June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Maybe it's all about perception, but how do the many and various facts and fabrications impact on any one individual's view of, or attitude towards, the numerous factors surrounding the great climate debate? As it is debate, rather than serious decisions as to exactly what steps should be taken (should actually have already been taken), that is all that is happening currently.
Our planet, Earth, was inhabited over millennia by humankind as it developed in a long slow series of settlement and movement, more settlement, more movement, developing and leaving social groupings all along the way over century after century, all the while spreading DNA and long-recognised and easily-proved similarities of peoples as far apart as NE Asia and South America. It's what we call migration. Something humankind has been doing quite naturally since its earliest existence. There's nothing new about it in a million years but currently, in so-called 'developed' countries, especially of the north and west, it's causing all kinds of hoo-ha, most of which is based on false premises and nationalism.
In the 21st century the global population has the means to be aware of the planet's geography and demography and can make decisions based on knowledge gathered from serious news sources including the internet. And they can do it quickly rather than over generations. For migrants focused on escaping increasingly insurmountable threats – of war, of starvation, or a need to earn a living time which is probably the priority factor. For those already living in the host areas, decisions as to the best way to accept the immigrants, some temporarily if they choose to move on, others more permanently, should surely be more inclusive than is experienced now.
Since the creation of national borders in relatively recent history there has become a gradually more strident call in Europe, North America and Australia from politicians of various stripes filtering down to sections of the general populace, persuaded by nationalist protectionists for stricter border control. Scare tactics, terrorist threats, divide and rule – the media amplifies political rhetoric over and over, louder and louder until the message is meekly or keenly accepted and repeated by many. Opinion rules whilst evidence is there to show that there is little, if anything, to back up such claims that migrants are any more a threat than local residents in relation to crime. However, opinion has decided. Year on year there are more walls, fences, barricades, security zones, checkpoints, more militarised, hostile and dangerous borders. Having managed the situation so badly in these early days, how can such countries be expected to cope better with the inevitability of the increasing numbers expected and noted by climate scientists for the years ahead?
Changing weather conditions
When taken in context it becomes apparent that much of more recent migration is firmly linked to local weather problems associated with overall global climate change, not unlike, but way more urgent by a huge factor, some of the historical migrations of our ancestors who followed their animals or moved seasonally as necessary in pursuit of food. Today's migrations are a steady build up in response to facts on the ground in various regions. One clue is water. Globally water is being mismanaged on a serious level. Water tables are falling at a dangerous rate and non-replenishable aquifers are at crucially low levels, while decaying infrastructure in many developed countries is wasting billions of gallons of water annually. Businesses continue to have access to water without restrictions, for manufacturing unnecessary products and private companies control water supplies and profit from what comes out of the tap. Both business and industrial agriculture consistently foul water systems making them not fit for consumption. All of these factors are depriving more populations in both the developing and developed world of clean water, with obvious serious consequences.
Changing weather patterns globally are affecting populations in different ways. Some are water scarce, expected rains having failed to deliver season after season causing ongoing crop failure, loss of food and remuneration, and unmanageable hunger. This has meant several years of mass migration to the edges of already overpopulated towns and cities in their country of origin – with little to offer newcomers needing work to meet life's necessities. This was one of the little discussed problems facing Syria before 2011 when all hell broke loose.
Similar scenarios are occurring in much of the continent of Africa where, for one reason or another, huge migrations are taking place, the vast majority of the migrants travel to neighbouring or other African destinations. Reasons are various but the footprints of the colonialists are there. Big companies commit pillage in many African countries, for resources of all kinds. Compliant governments benefit financially from deals which force millions of Africans into penury and often early death from poisoning or fatal work accidents. Blame is not considered. When war breaks out, as in Mali, Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Libya etc., it has been about competition for resources.
The aftermath of such terrible conflicts, people fleeing in huge numbers, does not register as being connected to the cause.
Then, the opposite scenario – too much water, and generally the 'too much' effect happens in a short space of time. Hurricanes, floods, total inundation –again causing crop failures, loss of top soil, salination of low lying areas. And, as a result of melting ice caps and subsequent sea level rise this has also become a fast-increasing problem. There are many areas in and around the Philippines and the wider Pacific Ocean, small but inhabited islands, which are becoming less viable as each year goes round. Houses and once productive land is washed away by slowly encroaching seas. Whole villages have to up sticks and move to higher ground and start again from nothing, or decamp, with little or nothing to one of the bigger cities elsewhere. Other island communities are seeking agreements for the future with friendly nations to grant them permanent residence when the ocean finally makes living conditions impossible.
Similarly, in the Caribbean last year hurricane Irma struck the island of Barbuda fiercely, destroying almost everything along with the terrible toll of human life. The total population of about 20,000 was forbidden to return to live, having been evacuated en masse, except to attempt to salvage their possessions. Meanwhile Robert de Niro and his company, with the support of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, continues to pursue his plans for a super-hotel complex for the super-rich on one of the beaches. How many tourism seasons before the problems begin to eat into the profits too much, one wonders. How many decades of profit before abandonment?
Contrast those caught in extreme climate events with those of the fraction of 1 percent, Richard Branson for example, who just look to their own personal way of living, their own island for their own use – do they even consider the consequences for the others?
This topic of climate change/global warming isn't going to go away while it is still the elephant in the room. It impacts on so many things but things about which many are in denial because 'business as usual' remains the priority. The movements of millions in the global south demanding 'System Change Not Climate Change' are hitting the right button, but what is sorely needed is that those who are opposing and haranguing the powers-that-be around the world to 'do something' about it come to the realisation that nothing is going to change, or change at only a snail's pace, whilst the capitalist system remains in place. If not, then it is just pontificating while Rome burns.