Right-Wing Politics and Climate Change
EDITORIAL, 11 Jun 2018
What Are the Connections?
What are the connections between right-wing politics and climate change? Noam Chomsky recently stated that he considered the US Republican Party to be the most dangerous organization in the history of the world. What did he mean by that?
In the 2016 US presidential election, which disastrously brought Donald Trump to power, every single Republican candidate with a chance for party nomination was a climate change denier.
Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement. Should he be impeached, Mike Pence, who would take his place, is equally a denier of the overwhelming body of scientific evidence warning that if extraction and burning of fossil fuels does not stop within one or two decades, tipping points will be passed, beyond which feedback loops will take over, and human efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change will be futile.
A second connection between right-wing politics and climate change can be seen in the world’s inhospitable reaction to the refugee crisis. Brexit was motivated by fears that the EU refugee policies would force Britain to accept large numbers of refugees. All over Europe there has been a political swing to the right, as neofascist parties appeal to fears that refugees from war and climate change may take away jobs, housing, and other benefits. As both climate change and sea level rise continue, the refugee crisis is certain to become much worse. The world needs to find answers to this crisis, hopefully a more humane than has been shown until now.
Climate Change as Genocide
In March 2017 the Security Council was informed that 20 million people in four countries, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, were in danger of dying unless provided with immediate help. The cost of the necessary aid was estimated to be $4.4 billion. The developed world’s response has been a shrug of indifference. By midsummer 2017 only a tenth of the amount needed had been raised.
Conflicts and famine are interlinked. The struggle for food produces conflicts; famine is often used as an instrument of war. Food aid, when available, is often deliberately blocked or destroyed by warring factions. Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen all interfered with the delivery of aid supplies.
In the future, the effects of rising temperatures and reduced rainfall will disproportionately affect poor farmers of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America. If the more affluent parts of the world continue to produce greenhouse gasses in a business-as-usual scenario, and if they continue to ignore calls for help from starving people, these actions will amount to genocide.
Populations Displaced by Drought and Famine
Climate change could produce a refugee crisis “unprecedented in human history,” Barack Obama has warned as he stressed global warming was the most pressing issue of the age.
Speaking at an international food conference in Milan, the former US President said rising temperatures were already making it more difficult to grow crops and rising food prices were “leading to political instability”.
If world leaders put aside “parochial interests” and took action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to restrict the rise to one or two degrees Celsius, then humanity would probably be able to cope. Failing to do this, Mr. Obama warned, increased the risk of “catastrophic” effects in the future, “not only real threats to food security, but also increases in conflict as a consequence of scarcity and greater refugee and migration patterns”.
Populations Displaced by Rising Temperatures
A new study published in Nature: Climate Change has warned that up to 75% of the world’s population could face deadly heat waves by 2100 unless greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly controlled. (Mora, C. et al., Global risk of deadly heat, Nature: Climate Change, 19 June 2017). The following is an excerpt from the article:
“Here we conducted a global analysis of documented lethal heat events to identify the climatic conditions associated with human death and then quantified the current and projected occurrence of such deadly climatic conditions worldwide. We reviewed papers published between 1980 and 2014, and found 783 cases of excess human mortality associated with heat from 164 cities in 36 countries.
“Based on the climatic conditions of those lethal heat events, we identified a global threshold beyond which daily mean surface air temperature and relative humidity become deadly. Around 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to climatic conditions exceeding this deadly threshold for at least 20 days a year.
“By 2100, this percentage is projected to increase to 48% under a scenario with drastic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and 74% under a scenario of growing emissions. An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable, but will be greatly aggravated if greenhouse gases are not considerably reduced.”
Political Reactions to Migration
Across the developed world, the reaction to threatened migration of refugees from climate change has been less than generous, to say the least. The recent decision of Britain to leave the European Union was motivated largely by the fear of British workers that EU laws would force their country to accept large numbers of refugees.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s generous policies towards refugees have cost her votes, while an openly racist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, has gained in strength. Frauke Petry, 40, the party’s leader, has said border guards might need to turn guns on anyone crossing a frontier illegally. The party’s policy platform says “Islam does not belong in Germany” and calls for a ban on the construction of mosques.
In September 2017, eight people from the neo-Nazi Freital Group were put on trial in Dresden for bomb attacks on homes for asylum applicants. Hundreds of similar assaults occur in Germany every year, but they had never before been tried as terrorism in a federal court.
In France, the National Front is a nationalist party that uses populist rhetoric to promote its anti-immigration and anti-European Union positions. The party favors protectionist economic policies and would clamp down on government benefits for immigrants.
Similarly, in the Netherlands the anti-European Union, anti-Islam Party for Freedom has called for closing all Islamic schools and recording the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens. In early November, the party was leading in polls ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
Other far-right anti-immigrant parties in Europe include Golden Dawn (Greece), Jobbic (Hungary), Sweden Democrats (Sweden), Freedom Party (Austria), and People’s Party-Our Slovakia (Slovakia). All of these parties have gained in strength because of the widespread fear of immigration.
The election of Donald Trump, who ran for President in 2016 on an openly racist and anti-immigrant platform, can also be seen as the result of fear of immigration, especially on the part of industrial workers.
A More Humane Response to the Refugee Crisis
In the long-term future, climate change will make the refugee crisis much more severe. Heat and drought will make large regions of the world uninhabitable, and will threaten many populations with famine. The severity of the refugee crisis will depend on how quickly we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While making many parts of the world uninhabitable, long-term climate change will make other regions more suitable for human habitation and agriculture. For example, farming will become more possible in Siberia, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Patagonia. A humane response to the refugee crisis could include the generous opening of these regions to refuges.
The global population of humans is currently increasing by almost a billion people every decade. Global population must be stabilized, and in the long run, gradually reduced. Money currently wasted (or worse than wasted) on armaments could be used instead to promote universal primary health care, and with it universal access to the knowledge and materials needed for family planning.
Finally, reduced consumption of meat, particularly beef, would shorten the food chain thus make more food available for famine relief.
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Jun 2018.
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