Monday, August 31, 2015

ISIS, Climate Change & Mass Migration of Peoples


Mass migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East (click to enlarge; source)

by Gaius Publius

I've said a number of times that climate chaos won't involve just drought, famine and a destroyed environment — all physical stresses and dangers to human life. Climate chaos will start with some of those physical stresses, but be coupled with human anticipation, which will result in social and political chaos first, and if we're really unfortunate, eventually with collapse.

The two sets of problems — physical stress on the one hand, social and political stress on the other — are intertwined, but because humans are an anticipating species, I think the social chaos will ramp up first, ramp to a greater degree in the initial stages, ultimately producing political collapse prior to full-on physical collapse of our support systems, like food production.

In fact, I think the social chaos is ramping up first, in front of our eyes. Let's connect a few dots.

ISIS and Climate Change

From Joe Romm, editor of ClimateProgress, the climate site at ThinkProgress:
The Link Between Climate Change And ISIS Is Real

... For three years now, leading security and climate experts — and Syrians themselves — have made the connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war. Indeed, when a major peer-reviewed study came out on in March making this very case, retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley said it identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought.

Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “You can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
From the Abstract of that study (my emphasis throughout):
Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend. Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend. There has been also a long-term warming trend in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to the drawdown of soil moisture. No natural cause is apparent for these trends, whereas the observed drying and warming are consistent with model studies of the response to increases in greenhouse gases. Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean. Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.
More from Romm, in lay terms:
We know that the Syrian civil war that helped drive the rise of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) was itself spawned in large part by what one expert called perhaps “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent,” from 2006 to 2010.

That drought destroyed the livelihood of 800,000 people according to the U.N. and sent vastly more into poverty. The poor and displaced fled to cities, “where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011,” as the study’s news release explains.

The March 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”
Here's a timeline from Romm's article:

Fertile crescent drought and refugee crisis — timeline and numbers (click to enlarge; source)

So the journey, from dot to dot, starts here — climate change in Syria and the "greater fertile crescent" helps produce "political unrest" and the movement of refugees and "internally displaced persons" (IDPs).

Mass Migration — African and Asians Fleeing to Europe

It's not just Syria and Iraq, though those crises are currently foremost. There is political, social and climatological crisis all throughout Africa, the Middle East and south Asia. From a Huffington Post report on the "immigrant crisis" in Europe:
In the last few years, fleeing from conflict has become the main cause of migration to Europe, says Brulc: "We have had the conflict in Syria going for years now, the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq is still not secure: people feel under threat. Then we have the situation in Eritrea.”

What is happening in Calais is just one manifestation of these Middle Eastern and African crises, says Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency. 59.5 million people are currently displaced around the world, a phenomenon he describes as "global displacement unprecedented since the World War II era."

Migrants at Calais are no longer likely to be seeing a 'better life', in the UK, he says, but to be escaping violence and abuse.

"In the years before, it could have been characterised mostly as a migratory movement driven by other reasons, such as ambitions to improve somebody’s life, and get opportunities. But clearly [migrants are coming from] the countries where there is a situation of conflict, where the push is incredibly strong. This is not a crisis driven by smugglers, it is driven by these massive push factors in the Middle East and Africa.”

Of the 100,000 refugees who have arrived in Greece this year, 61% are Syrian and 21% are Afghans, Mahecic says. “These two nationalities make up 82% of all arrivals, which speaks of the changed nature of the movement.”
The map at the top shows what that migration looks like. There's another map, produced by Europol, here:

(Click to enlarge)

Europol explains:
The influx of migrants via the Mediterranean Sea has been exponentially rising, with 220 000 migrants crossing in 2014. Apart from putting intense immigration pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy, before the migrants arrive they have often taken very risky journeys across the Mediterranean to get there.

Intelligence shows that organised criminal groups are actively facilitating the transport of these irregular migrants across the Mediterranean, and these groups have also been linked to human trafficking, drugs, firearms and terrorism. The migrants are exploited by the criminal groups who give them false promises and set them out to sea on vessels that jeopardise their lives. More than 3000 people drowned in the Mediterranean en route to Europe in 2014 and there have been 1000 deaths in 2015 alone. This problem features high on the agenda of Europol, the European Commission and concerned EU Member States, who recognise that a more balanced strategy is required to combat this irregular migration as well as the refocusing of law enforcement resources to disrupt the organised crime groups involved. Shifts in volumes using different routes demonstrate how organised criminal groups are very apt at responding to law enforcement initiatives.

