Two items in today’s news are connected in ways you may not have considered.
- First, the voters of France chose their next President: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, over neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen, by a wide margin. Europe, France and global markets breathed a deep sigh of relief. Despite admiration on the part of both Putin’s Kremlin and Trump’s White House, Le Pen and her Front National were rejected by two thirds of French voters. And while the champagne is undoubtedly still flowing in Parisian cafes, one ominous fact remains: A right-wing party widely associated with racism, white nationalism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee frenzy garnered the votes of one in three French men and women.
- Second, in Washington, the Trump regime took steps to muzzle climate research at the EPA, firing two scientists from its science advisory board in the late after-hours on Friday, and pushing for an 84 percent cut in funding for the board overall. The move is widely understood to be part of a broad effort to muzzle science within the EPA, and to unleash the power of the fossil-fuel industry.
Climate science suppression among Washington’s new rulers. Refugee hysteria in a large segment of the French electorate. So what’s the connection? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe not.
Our Western democracies have proven to be much less resilient to systemic shocks than we might have believed. Sure, there were some nasty events in Europe during the last century. There were Nazis, and Fascists, and Bolsheviks and such. But who can imagine our world slipping back into that abyss? It would take massive tectonic shifts for us to return to those dark days, no? Surely, we’ve progressed way beyond such risks, right?
But in 2006, something happened that threatened to undo our civil democratic order. It must have seemed a distant grief to Western democracies in those days: An epic drought hit the Middle East. And it overstayed its welcome in Syria, Turkey and Iraq for four long years. In Syria, the drought forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers, exacerbating sectarian conflicts long held in check by Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. The resulting civil war has so far displaced four million desperate refugees, roughly half of them now crowding Europe’s displacement camps and resettlement communities. A couple of million refugees.
Now, consider the result of this wave of migrants:
- Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Granted, the arguments for Brexit were varied, but fear of immigrants dominated to the debate. No one believes that the Brits would have cast off the European bow lines if not for the wave of refugees from the Middle East.
- And Hungary: Right-wing nationalists now run the country.
- And in Poland, where the right-wing authoritarian regime has clamped down on public protest and intimidated the judiciary.
- And in Austria, where anti-immigrant nationalists recently came within a whisker of winning the election.
- And even in progressive Netherlands, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders finished a strong second in the latest election.
- And here across the pond, there’s the United States, where the new president took power in a campaign launched on fear of Mexican criminals and “rapists.”
And finally, yesterday in France, Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant Front National garnered the votes of one in three voters. Sure, centrist Macron came away with the win; but the neo-Fascists made the most of the social disruption caused by the influx of foreigners.
A few million refugees, and the Western democracies are thrown into chaos.
And that brings us to the second piece of news: Trump’s EPA is silencing its climate scientists, most recently firing two of its top science advisors, and planning to cut funding for its science advisory board by a draconian 84%. Evidently, they plan on having almost no one remaining there to speak for science.
The connection is still a bit cloudy? Here’s the point: Mass human migration tends to have catastrophic effects on otherwise stable societies. The exodus from Syria is widely recognized as an event driven by a vanishingly rare drought, made much more extreme by the climatic warming afflicting the region. The Syrian Civil War is often placed alongside Darfur as one of the first climate wars of this age.
But it’s not remotely the last. Today’s wave of Syrian refugees is now projected to look like a rounding error in the coming wave of human migration that awaits the world during the next generation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world will have to absorb between 250 million and one billion “climate change refugees” over the next 50 years. Maybe one hundred times more than we have seen in Syria. Maybe three hundred times more. Fleeing drought, famine, resource conflicts, sea-level rise and flooding made worse by climate change.
How will we respond to such an enormous crisis? Well, a wise society could begin with Option One: build infrastructure, establish resettlement programs, educate the public and foster dialogue with affected communities. Or it could go with Option Two: pour its resources into bombs, bullets, border guards and walls. But our choice will be informed at least in part by the extent that we accept our responsibility for the conditions driving the mass migration. And that’s where the science is so troubling. Scientists know that it’s greenhouse gases principally driving this climatic chaos. And we’re among the world’s worst greenhouse gas gluttons.
The Trump regime has bet the ranch on Option Two. Billions more for the world’s largest military and border walls, while silencing the science that exposes the consequences of our carbon binge.
So you knew it, of course. The rise of anti-refugee movements in the West goes hand-in-glove with the efforts to suppress the science explaining one of the principal underlying causes of mass human migration. This, of course, will become impossible in the years ahead, when it will be largely too late to change course.
We still have time, today, however, to respond. Will we listen to the scientists, and our own better angels, or will we fire them and charge headlong into the abyss?
Please, dear friends, raise your voices to be sure that we listen to wisdom.