Pushed to extremes: the human cost of climate change

09 10 17

Across the Western world, many democracies recently faced turbulent election cycles, which saw increasing prominence of far right nationalist groups that were previously relegated to the fringe of social and political thought. Though each respective group supported a fervent nationalist agenda that promoted isolationist policies such as the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union or the Trump Administration’s promise to ban certain refugees and build a wall on the southern border, they also embraced a similar ideology. That ideology used the foreign nationalist, migrant worker, and above all the refugee, as the scapegoat for economic depression, weakened infrastructure, unstable job markets, and threats on national security. A new form of false patriotism has emerged in which anything and anyone perceived as a foreign entity is to be rejected or expelled. As a result, racism, ethnocentrism, and unabated xenophobia has taken center stage in national dialogues about what and who constitute American identity.

In the United States alone, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, refugees, foreign nationals, and Latinx groups have all found themselves on the receiving end of this hate and fear mongering. However, a parallel and equally disturbing trend is happening ecologically in the US, with the rejection of climate change science and the withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Though climate change may at first appear to be a separate issue from the xenophobia and anti-refugee mindset, they are more inextricably tied to one another than we are led to believe.

If one examines the Trump campaign and current agenda specifically, two hallmark issues have always stood out as emblematic of the image of what and whom they represent: banning refugee resettlement and total rejection of climate change policies. For supporters of Trump, both were to be scorned as they served as external threats to their perceived American cultural identity and national sovereignty. An identity that is overwhelmingly white and set apart from the multicultural populations of immigrants and refugees, who would have been afforded certain protections by “the globalists” like Hillary Clinton. Refugee resettlement as a whole falls under the auspice of the United Nations, which supersedes the bounds of individual nation states. Climate change agreements like the Paris Accord are similar in structure in that they convene in foreign nations, represent a globalist mentality, and hold individual nation states responsible to carry out international laws. Trump’s repeated mantra “I’m for Pittsburgh not Paris” encapsulates more than just the Paris Accord itself-it became an idiom for patriotism. Refugee resettlement and climate change were slowly and meticulously merged into one looming globalist threat on the very stability and identity of the United States itself.

Paris Protest by kellybdc. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ironically, by rejecting climate change and the movement toward a progressively “green” economy, Trump is all but ensuring an increase in refugees as well as internally displaced people within our own country. In many areas of the world, dramatic rise in sea levels are already causing mass displacement such as the case in island nations of the South Pacific. The current influx of refugees from war stricken or politically unstable areas in the Middle East and North Africa is as much an ecological outcome as it is a political one. Global warming did not cause the Arab Spring, but scientific evidence has proven that unstable weather patterns caused by atmospheric warming contributed to widespread and catastrophic droughts in the year prior to the first Arab Spring protests. That drought led to a global market rise in the cost of wheat, the most important food staple in much of the Arab world, that combined with weak infrastructures and pathetic job markets made eating bread an impossible hardship for many. In places like Iraq which faced severe water shortages, ISIS recognized the water stricken Sunni majority western provinces as more easily receptive (at least initially) to their presence by arriving with much needed water and food staples. They were thereby projecting the largely Shia controlled Baghdad government as ineffective and prejudiced. When local communities became horrified with their manner of control, ISIS then cut off their access to water and food rendering them completely helpless. The choice to stay or to attempt to flee both come with the certainty of persecution and a very real risk of death, but only the latter option offers a glimmer of hope for a better life in peace and security.

The UN currently does not recognize “climate refugees”, therefore any who flee an area due to ecological reasons is labeled a migrant and thereby not afforded legal protection from international bodies. There are also no proactive solutions to ebbing the flow of such displaced people if we only view these areas of conflict through the lens of politics alone. There must be a holistic approach to such issues that takes into account how environmental disasters play into conflict and human migration. If we take the Trump approach and reject both, catastrophic environmental disasters will continue unabated and that will in turn contribute to not only more refugees, but also internally displaced people within the United States. Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, Super storm Sandy, raging California wildfires, Midwestern droughts, and unprecedented flooding have already displaced millions of people, caused untold amounts of damage, and are only increasing in intensity and occurrence.

This is no longer a “foreign” issue, but the “us versus them” mentality will manifest within our own borders-indeed it already has. Who receives emergency aid, who is able to safely evacuate and return, who are able to receive government assistance to rebuild their lives in the wake of such disasters will speak volumes as to who is valued.



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