Much has been written, broadcast and talked about in recent weeks during the current European immigration crisis. Much of the debate has focused on whether we should open our borders to what, UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described as a swarm of immigrants. But very little has been debated about what is really at the heart of this – our changing climate.
And when the debate has centered on the cause, very little has focused on climate change – with some exceptions. The Guardian columnist, Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes that the refugee crisis has been driven by food shortages, which is driven by climate change. The Guardian’s environmental journalist John Vidal, looks at a new World Resources Institute report, which says that the Middle East will face water shortages for the next 25 years, which will affect millions, and increase conflicts in the region. And a report by the Grantham Institute, Climate and Environment department repeats some of those claims, saying climate change will exacerbate heat waves, droughts, water shortage, flooding. But it stops short of declaring that the situation is being driven by climate change, citing that more research is needed.
They all have a point. The devastating impact of the Syrian civil war and resulting chaos means thousands and thousands are having to flee the country. We have put this down to the dictatorship of President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and to the growth of opposing groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and more recently to the terror group ISIS, whose barbaric methods thousands of Syrians are now fleeing from.
We can’t for sure say this is caused by climate change, but we can say that a changing climate has driven it. And failure to address climate change will make it much worse in years and decades to come. This is also echoed by the author, Adam Mann, who recently wrote that inaction on climate change will make the risk of a third world war more likely. Maybe this is an extreme view, but climate change is no doubt having an impact in the creation of conflicts.
But let us go back to Syria and the escalation of the Civil War there. Many commentators,including scientists, are now pointing to the fact that the war could in fact have been started by climate change. It was first brought to my attention by the American journalist and author, Thomas Friedman, who for the US TV series, The Years of Living Dangerously, reported from Syria and made the link to climate change following a four- year drought. And of course corruption and the way Assad and his government dealt it with has had an impact too. But we cannot avoid the impact water scarcity has in theescalation of conflicts. Many are predicting that water scarcity will increase in already conflictvulnerable areas with fast growing populations. And so will the threat and risks of conflicts and even wars also increase. Thus, more people with more pressure on resources and with corrupt governments in charge. And, yes, you can do the maths yourself.
We in the western world, I believe, have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from terror and climate impacts. First the scientific argument:
A recent New Scientist report stated that there is now mounting evidence that the world has reached an average warming of 1 degree C, a landmark record but an unwelcome one. World leaders believe that to stop runaway climate change we need to keep warming below 2 degree C. At the moment we’re on track for at least 3-4 degree C warming. But even though we miraculously manage to stay within 2 degree C, there is still an awful lot more warming to come. This means more drought, heat waves, floods, storms which will result in crop failures and water shortages and as the world population continues to rapidly expand this spell trouble.
Then the moral argument:
We in the West, have contributed the most to climate change through the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore we have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from the impacts of climate change. And it should not only be the EUwhich should shoulder this burden. It is a global problem, so everyone has to do their share. Who knows, we might be the ones that need help in the future, because in the West we are not immune to climate change. Look at the climate impacts in the US; from Hurricane Sandy to the ongoing drought in western US states– all have happened in recent years. Look at both drought and flooding in Australia. It is a list that will only increase as climate change increases.
But, unfortunately, many people seem to think, that we should turn people away,and build stronger borders so these people can’t enter. This is also an agenda being proposed by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, against Mexican migrants entering in the US. He recommends a giant wall. Will that really deal with the problem at hand? No, it will only increase it, as the tension will increase. And if we in Europe are becoming more hostile to refugees, tension could flare here too. But we should help them, welcome them with open arms, listen to their stories, their tragic situations, and what is needed. Then maybe, we might have a chance, combating the evil of terrorism, dictatorship and climate change all together. Because those issues are more interlinked than you might think.
Following my previous article on Climate Change, conflict and a growing refugee crisis, we continue our exploration into the effects of climate change, as Dave Sanderson writes about our water use in Greater Manchester and how our increasing usage can be better managed as the climate warms and our weather becomes more unpredictable…
How much water do you use each day, on average? A gallon? Don’t forget flushing the loo and your share of the washing machine. 5 gallons? How does 32 gallons or 150 litres sound? Surely not! But it’s true. Even more amazing is that when you count the water used to grow and prepare your food and to produce all the other things you use (such as the textiles for your clothes), this figure increases enormously to 747 gallons, according to Waterwise. Does this matter?
