You feel weak from hunger, parched and lusting for even just one drop of fresh water. The sun is scorching. You begin another day of struggle and survival. “Every minute I would look back to see if they were following us,” (1) you tell your new friend. A friend you made as you escaped your burning village yesterday. You don’t know what today will hold, if you will be able to feed your family or yourself. Every aspect of your life is uncertain, and everything you have is taken away. This is the life of a refugee.
This blog aims to discuss the reasons why climate change refugees may exist. I will discuss the ethical and moral dilemmas different stakeholders face in a world of an unequal exchange between the western societies and the developing communities. The refugee crisis derives from many socio-economic scenarios such as war, land ownership and the hunger catastrophe (2). Often the root of these scenarios have a close association with the environment and climate change.
First reason for the climate change refugee crisis is the immediate impact of the degrading environmental conditions on the communities that reside the local area; for example, severe draughts, lack of fresh water and depleting food supply. This forces communities inhabiting those lands to evacuate in order to survive. Often, it’s in areas from where western communities import their crops and materials from (3). Due to the rate at which we import versus the rate at which the resources are grown is not sustainable. This leads to the starvation of the natural resources and deteriorating environmental conditions which is a necessity for the local community to survive and support themselves. Environmental changes are natural and has been ever-changing since the Earth was born. However, the rate at which the environmental degradation is taking place today is unnatural. It is from a direct consequence of the postmodernist consumer culture and high demands of our opulent lifestyles which are growing at an incredible pace.
Second reason for the refugee crisis is arguably the result of the decisions made by national Governments and large corporations to acquire land for their own commercial objectives, such as for deforestation and/or mining purposes to grow more crops for exportation or acquire precious materials from the Earth. This leads to the displacing of local communities. An example of forced removal occurred in Indonesia in 2012. Villages were demolished with no advance notice and inhabitants of the village violently removed from their homes in order to facilitate deforestation (4). This has two extremely detrimental impacts on people and our planet. The people are negatively affected as the local communities or indigenous people are removed from their homes for economical purposes. The impact on the planet is fatal, as clearing land removes world’s precious carbon storehouses (5), releasing such greenhouse gases into the environment and increasing the global temperature.
The third dimension, arguably the most complicated moral dilemma, is the displacement of communities caused by the extraction of materials which are being used to develop green technology. Bonds and Downey have discussed the unintended consequence of greener technology (4). They discussed the case study of platinum group metals extraction in South Africa where 1000 people were instructed to abandon their homes. This was to meet the demands of multinational businesses to extract platinum to make more efficient catalytic convertors that reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. In this case, we are stuck in a see-saw of green technology versus moral economy, and the unequal exchange between the richer western society and the third world communities.
To conclude, there are many arguments which categorise such refugees as ‘Anthropogenic Displacements’(6). This means that it is not the natural environmental disasters which are forcing these people to abandon their homes, rather it is simply our human actions in the postmodernist western culture, at all levels such as individual consumers, businesses and Governments, who have a direct and immediate social impact on these communities.
Written by Ishani Dutta
- Kingsley, P. (2016). The small African region with more refugees than all of Europe. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/26/boko-haram-nigeria-famine-hunger-displacement-refugees-climate-change-lake-chad
- Rueckert, P. (2017). These Are 5 Reasons Why People Become Refugees. [online] Global Citizen. Available at: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/reasons-why-people-become-refugees/
- Nicole Marshall. (2016) Forced Environmental Migration: Ethical Considerations for Emerging Migration Policy. Ethics, Policy & Environment 19:1, pages 1-18.
- Bonds, E. and Downey, L. (2012). “Green” Technology and Ecologically Unequal Exchange: The Environmental and Social Consequences of Ecological Modernization in the World-System. American Sociological Association, 18(2), pp.167-186.
- Greenpeace (2018). Deforestation and climate change | Greenpeace UK. [online] Greenpeace UK. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/what-we-do/forests/deforestation-climate-change/
- Rossi, C. (2018). THE NOMOS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE SOCIOLOGICAL REFUGEE IN A SINKING CENTURY. The George Washington International Law Review, 50(3), 613-652.