We Are All Climate Refugees

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

~ Martin Niemöller

My son used to have “anxiety” and anger management issues. Every time he had an episode, I would tell him: “you have a few options in front of you; either you respond in a positive way and do something proactive, or you see all negative and start whining or smashing things; you can also ‘do nothing’ but that will also have consequences: things will continue the same or they may worsen and you would learn nothing. You have the power to choose how you would respond this time. I can’t tell you what to do”

Neutrality is a delusion: all what happens in this planet is “our business” and no matter how difficult it is for each one of us to feel responsible, our choices do matter.

Even facing collapse, death or horrible pain, we still have the choice of how we will respond to each: we may cry, run, close our eyes, tell ourselves it is not really happening or ask for help…or we may be fully aware, provide support to others, choose compassion and love and embrace life till the end.

Until recently, I used to work for a program where I was involved with refugees. Refugees, as it turns out, belong to different categories depending on what “caused” their status. Long ago, I was a refugee myself.

Being a refugee means being a sub-category of humans: first of all, you may be treated as a criminal and you will need to proof who you are. Different institutions and other humans will judge whether you are a true refugee and what “services” you will be “given”. And this is if you are lucky enough to flee…if you are not, you are subject to a life of misery in refugee camps or jumping from a hide place to the next, charity and being treated as a statistic.

What most people don’t see is that in a few decades (if not earlier) we will ALL be refugees: climate change and resource depletion are already doing exactly that to many coastal and island communities around the globe as well as to many ecosystems and species, these two issues combined (climate change and resource depletion) are already affecting the poor, aboriginals, immigrants and all who belong to some “minority”…but they are only the first ones and we will see more and more devastation when draughts and floods, storms and weird changes to local climate changes increase.

My co-worker shares with me how the region she was born (Punjab, in India) used to have temperatures in the high 30’s (degrees Celsius) at the top of the “summer”…now, she says, temperatures go easily past 40’s and even close to the 50’s

I work with people that have came to Canada from around the globe: most are legal immigrants running away from increase insecurity, social unrest, unemployment, contamination, inequality and the many consequences of globalization and…climate change: they all tell stories about glaciers melting, rivers going dry, soil depletion, increase pollution and so on. While I have already taken about four formal university courses on the matter and read a few books (a friend recently joked that I may be the “most credentialed climate activist under the sky”, I really don’t have to go too far to find more and more evidence that we are all in big doo-doo.

Carol, a dear friend-blogger shared with me an article and I would like to highlight some words from it that reflect what I am trying to say:

If we can’t figure out how to save a village with fewer than 600 people from falling into the sea, what hope is there for everyone else?” (Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/14/shishmaref-alaska-climate-change-relocation_n_6296516.html ) the article then continues: “You can know that communities are eroding, but do we really understand what that means, the timeline and how vulnerable the communities are? … When you send the pictures and put together a proposal, we’re just facts and figures on paper.” (Reggie Joule, the mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough)…

I think people really don’t know (or don’t want to know) and as they don’t see the danger close enough to them, they worry a bit and then continue with their lives: all of this is happening “somewhere else” or, as the article says, “Somewhere in the far future”.

But it is not: I have more than five years involved with Disaster Management and emergency preparedness at the local level; disasters are increasing at all fronts: impacts, scope and frequency. Institutions involved in both mitigation and adaptation are scrambling and trying to increase their volunteer base, put together more and more specialized training and find the money necessary to support all this…

Future Scenarios and our role

In his book “Future Scenarios: How Communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change” David Holmgren , one of the originators of Permaculture shares what may be the role of experienced Permaculturists: first, he outlines four potential “scenarios” as a result of the interaction of the two main variables, i.e. Climate Change and Peak Oil (notice that these are simplifications and that Holmgren is very aware of the other many factors. However, as he mentions in his book, from all the other factors these two are the most decisive because they can push governments, institutions and individuals to make decisions that will impact all other aspects of life, both our and that of other species and ecosystems).