Everyone says it rains a lot around here. Oldham typically gets 43 inches of rain a year, Greater Manchester 32 inches. Greater Manchester has an area of 493 square miles; if you imagine all of that covered by over a yard of water you’d think we would have plenty. But wait a minute; there are 2.7 million of us. What is more, much of the rainfall soaks into the ground, evaporates or drains down the rivers.
In fact, neither Oldham nor Greater Manchester can manage on the water that falls on their land area, simply because they are so densely populated. Greater Manchester uses roughly twice as much, importing half of what it uses from the Lake District and the River Dee. Is this sustainable or desirable? Probably not though there is an overlooked benefit. The extra flow out of our waste pipes not only makes up 92% of the flow of the Irwell and 50% of the Mersey, it is helping bring back salmon and otters into our rivers…proof it is very clean.
If you assume nothing is ever going to go wrong, the current reliance on imported water is just fine. It has worked well so far so why worry? But life’s not like that. Ever had a hose pipe ban? Seen the floods on the TV? Rainfall is becoming more unpredictable and extreme as the climate changes. If by planting more trees and maintaining wetlands we could hold back more water during storms, it would be available to us later, solving both the flood and drought problems. That implies close collaboration between many organisations and individuals, not just farmers, naturalists and water companies.
Water use has been increasing by 1% per year since 1930. Why? It’s largely a cultural thing, as people become more concerned about their health and cleanliness. Water matters for childcare and plays a part in leisure activities. But clearly our use cannot keep increasing forever. Water also costs a lot. Who likes paying their water rates? Any sign of them going down? I thought not. There is also an equality issue too; the little old lady living alone pays the same as the family who power shower twice a day and pressure wash the SUV regularly.
So let’s suppose we wanted to reduce water consumption by decreasing water wasted rather than by restricting use. Could it be done? The 25% of water that is lost through leaks should be reduced (but urban street trees might die!) but zero leakage would not be cost-effective. If we all had water meters, those who use most would pay more. That’s fair and would reduce waste. We don’t need expensive drinking quality water for flushing loos, cooling machinery in factories or watering the garden, so if more buildings captured the rain that falls on their roofs and used it for these tasks, costs to users would fall. More lakes and water features would cool our urban areas and houses in this warming world. So we could get a win / win; lower bills and a better environment.
For information on you can help prevent the worst impacts of climate change, visit our guide here.
Jerry Rothwell’s artfully put together chronicle of Greenpeace’s early history draws on a treasure trove of 70s video footage from the Greenpeace archives, combined with interviews with many of the original band of Vancouver radicals who came together to start what is now an iconic organisation – but who also gave birth to true environmental activism.
Starting with the group’s first voyage on a small fishing vessel known as the Phyllis Cormack, attempting to reach a US nuclear weapons test site on an island in the North Atlantic, the film really captures the spirit of the time.
Whilst their first campaign wasn’t exactly a success, it grabbed the attention of the world’s media and the general public. The later campaigns in the 70s to stop the seal hunts and to confront the Russian whaling ships are captured brilliantly.
But the film leaves a lot of the story of Greenpeace at that time to one side, preferring to focus on the story of Bob Hunter, which gives the film its core story line. His personal struggle, sometimes reluctantly, to lead the fledgling group is captivating. How To Change The World is a portrait of the group’s original members, but it also shines the spotlight on the subject of activism itself.
As an environmentalist, it’s easy to get caught up in the science and the politics of it all. You forget that people need engaging if you want them to hear your message. Bob Hunter understood this well. In fact, he was light years ahead of his time. He new that you needed a certain type of story or picture in order to capture the public mood and that it needed to spread fast. He termed it a ‘mindbomb’.
The idea was to capture something iconic that would go viral around the world’s news networks. This was the 1970s remember, long before the internet and when news coverage was only just starting to become global. But his theory holds just as true today. Just look at that picture of young Aylan being carried up the beach by a Turkish policeman. That was a mindbomb. One photo that instantly changed the whole public mood on the issue of Syrian refugees.
But what is the mindbomb to confront the environmental issue of our age – climate change? How do you capture the public mood on an issue that manifests itself over such a long period of time and in ways that are mostly indirect and not particularly visual? You can drive a zodiac between a Russian whaling fleet and a whale or stand in front of a ship on the Canadian ice flows and the photos are instantly marketable.
But fossil fuels are everywhere. They light up our buildings, warm our homes and fuel our cars. We use them everyday, but at the same time we know we must come off our addiction to them. Yet they are the enemy. The enemy within. They are the Russian or Japanese whaling fleets and we are the whales.
