Climate Change, Mass Migration, and the Rise of the Far Right

At first glance, it might not be obvious as to how climate change and the far right are causally connected, but in this short article I aim to illustrate that connection and explicate how the two seemingly unrelated phenomena are actually in a frightening cause-and-effect relationship which will only increase over time.

The Relationship Between Climate Change and Mass Migration

The main thread that connects climate change and the rise of the far right is mass migration. As climate change intensifies it will create concentrated droughts, alterations in vegetation zones, and rising sea levels. Concerning rising sea levels specifically, its worth noting that 2/3rds of all human beings on Earth live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of a coastline, and over 630 million people live below the ’30 feet above sea level’ line. This means that tens of millions of people, at least, will be forced to re-locate over the next half century. Wealthier countries might be able build infrastructure that prevents those rising sea levels from ruining entire cities, but less developed nations will not have that option. Add to that fact the already alarming food shortages caused by draughts, and shifting agricultural zones, and you are looking at hundreds of millions of people around the world being forced to migrate.

In fact, the Syrian civil war was influenced, to some extent, by a horrible draught in Syria in 2006 that led to massive food shortages. Climate change, and the Syrian draught likely caused by it, wasn’t the sole (or even the primary) reason for the civil war, but it added fuel to an already combustible situation. In fact, a study released in March of 2015 suggests this is exactly what happened in Syria after the severe drought of 2006. As the study’s co-author, Professor Richard Seager, explains, “We’re not saying drought caused the [Syrian conflict]. We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.” (sources below)

So, as we can see, climate change is already having an impact on the stability of nations around the world, and this instability is causing mass migrations. As Syrians flee their war-torn country they are flooding into Europe seeking refuge. This has already caused a sharp rise in far-right wing political parties and organizations as the native populations of these European countries react (in every sense of that word) to the influx of refugees.

The Relationship Between Mass Migration and the Rise of the Far Right

A sad fact about human beings is that we have a strong tribalistic instinct, and in the context of nation states in the 20th and 21st century, this instinct takes the form of nativism, nationalism, and xenophobia. When any population is met with a dramatic spike in immigrants, elements of that population will react in a chauvinistic, angry, and even violent way. Furthermore, the bigger and faster the influx is, the more rabid and darkly bigoted the reaction by the far right will be. This is already happening around the world, and especially in Europe. In the U.S. its barely happening at all (we are, after all, largely protected from the effects of mass migration on most other continents by virtue of the two oceans off each of our coasts) but the reaction by the far right in the U.S. is already extremely vile. The rise of Donald Trump was due, in large part, to fears provoked by the migration crisis in Europe (which is only a taste of what is to come), and Trump cynically played up that threat in order to win votes. Fear is a powerful motivator in politics, and far right wing populists have always used it to their advantage.

It should be obvious to anyone with even an elementary grasp of history and geo-politics that massive influxes of foreigners into a given population often results in chauvinistic and even fascistic backlash. This was true in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century as immigrants from eastern and southern Europe came to the United States en masse, and its true today in the U.S. with the influx of immigrants over the past few decades coming from central and southern America. The problems we see in Europe right now, and the startling rise of the far right all over the West, are merely the prelude to what will become the norm over the next few decades as the effects of climate change become even more acute.

Conclusion

The connection between climate change and mass migration is clear.
The connection between mass migration and the rise of the far right is clear.
Therefore, the connection between climate change and the rise of the far right is clear.

As climate change intensifies it will create conditions that will force tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people to relocate. This relocation will put unprecedented strains on other countries, and elements of the population within those countries will react in predictably bigoted and hyper-nationalistic ways.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue; or rather it is, and given the foundational importance of the environment to every aspect of human existence, its destabilization will inevitably result in the destabilization of our political systems, our economies, and of our societies in general. It is a moral imperative for human beings who understand this to organize, mobilize, and fight back against any and every policy (or lack of policy) that fails to adequately address the threat posed by climate change. Given its deep and intrinsic connection to every facet of our lives, climate change is the single biggest issue of our lifetimes, of the century, and perhaps of all of human history. The clock has been ticking for a very long time, and we are way past the point of prevention; but we still have choices to make. We can still mitigate the more dire effects of climate change and prevent worst case scenarios. But it will require a strong, international, organized, grassroots resistance movement putting pressure on governments in every major country. It will also include taking part in direct action aimed at increasing the social and economic cost for corporations and governments who refuse to address climate change or who actively seek to intensify it through the continued development of fossil fuels.