The scenarios he describes are:

  • Brown Tech: severe climate change combined with a slow decline in resources depletion (Peak Oil): Holmgren says: “In this scenario strong, even aggressive, national policies and actions prevail to address both the threats and the opportunities from energy peak and climatic change. The political system could be described as Corporatist or Fascist
  • Green Tech: both climate change and resource depletion act slowly and allow for some “adaptation” through green technology. Holmgren: “This allows resources to flow to a greater diversity of responses at the global, national, city, community and personal level. In some already densely populated poor countries, conditions worsen”
  • Earth Stewart: in this, resources deplete really fast and climate change goes slower: “The shock to the world’s fragile financial systems is overwhelming, resulting in severe economic depression and perhaps some further short, sharp resource wars. (Holmgren, 2010).
  • Lifeboats: “In this scenario, supplies of high quality fossil fuels decline rapidly, the economy fails and human contributions to global warming collapse but lag effects and positive feedbacks in the climate system continue to drive an acceleration of global warming”. (Holmgren, 2010)

As you may have already made the connections, all these scenarios are currently playing at the same time: in some areas there is one that takes the lead and slowly, we are all approaching just one or two of them…I leave you the reader to select which one do you think is playing in your region/country and which one/ones will be the “winners” at the end…

In any case, the world “as we know it” is no longer an option no matter what our dreams or wishes are: it may be “an option” for some elites with the resources and power to isolate themselves (for a while)…but let’s remember that we all need to breathe, eat, drink and can only live within certain climatic conditions…there is also need for resources and energy to maintain life, even at elite level…

How to Boil a Frog

It is difficult for anybody (experts and laypeople) to say how things would develop or whether we are in a terminal stage of our species.

“Collapse” is not necessarily as flamboyant as painted in movies and science-fiction books and extinctions don’t happen overnight unless there is a huge cataclysm or drastic change in place.

Collapse is more a slow burning, sometimes accelerating issue, such as the boiling of a frog story: things start deteriorating slowly and then sudden things may happen: people start “accommodating” and even “adapting” to strange things until they become part of the “new normal” and things that were not accepted before start to happen…

However, there are many mechanisms (“positive” loops and feedbacks), some from Nature and some from social and psychological responses from people and institutions that may be growing slowly but under an exponential pattern: imagine a forest where the trees are being cut at a rate that doubles each day: how many trees would you see the day just before all the forest has disappeared?

What we can do

As I mentioned in an earlier comment to blogger Carol, I personally think that what we can do is influenced by where we are, who we are and what we have (in terms of overall resources, such as skills and institutions more than “stuff’).

I like to quote Holmgren here again as he has some “suggestions” we may want to explore. He shares a disclaimer first: “Clearly these meta-scenarios are even more speculative than the energy descent scenarios, but provide a stimulus, especially for young people, to imagine oneself in the energy descent future”.

Here are his insights:

I imagine that permaculture – by principle and model, if not in name – will become the dominant paradigm in the Earth Steward scenario”…”Permaculture is also highly relevant to survival in the Lifeboat scenario. The focus on provision of basic needs first and maintenance of seed and other genetic resources and skills to salvage and ‘make do’ will all be essential.”…” In the Green Tech scenario “sustainability” has become the dominant paradigm of more localised city and bioregional governance structures. Permaculture and related concepts have high status and receive resources from government and businesses to help further develop local food production and community economies that can buffer against further energy and ecological crises.” And finally: “In the Brown Tech scenario, permaculture remains marginal to the mainstream, although it provides hope and some solutions for the increasing numbers of disenfranchised and alienated who reject, or are rejected, by the systems controlled by powerful central governments” You can read more here: http://www.futurescenarios.org/content/view/50/71/index.html

Some groups are encouraging us to “live our lives to the fullest” and others, to be in love with life. Others are pressing for us to become more responsible about our life-choices as “consumers” or even how and where we participate in society and what we choose as a career. Others encourage us to also fight against institutions, corporations and processes that support the status quo and may be the bigger polluters and ecosystems abusers.

Some decide to focus on animal or Nature rights and issues; others focus on human rights and issues…

I wonder if, at this point, we can still “separate” the above issue at all: as in previous posts I have shared how all our combined decisions lead to either spirals of depletion/erosion/destruction or to spirals of regeneration/compassion/life

To the ongoing question “what we can do” here and now, I may paraphrase myself as I said to my son: “you have different options…to do something proactive to minimize the damage and suffering, to complain and get angry with people and institutions, to bury your head in TV, stuff and more entertainment, to say this has nothing to be with you…in any case, those are your choices and you have the control (if not of the inputs or the outcome, you do have the control on how do you want to live your life from now on…”

Some resources:

How to overcome climate fatalism: http://www.climateaccess.org/sites/default/files/T&T_Climate%20Fatalism.pdf

Courses to understand the issue and connect with other social/climate activist around the world (all free and excellent content and delivery):

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