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.


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!







Empathy as Existential Maturity

I’m listening to a podcast (“This American Life”, episode: Are We There Yet?) about refugees being housed in big camps in Greece. The reporter was going around interviewing Syrians in one Greek camp, and got into a discussion with a Syrian man who said his 5 year old daughter has psychological problems because of the trauma she experienced in Syria as a result of the civil war there. A rocket fell on their house, killing her sister and grandmother. And now the little girl can’t be left alone at all or she panics. She doesn’t go outside ever, and, heartbreakingly, has no friends in the camp. A precious, innocent little girl, scarred for life and without any other little friends to play with. When he said that, I had to stop what I was doing, sit down on the edge of my bed, and just fucking cry. That shit destroys me.

The human mind has a well known tendency to group other people together based on ethnicity, religious affiliation, nationality, etc., and pin various attributes on the group as a whole; reducing every individual within that group to mere *representatives* of that group, and not as wholly unique human beings in and of themselves. Immigrants and refugees get this all the time; and in fact a current candidate for US president has rooted his entire candidacy in this base tendency of the human mind. But no one is free from the compulsion to group and stereotype different people; regardless of political ideology.

This is why it’s important to go out of your way to try and understand human beings from any marginalized or “Otherized” group *as human beings* and not caricatures of their group stereotypes; to put in the intellectual and moral work of consciously deconstructing this tendency within your own mind by listening to stories such as the above story about a little Syrian girl. Or listening to a desperate father from Honduras explain why he came to America illegally. Or listen to a trans person as they recount all the daily struggles and every day indignities they have to face just to exist as the person they truly are. Etc. Getting down to the specific details of individuals and their experiences is essential in weeding out the “group stereotype” tendency that exists in your own mind.

This is empathy. This is our social and moral obligation to our fellow human beings. The suffering of an innocent child anywhere in the world is the suffering of all intelligent, sentient creatures. And if we can, to some extent, take the suffering of others and internalize it into our selves, we strengthen the bonds of solidarity. It may cause us pain and confusion and despair at times, but there is also something deeply connective and dignified about it. There is something existentially mature about it.

The moment I can no longer cry or be moved emotionally by the suffering of innocent strangers is the moment I am no longer fully alive; something essential and meaningful will have died within me and within the world. I hope that moment never comes.