temporarily in another country.
    4. Those fleeing war or war-like situations where there is a real threat to life.
    5. Those seeking to avoid living under a particular political regime or in a specific economic situation.
    6. Those wishing too improve their standard of living by entering another country by unauthorized means.
    7. Inflitrators.
    8. Invaders not carrying weapons nor wearing uniforms and insignia; those pretending to be innocent and unorganized
    9. Convicted or unconvicted criminals fleeing justice or seeking to expand their criminal enterprise in fresh fields.
    And so forth:

  8. Jumpy, you are right about ‘racism’. There is another word, but I won’t use it.

    Karen you’ve supplied confronting evidence of survey data which I’ll think about. I was of course aware of all those practices, and I don’t wish to cover up any realities, but to cut ourselves off from all those countries in the way you suggest is a major step. And one that is unlikely to happen politically. Should we do the same with Indonesia and Malaysia?

    In putting up the post I was more interested in the impact of climate change on people movements. Many of the countries affected in our region are not predominantly Muslim and I don’t want to turn the thread into a debate on the acceptability of Muslim values.

  9. One thing that does annoy me is the lack of generosity shown to those Pacific Islanders who will soon have to no choice but to swim every high tide.

    Every time anyone seeks to have Australia opened up for humanitarian immigration from those Pacific Islands, the “precedent(??)” of the Nauruans is thrown up. Decades ago, when the end of phosphate mining on Nauru was in view, the Nauruans were offered resettlement on Curtis Island near Gladstone, Central Queensland. The Nauruans, quite rightly, declined the details of the offer, which was not reworked so that it would be acceptable to them. Ever since that happened, it has been used as an excuse to avoid doing anything practical to help resettle Pacific Islanders here.

    Mind you, everyone seems to be too shy to mention that the humanitarian resettlement of thousands of threatened Pacific Islanders here will deprive the immigration racketeers in Australia of their pelf and plunder

  10. The findings, published in the magazine New Scientist, were gathered by comparing changes to 27 Pacific islands over the last 20 to 60 years using historical aerial photos and satellite images.

    Auckland University’s Associate Professor Paul Kench, a member of the team of scientists, says the results challenge the view that Pacific islands are sinking due to rising sea levels associated with climate change.

    “Eighty per cent of the islands we’ve looked at have either remained about the same or, in fact, gotten larger,” he said.

    “Some of those islands have gotten dramatically larger, by 20 or 30 per cent.

    “We’ve now got evidence the physical foundations of these islands will still be there in 100 years.”

    Dr Kench says the growth of the islands can keep pace with rising sea levels.

  11. Jumpy, if that’s a quotation do you have a link?

    I have a subscription to New Scientist and remember an article on that research. I don’t remember an assurance that the islands will survive the next 100 years.

    I’d make three comments. The assumptions Dr Kench was using about what is going to happen in the next 100 years with sea level rise are probably conservative.

    Land is formed and destroyed. The new land in not arable.

    Storm surges are increasingly bringing salt onto the arable land.

    Overall, though, the problems of the islands pale in significance when compared to what is likely to happen to the Mekong, around Shanghai and some of the major cities of Asia. Not sure how high Manila is, but have heard that their underground water supply is being penetrated with salt.

  12. Brian

    The text Jumpy quotes is from 2010 and attributable to Associate Professor Paul Kench.

    I found this The Conversation article by Kench from 2014. Interesting reading.

  13. Yes, that’s pretty much as I remember the NS article. Please note that Jumpy’s quote talked about the physical foundations of the islands surviving. The Conversation piece also says:

    But although the islands may survive into the future, the changes could still affect issues like fresh water and agriculture, potentially making life on these islands much more difficult than it is today.

    The article seems to raise as many questions as it resolves.

    The article also states that 5000 years ago the sea level was 1.5 metres higher. That would be quite problematic in other parts of the world.

    Finally, the issue of climate change migration is about more than sea level rise.

  14. I’ve just heard that the Czech Republic and Slovakia will only take Christian asylum seekers and that Hungary is building a 400 km fence along its border with Serbia.

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