The intelligence-led, European response to this problem is the establishment of the Joint Operational Team (JOT) Mare, which launches today. Hosted at Europol headquarters in The Hague, JOT Mare will tackle the organised criminal groups who are facilitating the journeys of migrants by ship across the Mediterranean Sea to the EU.
First, note that this is a strategy to "combat this irregular migration," already defined in defensive terms. Also, don't let the "organised criminal groups" aspect distract you. These groups are just exploiting the crisis; they're a "free market solution," if you will, to a market need. And of course, an increase in crime is always a consequence of social chaos as well as a cause of it (American cities, take note).

So dots one and two, social chaos and mass migration. Now for the third dot — the climate component of that migration is only getting worse.

Climate-Induced Chaos Won't go Away Until We Make It Go Away

This is just the beginning, this mass migration. There's a climate component, as we've seen, and — until and unless we're completely off of carbon as an energy source — that component is going to get stronger. The Washington Post:
July was the hottest month in Earth’s hottest year on record so far

NOAA, NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) have published data that show that it was the hottest July on record. Since July is on average the planet’s hottest month, temperatures this past month likely* reached their highest point in the history of instrumental records. NOAA calculates that July’s average global temperature of 61.86 degrees was 0.14 degrees warmer than the previous warmest month on record, July 1988.

NASA’s map of July temperatures shows the planet lit up in orange and red, signifying vast areas covered by above-normal warmth.

“The average temperature for Africa was the second highest for July on record, behind only 2002, with regional record warmth across much of eastern Africa into central areas of the continent. Record warmth was also observed across much of northern South America, parts of southern Europe and central Asia, and the far western United States,” NOAA reports. ...

* For a technical discussion of why July was likely the hottest month in recorded history, see this post by blogger Tamino: “Hottest Month
That has global implications, not just European ones. For example, in California:
California can blame about a fifth of the state’s record drought on climate change, scientists say.

Underground water supplies have been evaporating faster than they would have without the higher temperatures caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
And in Bangladesh, among many other places:
The sixth annual release of Maplecroft’s Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas reveals that 31% of global economic output will be based in countries facing ‘high’ or ‘extreme risks’ from the impacts of climate change by the year 2025 – a 50% increase on current levels and more than double since the company began researching the issue in 2008.

According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), which forms a central part of the Atlas, this includes 67 countries whose estimated combined output of $44 trillion will come under increasing threat from the physical impacts of more frequent and extreme climate-related events, such as severe storms, flooding or drought.

The economic impacts of climate change will be most keenly felt by Bangladesh (1st and most at risk), Guinea-Bissau (2nd), Sierra Leone (3rd), Haiti (4th), South Sudan (5th), Nigeria (6th), DR Congo (7th), Cambodia (8th), Philippines (9th) and Ethiopia (10th), which make up the 10 most at risk countries out of the 193 rated by the CCVI. However, other important growth markets at risk include: India (20th), Pakistan (24th) and Viet Nam (26th) in the ‘extreme risk’ category, in addition to Indonesia (38th), Thailand (45th), Kenya (56th) and, most significantly, China (61st), all classified at ‘high risk.’
Again, that's "31% of global economic output," so the crisis will spread from manufacturing and producing countries to consuming countries. There's a region-by-region map and table at the source.

Mass Migrations and Political Collapse

Which brings me to my last dot — this is not the first time Europe has endured mass migration of peoples. Look at the map in the middle of this piece (here it is again; click to open in a new tab). Then look at the map below:

Mass migration of Germanic peoples into and through the Roman Empire, 100–500 CE (click to enlarge; source).

The ancient migrations accelerated after the Roman loss at Adrianople in 376 CE, but they occurred throughout the specified 400-year period.

Thus ended the long civilization of antiquity, the more than 1500-year-old civilization of the Greek and Roman world, stretching from Homeric times to the symbolic deposition of Romulus Augustulus (ironic name) in 476 CE. Imagine that migration happening, not in 400 years, but compressed into 50. Now imagine it happening worldwide. I don't think "collapse" is too strong a word for what happens if this plays out to the end.

Bottom Line — "Stop Now" Is the Only Solution

This is why we need to end the burning of carbon now, and not by using "free market solutions." Why not the free market? Because "free market solutions" aren't free (markets are always controlled), carbon-emissions "markets" aren't markets (they're government-enabled monopolies), and "free market solutions" to emissions aren't solutions at all, just delays while our billionaires pad their already overstuffed nests.

This is what a real solution looks like.


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