How do we paint this picture in a way that will ignite the public mood? Our climate change mindbomb needs an iconic image and a clear message. Is the refugee crisis our blood-soaked whale? The suffering is certainly visual and as I’ve argued previously, along with others, the refugee crisis will get much worse as climate change and extreme weather events continue to mix with political and economic factors, as has happened in Syria. But how do we make the fossil fuel industry our whaling fleet? And how do we put ourselves in harms way?
The Big Six energy companies – like British Gas and NPower – have a history of tax dodging, price-fixing and terrible customer service. Scandal after scandal comes out, yet millions of us still buy our gas and electricty from them.
We should turn our backs on the Big Six and choose a better energy company that only uses renewable energy. They are out there – energy companies who don’t dodge tax, don’t rip off customers, and don’t spend big money lobbying for weaker environmental laws. 38 Degrees are teaming up with energy switching specialists, The Big Deal, to switch away from the Big Six to better, cleaner – and cheaper – energy.
Would you like to be involved? Just click hereto say you’re interested. You’re not committing to anything just yet – 38 Degrees will then bargain the best deal, then you choose whether you want to take it or not.
2. Insulate your home
Well insulated houses use less energy to keep them warm. This means that less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Simple.
3. Be energy efficient
You already switch off lights — what’s next? Change light bulbs to compact fluorescents or LEDs. Unplug computers, TVs and other electronics when not in use. Wash clothes in cold or warm (not hot) water. Dryers are energy hogs, so hang dry when you can. Install a programmable thermostat. Look for the Energy Rating label when buying new appliances.
Agriculture is a significant driver of climate change and causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock. Buy organic, seasonal, locally grown foods. Avoid processed items. Grow some of your own food. Try going vegetarian, like I have, or even better, go vegan! If that’s a step too far for now, try cutting out beef & lamb or cut down on your meat to once a week or at least one meat-free meal a day.
Each person who replaces beef and lamb with pork or chicken for a year saves 6 short-haul flights’ worth of CO2, says according to Climate Action Network
Food writer Michael Pollan sums it up best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
6. Trim your waste and buy less ‘stuff’
Rubbish buried in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Keep stuff out of landfills by composting kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, and recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass. Let supermarkets and manufacturers know you want products with minimal or recyclable packaging.
Before you buy something new, have a think about whether you really need it. Do you need another pair of shoes when you have 57 pairs already? Don’t buy cheap tat. If you do need something, can you buy second hand. Or if you do have to buy new, pay a bit more to make sure it is good quality and will last, and that it has been produced in a sustainable way. Buying a pair of jeans? It’s just like buying food. Think organic. Think locally produced. I recommend Howies.
7. Make polluters pay
Carbon taxes make polluting activities more expensive and green solutions more affordable, allowing energy-efficient businesses and households to save money. They are one of the most effective ways to reduce our climate impact. Write to your MP and ask them to support a tax on carbon.
8. Fly less
Air travel leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. Before you book your next airline ticket, consider greener options such as buses or trains, or try vacationing closer to home. In the business world, you can arrange meetings with people by videoconferencing / webinars, which saves time as well as travel and accommodation costs.
9. Get informed & get involved
Take a few minutes to contact your MPs and councillors and the media to tell them the action you want on climate change. Remind them that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also build healthier communities, spur economic innovation and create new jobs. And next time you’re at the polls, vote for politicians who support effective climate policies.
10. Support and Donate
Many organizations are working hard on solutions to climate change and rely on financial support from citizens like us. Consider making a regular or one-off donation.
Petition to the UK Government: The UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts. We can’t allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence to be left living in dire, unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe. We must help.
Petition local government: Someone in my local area has set up “Refugees Welcome in Oldham” and I’d be grateful if you could add your name. Investigate if anybody has set up a petition in your locality and if not, create one yourself!
Reading lots of stories of people moved into action over the refugee crisis. It gives me some hope and faith that there are a lot of good people in this country. My wife is one of them. She’s not asking much; just for some bin bags!
If you’d like to donate some bin bags, but you’re not sure of the best we to do it, just let me know:
A number of charities and non-governmental organisations have opened appeals specifically aimed at helping the plight of refugees. Various organisations spell out exactly what a specific donation could provide. Here’s a sample:
Migrant Offshore Aid Station: The charity which runs independent rescue boats to rescue migrants at risk of drowning has seen a huge spike in donations since pictures of the drowned Syrian boy emerged.
Médecins Sans Frontières: The humanitarian agency has three rescue ships in the Mediterranean, on Tuesday alone they rescued 1,658 people in its biggest day of operations.
