Our home in space

some remarks on global heating and ocean acidity

Guy Ottewell

Climate refugees

Climate change is added to, and interacts with, the factors making it more difficult for people to support themselves in their homelands, such as overpopulation and unemployment, water shortage, soil depletion, deforestation, and the gross unfairness of the international trade system.
        Global heating causes rising sea level, which causes people in Bangladesh and oceanic islands to lose the land under their feet. Climate change brings more droughts, heatwavesm floods, storms, sandstorms — which kill people or drive them from their homes,
        Climate change has exacerbated shortages of water. An ethnic conflict such as the running genocide in Darfur is underlain by struggle for water. Other quarrels over water could lead to wars: for instance the countries higher up the Nile are beginning to object to the large percentage of its water they are obliged to pass down to Egypt; Israel wants to control the water flowing into it from the Litani, Jordan, and Yarmuk, whose headwaters are in Arab countries; Turkey possesses the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, builds dams on them, and rations the amount it allows down into Iraq, whose civilization is a product of those rivers.
        Life for peasant farmers trying to feed their families is an anxious struggle even without stresses such as crop failures, debt, rising food prices, gunmen hired by landlords or industrialists to evict them — and the extra stresses caused by climate change.
        An example of a region from which people have already been forced out by climate change is Mozambique. As yet they make their way mainly to nearby countries, but these also are poor. In the future more of them will be forced farther.
        Pressure of refugees from south of the Mediterranean has begun to cause quarrels between countries of the European Union. Britain complained that the Red Cross camp for asylum seekers at Sangatte (closed in 2002) facilitated the passage of illegal immigrants across the Channel. Italy complained that other European countries were not sharing the burden of refugees, and in April 2011 it formally rebuked France for stopping at their border a train carrying Tunisian refugees; then France, Belgium and Germany warned that they might restore border controls — in other words, go back on the Schengen agreementm one of the great liberalizing advances made by the EU.
        We like to divide refugees into “political” or “religious,” on the one hand, and those who are merely “economic.” But the political violence in a region often derives from the extreme poverty suffered by a large fraction of the people; the religious extremism often derives from desperation. Refugees, starting from a state of shock and destitution, and exploited by people-traffickers, endure epic sufferings in their months of struggle to get through Central America and Mexico to the U.S.A., or from Afghanistan or Sudan to Europe. Very often the refuge they find is incomprehension, imprisonment, joblessness, and hostility. In some host countries with a tradition of tolerance, the xenophobic reaction is growing. If the stream of refugees becomes multiplied, we can imagine a deepening division of the world into countries afflicted with desertification and other results of climate change, and countries that are still relatively livable and that fortify their borders to keep the desperate out. This would be a world with more terrorism, and less civilization.