Its time to fight!

 

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The Embrace Of Sadness And The Deepening Of The Self

At the core of my being is a profound sadness. I would say that my predominant life-emotion is sadness; melancholy representing it in its most beautiful and poetic form, and clinical depression (from which I suffer intermittently) representing it in its most explicitly bleak form.

I’m not sad person in the sense that I’m outwardly and obviously sad all the time, but it’s always just below the surface; bubbling. My eyes well up with tears on a near daily basis, and have my entire adult life. Anything can provoke it, from a random lyric in a song, to a news story, to mere moments of silence. I view life as fundamentally tragic. And it is.

Our lives are fleeting, fragile, largely meaningless, and marked by violent injustice and personal loss. In our personal lives, we are forced to watch as everyone we love grows old, gets sick, and eventually dies. The older we get, the more funerals we attend. Life is a waiting room where, one by one, we watch everyone we care about march into their graves while we wait for our turn; a macabre conveyer belt of death. Zooming out and looking at civilization as a whole, we realize that we live in a society which elevates the shallowest aspects of our nature to the level of what we blindly call “culture”: from endless, vacuous consumerism, to soul-crushing and time-stealing wage labor, to the obsessive and ubiquitous focus on hyper-individualism, selfishness, and competition, which destroys any semblance of community and leaves us feeling isolated, alienated, and perpetually dissatisfied. Add to that the constant barrage of natural disasters, mass shootings, war, and disease, and life, both personally and generally, is often overwhelming in its wretchedness.

To open your eyes to the world is to open them up to abysses of despair and mountains of triviality.

For sensitive, intellectual people our world is a monstrosity, punctuated only far too rarely by brief moments of elation and happiness. Moments which fade quickly, and serve only to remind of us of their oppressive infrequency.

My personal transition from adolescence to adulthood was defined by a long period of clinical depression. The naiveté and sense of joy that had marked my childhood crumbled into dust when I first had to get a shitty job and I realized that this was what the rest of my life, and all of our lives, consisted of: going to work, coming home, paying bills, and going back to work. That revelation was so disorienting and dark that I fell into the worst depression of my life, and stayed there until I had to be hospitalized for it. I was admitted into a psych-ward for a week, while a team of psychiatrists and doctors tried to figure out how to treat me. There solution of medication worked long enough for me to get out of the hospital, but soon failed miserably. The sadness I had, while partially neuro-chemical, was fundamentally existential, and there is no treatment for that. When the disease is life itself, what pill could I swallow to make it better? The answer was then as it is now: none.

I do not want to sound hyperbolically bleak. All things considered, I am a very blessed man. I have a nice apartment, two wonderful, healthy kids who I love more than I could put into words, a fiancé, and a great set of family and friends who love me deeply. I am not in desperate poverty. I do not have any serious health problems. And my job, while utterly meaningless and morally unfulfilling, grants me a surplus of downtime in which I can read and write (and get paid for it!).

I do not walk around life with my head down in a state of indefinite emotional despair. In fact, most of my adult life has been a project of learning how to live in the midst of this tragedy. Without recoiling into medication or therapy, I’ve been able to cobble together some basic strategies for living with my head above water, appreciating the small things in life, and keeping my sanity. In my personal life, I’m extremely lighthearted and often humorous. No one who interacts with me on a daily basis would use the term “sad” to describe me. But that is not because I hide it from people, its because, all things considered, I am fairly well-adjusted and have been able to put together an assortment of mechanisms by which I can live. Humor, parenthood, and a handful of hobbies are primary ways that I cope with life.

But the sadness is always there. The darkness is always there.

But accepting this, and even embracing it, has allowed me room to exist. In fact, I would argue that there is beauty, and the promise of growth, in the embrace of one’s own sadness. Sadness, when not violently catapulted into clinical depression, is actually a very gentle, often sublime emotion. When we stop resisting it, or trying to escape it, we can allow it to operate within us and therefore to deepen us.  Sadness, once embraced, can function like a rain that, over time, erodes away the hardness of our internal lives and carves out room for empathy, gentleness, and even love. It can soften us, and through that softening, it can make us better, more connected, more authentic human beings. When we come face to face with the tragedy of our own life, we can see the tragedy in everyone’s life. Our sadness is the sadness of being human, and by extending that realization outward, we foster compassion and love for other human beings. And that, perhaps, is the foundation on which a better world can be built…

The Cynicism Of Millennials (And Why Its A Good Thing)

The cynicism of Millennials, while often only portrayed as a negative, actually has the positive effect of making us hyper-sensitive to inauthenticity in others, but especially in people of power.