Aylan Kurdi Fund: A specific fund named in honour of the drowned boy was set up within 24 hours of the circulation photographs of his body emerging. All proceeds will go to the humanitarian agency Hand in Hand for Syria.
Refugee Council: A donation of £100 could pay for the education and travel for two children for a week.
Unicef: The UN’s children’s charity is providing life-saving supplies such as clean water, medicine and psychological support. It says a donation of £9 could provide an emergency water kit for a family.
Save the Children: It says a donation of £50 could buy two hygiene kits including soap, towels and toothbrushes.
British Red Cross: A donation of £30 could buy 28 mats to help Syria refugees cope with the cold.
Islamic Relief: Three families could be fed for a month on a donation of £210, the charity says.
The crowdfunding website Just Giving has a list of specific appeals for migrants in Calais. It includes one of students trying to raise £750 to buy mobile phones, footballs, camping equipment, dictionaries, storage boxes, sanitary items and waterproof clothing.
The UNHCR is running camps, providing shelter and aid to refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, as well as helping refugees across Europe.
Climate change is one of the 4 main threats to human survival and is already having far-reaching effects. Climate scientists are predicting that 2015 will be the hottest year on record “by a mile”. A surge in ocean temperatures in particular now makes it almost inevitable that this year will turn out to be the hottest year globally since instruments were first used to gather readings more than 130 years ago.
It will mean that the three warmest years since records began in 1880 – 2015, 2014 and 2010 – happened in the past five years, and nine out of the 10 warmest years have all occurred in the 21st century.
The direct effects of human-driven climate change
We are now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical notion. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies.
In 2014, a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a three year joint effort by more than 300 scientists, concluded that climate change was already having significant effects – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and other natural disasters.
Climate change has already cut into the global food supply. Global crop yields are declining – especially wheat – raising serious doubts as to whether production can keep up with population growth. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by between 40% and 60%.
The longer term impacts will be devastating. NASA has been measuring sea levels for the last 23 years and they predict sea levels to rise by an average of 3 feet by the year 2100; with some scientists predicting as much as 6 feet. It can’t be underestimated how devastating this will be for many island nations and coastal populations in the coming century.
Here’s what Miami, Florida would look like after just a meter of sea level rise, according to a visualization created by Andrew David Thaler, a marine science PhD and ocean-science website editor:
The cumulative effect
The wider impacts of rising sea levels, extreme weather events and global food shortages can’t be considered in isolation. The impacts will be in tandem with existing problems such as population growth, poverty, inequality, political instability and economic shocks. The Pentagon, has talked about climate change as a “threat multiplier”, increasing the risk of conflict.
In fact, a new study released in March suggested that this is exactly what happened in Syria, following a drought, which started in 2007 and continued until at least 2010, leading to a collapse of farming, followed by the migration of 1.5 million farmers to the cities, and then to poverty and civil unrest. Speaking to The Telegraph, climate scientist Richard Seager at Columbia University, a co-author of the study, said:
“It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”
The study’s authors do not claim that climate change caused Syria’s civil war. They acknowledge that there were numerous factors involved, including the oppressive Assad regime, an influx of more than 1 million refugees from Iraq and the wave created by the Arab Spring. But the drought was a significant factor. Prof Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University and co-author on the new study, explained:
“We’re not saying drought caused the war. 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.”
But it’s not just conflicts exacerbated by climate that will create refugees: climate change, in and of itself, is likely to cause mass migration.
According to Roger Martin at Population Matters, UN demographers project that by 2100 the Sahel region’s population will grow from 125 million to 650 million, while the IPCC project that the region’s temperature will rise by between 4.5 and 6.5 degrees, making it virtually uninhabitable.
Hundreds of millions will seek to move, either South towards the coast or North towards Europe. But the Mediterranean will also be getting drier as the century moves on, with knock-on negative social and economic impacts. Countries like Spain, Italy and Greece will suffer most, meaning significant numbers of people may migrate north, and of course, displaced people from elsewhere won’t stay in the Mediterranean, they’ll keep travelling north.
One day there could conceivably be Italians and Greeks in camps in Calais as well as millions more from the African continent and the Middle East, as their own countries become even hotter and more arid.
All the current focus is on the refugee crisis in Syria, and quite rightly so. But what we’re seeing now is not an aberration. It’s not a temporary disaster. In short, the current ‘crisis’ is trivial compared to what’s in store, where tragedy on a vast scale seems almost inevitable. Unless we act.
Time to Act
There is an urgent need to address the current refugee crisis, to bring peace to Syria and to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
I’ve put together a list of things we can do to help tackle the refugee crisis: