Climate Change: Sparking the World's Largest Refugee Crisis
“The fitness of a biological species can only be determined by their ability to evolve according to their changing environment” — a statement printed across biology textbooks, in some form or another, as a part of Darwin’s groundbreaking evolutionary theory. But, what if, for the first time in this world’s history, a species decides to abdicate its home planet as a result of the very actions they mindlessly proliferated across the world? Human settlements on Mars may well be the only hope for the continuity of our species; a possible reality by the year 2031. That very year, however, rings the death-knell for earth. 12 years, just slightly more than a decade, until we bade farewell to bejewelled pristine oceans, and dense, lush forests. 12 years until we must reconcile with arid desert, or fateful floods. 12 years, until the earth sees an environmental armageddon: one that’s already begun; one that has led to the creation of refugees fleeing due to climate change.
Our species has already begun running; to drier land, to higher ground, and to cleaner, safer zones against the fury of Mother Nature. Dear Climate Migrants: your fight is only beginning. The term ‘Climate Migrant’ or ‘Climate Refugee’ is used to refer to an individual who is forced to flee from their place of residence as a result of sudden or gradual changes in the natural environment around them, due to rising sea levels, extremities in the weather, or draught and consequently famine. Now, 259 years after man powered the first machines, the effects of the Industrial Revolution are being felt by individuals in less developed countries who are being forced to abandon their homes and their livelihood, just to be able to live. The Modern World, with it, ushered in a whole new era. An era of incessant and discriminate use of coal and fossil fuels, an era with clouds of gas looming over us, an era with acid rain, an era where the harbingers of the modern world now denounced its very end. Indeed, 259 years after man’s cruelly ingenious utilisation of coal to power heavy machinery, we have begun to bear the consequences. With our current carbon dioxide levels reaching historic ‘highs’ since the earth’s inception, and multiple cities around the world being ranked as extremely polluted, it’s no surprise that the planet is fighting back. The oceans are growing stronger, deeper, more powerful; the glorious polar ice-caps irreversibly melting, carrying away thousands of species that have survived millennia of peace only to be wiped away in a tsunami of careless fury. It’s no wonder that humans too, as a species, are beginning to face the same fate.
The end of the world, or their world at least, is something the people of Maldives experience firsthand every single day. Seeing an annual rise of a whopping 12 millimetres of ocean per year, and the disappearance of 8 of the Micronesian Islands, much like the Marshall Islands, Maldivians can only lie in wait to embrace their apocalyptic fate, taking solace in knowing that multiple other countries, such as Haiti, Kenya and Papua New Guinea, bear earthquakes, cyclones, and high tides regularly; their residents trusting their heels, in the fulfilment of a primal instinct: survival. With a plethora of Haitian refugees quickly fleeing to the United States, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Argentina and Chile, it seems as though the climate change catastrophe is finally leading to a global refugee crisis. The problem, rather than simply feeding socio-humanitarian journals and filling up their pages with images of teary and distraught migrants, is also despairingly turning into a bureaucratic nightmare. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees – which has covered political and war refugees – environmental migrants can find no respite to their woes. In addition, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the United Nations’ Development Programme are wary of introducing this new category into the definition of a “refugee” or “migrant”. In reaching full capacity in handling 22.5 million political and war related refugees, adding this new clause will certainly lead to explosive results for these organisations; the refugee crisis will then, officially, spiral out of control, and a world becoming increasingly more “nationalistic” provides no solace.
While the depth and the breadth of information on Global Warming and our 12 year window of correction seems as inexhaustible as the depth of the Marianas Trench (which is also home to a horde of plastics and non-biodegradable waste), even through our conscious efforts, we are unable to extinguish the use of plastics; the burning of fossil fuels; the leaching of chemicals into soil from hazardous waste: all to satisfy our comfortable way of existence. Climate Change is no longer an abstract concept that we read in our science textbooks, but a reality in the lives of people worldwide. Pollution is real. Fluctuating temperatures, toxic gases, rising sea levels, the extinction of nearly one-eighth of all our species is an increasing threat that looms over our heads every day. Their blood, their death, our dismemberment, is on our hands.
It’s often said that “ignorance is bliss” — that the constant denial of a particular concept or action leads to psychological stability. Climate Change, however, with its stellar and unshakeable evidence, is one concept that should not, could not, and dare not be denied. Especially not by leaders who hold the key to modern day society. Indeed, by altogether denying the existence of climate change — “The concept of Global Warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” (Twitter, @realDonaldTrump, 6 Nov 2012) — and then proceeding to have a teenage on-again, off-again relationship with this concept through famously controversial statements is of no help; “I don’t believe it” and “It’ll change back”. Denying millions of graphs, some produced by the government’s very own environmental agencies that have shown a steady rise in CO2 emissions citing the 2010 atmospheric levels to be nearly 31 billion tons, is not going to flip a switch in the heavens and cause the reversal of this catastrophe. Surely, deporting Haitian migrants desperately in need of a new home, and ignoring the imminent extinction of multiple common species such as the giraffe, or the penguins, will not cause this crisis to simply fade away. These animals, are just as much climate refugees as the people. Are we really going to sacrifice our precious pale, blue dot, for the want of a comfortable life; plaguing the atmosphere with smoke and dust and dirt, and infusing the seas with millions of tons of plastic each year, choking marine life and creating plastic islands larger than France in the pacific ocean? Is suicidal genocide through climate change really what we want to be remembered for: a world where water is more expensive than gasoline.
Charity begins at home: let us put into action these simple, proverbial statements we so ardently preach, and illustriously revere, with respect to saving our planet, and the lives of our own brothers and sisters. Individual choice, individual foray into this sector, and individual changes, can truly impact the oceans; impact the air; impact the land, and impact the lives of our fellow human beings, thousands of kilometres away. After all, we’re in this together. We’re not in a race against each other, we’re in a race to rectify our ancestral actions. Rather than abusing the earth and ensuring a front-row seat to the apocalypse, let us try to conserve the sapphire blue jewel of this night sky: it’s the only one we have. We, as a species, hold the power to rebuild or destroy the planet. The fate of 8.7 million other species depends on it. Let us, together, take a stand against the ghost we ourselves have created instead of simply disregarding its existence and pretending that the world turns safely on its deathbed. Let us use these 12 years: which may seem like much to us, but is less than the blink of an eye in the cosmic timeline — to save our planet and the 8.7 million species on it. Only if we can change ourselves, our ways, our ideas, and face the problem, we shall endure.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”