We are an extremely cynical and irony-wielding generation, for sure, but the other side of that coin is that we are appropriately skeptical, and that skeptical orientation to reality fosters in us a healthy distrust of bullshit artists of all kinds; whether in politics, in business, in pop culture, or in the people we interact with on a day to day basis.

We see naïveté as the ultimate social sin, and so we deploy irony and pessimism in order to shield ourselves from that specific criticism to some extent, but also to prod for authenticity in the people around us.

Perhaps this general trait of millennials will culminate in some interesting social, political, and cultural realities when we are the generation in power.

In Praise Of Idleness: Valuing Leisure In A Culture Of Accomplishment

I am not an “ambitious” person. I do not desire fame, wealth, or recognition. I do not want to spend 12 hours a day at any job, and I do not want to climb any professional ladders. I do not have a compulsion to achieve a prestigious professional title or to compose a great novel or album for which I will be remembered after I die. My interests are constantly shifting, and as such, I do not doggedly pursue any single thing in such a way that would make me an expert in that field or area of study.

In our culture, which values accomplishments above all else, saying what I have just said is almost taboo. It might even be seen as a clear sign by many that I am lazy. But this is not the case. I go to work everyday, I read multiple books a month, I am an attentive and caring parent, and I keep a very clean home. I am just not wired to seek “success” in the way that our society understands the word. Success, in our society, is synonymous with professional achievements, which in turn is heavily associated with wealth. Wealth is seen as an objective measure by which we analyze whether someone is successful or not. High level politicians with power and influence, highly regarded doctors who get 7 figure salaries, famous musicians who sell out huge venues, and professional athletes who spend hours every week working out; these are the epitome of success in our society. But what about those of us who aren’t wired that way? What about the introverts? What about the people who value leisure and relaxation over accomplishment? What about the people who would rather spend hours everyday building up their relationship with their children, instead of staying late at the office, trying to gain an edge on their coworkers for that promotion opportunity?

Well, I am just such a person.

I like lounging around. I like drinking good beer with even better friends. I like long walks alone in the woods. I like to read books for fun. I like waking up in the morning with nothing to do. I like to meditate. I like love to sleep. I like to go camping. I like to eat good food and then lay down for a nap. I like wrestling with my kids. I like going hunting for Pokémon. I like to drink red wine in a small theater while watching a film.

In short, I like to relax.
I like leisure.

I don’t like deadlines. I don’t like high-pressure situations. I don’t like *having* to do something. I don’t like stress of any sort.

What makes a good life? Well, people are different, and so there are lots of different answers to that question. There are people who think that a good life is one where they accomplished something great. For some people, having a PhD after their name is what drives them. For others, accumulating wealth is what compels them forward. For still others, achieving something that will outlive them is what motivates them. And that’s great! People are all different, and those sorts of motivations are wonderful. We certainly need those sorts of people in the world. But for me, what constitutes a good life is not achievements, but rather relationships. Relationships with my children, with my friends, with my family, and with my community are what motivate me. I don’t want to sacrifice a second of my time, that I could be spending with them, pursuing some professional goal. I want to live humbly, but happily; and for me that means not constantly stressing out about achievements or accolades.

When people on their deathbeds are asked what they wish they would have done differently in life, the majority of them answer that they wish they’d spent more time with their families, they wish they cared less what others, and by extension society at large, thought about them, and they wish they had spent less time at work. I take that to heart.

I won’t be a lawyer or doctor; I wont be a famous musician or artist; I wont win a Super Bowl ring or live in a mansion. I wont be remembered generations after I die. No statues will be made of my likeness, and no buildings will be donned with my name. But I will, hopefully, have the most wonderful relationship possible with my children, I will have friends who love me deeply, and I will have family who never question my priorities or loyalty. Ill have a garden, a humble home, some well-cared for cats, a library stacked with hundreds of books, a fridge full of craft beer, and a life that I can reflect on happily.

On my deathbed, I wont be surrounded with plagues and certificates, but I will be surrounded by people, by relationships fostered and carefully tended to.

In short, the goal of my life is not wealth, fame, or professional achievements.
The goal of my life is love, laughter, and leisure.

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“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
– Henry David Thoreau