Opinion: The victims of climate change

Thousands of Syrian refugees march from Budapest, Hungary towards the Austrian border. Photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters.
By Anders Lorenzen

Much has been written, broadcast and talked about in recent weeks during the current European immigration crisis. Much of the debate has focused on whether we should open our borders to what, UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described as a swarm of immigrants. But very little has been debated about what is really at the heart of this – our changing climate.

And when the debate has centered on the cause, very little has focused on climate change – with some exceptions. The Guardian columnist, Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes that the refugee crisis has been driven by food shortages, which is driven by climate change. The Guardian’s environmental journalist John Vidal, looks at a new World Resources Institute report, which says that the Middle East will face water shortages for the next 25 years, which will affect millions, and increase conflicts in the region. And a report by the Grantham Institute, Climate and Environment department repeats some of those claims, saying  climate change will exacerbate heat waves, droughts, water shortage, flooding. But it stops short of declaring that the situation is being driven by climate change, citing that more research is needed.

They all have a point. The devastating impact of the Syrian civil war and resulting chaos means thousands and thousands are having to flee the country. We have put this down to the dictatorship of President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and to the growth of opposing groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and more recently to the terror group ISIS, whose barbaric methods thousands of Syrians are now fleeing from.

We can’t for sure say this is caused by climate change, but we can say that a changing climate has driven it. And failure to address climate change will make it much worse in years and decades to come. This is also echoed by the author, Adam Mann, who recently wrote that inaction on climate change will make the risk of a third world war more likely. Maybe this is an extreme view, but climate change is no doubt having an impact in the creation of conflicts.

But let us go back to Syria and the escalation of the Civil War there. Many commentators, including scientists, are now pointing to the fact that the war could in fact have been started by climate change. It was first brought to my attention by the American journalist and author, Thomas Friedman, who for the US TV series, The Years of Living Dangerously, reported from Syria and made the link to climate change following a four- year drought.  And of course corruption and the way Assad and his government dealt it with has had an impact too. But we cannot avoid the impact water scarcity has in the escalation of conflicts. Many are predicting that water scarcity will increase in already conflict vulnerable areas with fast growing populations. And so will the threat and risks of conflicts and even wars also increase. Thus, more people with more pressure on resources and with corrupt governments in charge. And, yes, you can do the maths yourself.

We in the western world, I believe, have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from terror and climate impacts. First the scientific argument:

A recent New Scientist report stated that there is now  mounting evidence that the world has reached an average warming of 1 degree C, a landmark record but an unwelcome one. World leaders believe that to stop runaway climate change we need to keep warming below 2 degree C. At the moment we’re on track for at least 3-4 degree C warming. But even though we miraculously manage to stay within 2 degree C, there is still an awful lot more warming to come. This means more drought, heat waves, floods, storms which will result in crop failures and water shortages and as the world population continues to rapidly expand this spell trouble.

Then the moral argument:

We in the West, have contributed the most to climate change through the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore we have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from the impacts of climate change. And it should not only be the EU which should shoulder this burden. It is a global problem, so everyone has to do their share. Who knows, we might be the ones that need help in the future, because in the West we are not immune to climate change. Look at the climate impacts in the US; from Hurricane Sandy to the ongoing drought in western US states – all have happened in recent years. Look at both drought and flooding in Australia. It is a list that will only increase as climate change increases.

But, unfortunately, many people seem to think, that we should turn people away,and build stronger borders so these people can’t enter. This is also an agenda being proposed by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, against Mexican migrants entering in the US. He recommends a giant wall. Will that really deal with the problem at hand? No, it will only increase it, as the tension will increase. And if we in Europe are becoming more hostile to refugees, tension could flare here too. But we should help them, welcome them with open arms, listen to their stories, their tragic situations, and what is needed. Then maybe, we might have a chance, combating the evil of terrorism, dictatorship and climate change all together. Because those issues are more interlinked than you might think.

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