An important story reported earlier this month (November, 2021), features the impact of climate change on the children of southern Madagascar. This is a report primarily about famine caused by climate change, not war, economic oppression or pestilence. Regrettably, the story also includes more than a trace of self-congratulations from and by ABC News Anchor David Muir.
Those of us who don’t have a phobic distaste for modern science recognize that climate change is causing world-wide land use change. Coastal communities are threatened by rising seas. Once fertile farmland is lying fallow because insufficient rain falls. Five-hundred-year floods are occurring one a decade, not twice a millennium.
It is interesting how in the United States and most other industrialized countries, increasing emphasis is placed on rebuilding and expanding its built infrastructure. When it comes to roads and bridges, an important question is largely going unasked. Where do these ribbons of concrete take us, and do their paths take into consideration how our land is changing due to climate change.
For instance, the metropolitan area of Houston, TX has been battered over the past ten years by hurricanes. Isaac devastated Texas’ Gulf Coast in August, 2012. Hurricane Harvey struck in August, 2017 and Hurricane Laura in August, 2020. Despite some enlightened leadership in the area with County Judge [Supervisor, Harris County] Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner, the private sector seems to believe that nothing bad can happen again for another 500 years, and they rebuild in the areas that have been flooded and destroyed. They are aided by state-wide science deniers like Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz.
People who are homeless or starving are not the only displaced people in the world. The world’s population continues to grow, and that puts people in tighter confines with one another. We like to believe that we live in nation-states, but perhaps our second tightest bond to family is our tribes. And as the global population expands and arable land compresses, more tribes are running up against other tribes – ones whose company they would prefer not to keep.
The result is more war and violence. It may be cloaked under the guise of religious differences, or political differences, or economic disparities. In any event, it is more and more difficult for peace-loving people to find areas to live where they are not threatened by other groups of humans.
When people who don’t want to be neighbors are cramped together, anthropologically we know that peaceful resolution of problems is a hard sell. More often than not, violence is the likely modus operandi of settlement. Conflict and violence lead to displacement. Necessary relocation means refugees – often millions of people moving, often by foot, to new places where they think that they will be physically safe and will be able to find gainful work.
Frequently this traffic rapidly changes directions. In the early 2000s when the U.S. invaded Iraq for no particular reason, millions of Iraqi civilians headed west to Syria where they were welcome in many small villages. But just a few years later, Iraq was more at peace while Syria was engaged in a gruesome civil war with a external counties such as the United States and Russia adding to the mayhem and destruction. By the mid two-thousand-teens, millions of Syrians were fleeing their country, often heading east to Iraq to a land that is similar to their own.
However, in both incarnations of this Middle East refugees-in-motion, many moved toward what they saw as a better life in Europe. In some places, and in cases where the numbers were not too large, the migration to Europe worked, especially since the E.U. was looking for people to fill low-paying jobs. But as the numbers jumped into the millions, the inevitable happened. Refugees were seen as foreigners who were outsiders to their staid communities, and new conflict was born.
Just as the world needs to create new ways to find homes for local, regional, or global refugees, it needs to do the same for those who are displaced by politics as well as climate. These problems become only more severe as population growth creates more crunches. So, what options to people of the world have?
There are basically two ways to find venues where displaced people can live:
- Find existing land on our planet which currently is largely uninhabited and has the natural resources to sustain a significant number of human beings.
- Where arable and otherwise resourceful land does not exist, humanity needs to find ways to create new land masses where refugees can move and comfortably live, at least until they are able to find another part of the planet on which to live.
China has built three man-made islands in the South China Sea for military bases against Taiwan and other potential adversaries in the Pacific Rim. Reaction to their construction has ranged from enormous fear of expansion to mockery because there are reports that the islands are falling apart and sinking into the ocean.
Regardless, humankind, under the aegis of the United Nations, needs to find largely unoccupied places for refugees to live. These new homes can be temporary; to give political or climate factors time to reverse themselves. Equally plausible is for them to become “permanent” homes so that they can be free from the strife that caused them such misery in their most recent homes.
Countries large in area such as the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Australia, and others have room for refugee settlements. China is so residentially over-built that it literally has high-rise cities that are vacant and capable of housing literally millions of people.
However, virtually all land on Planet Earth is accounted for. It is either owned by a private enterprise or the government is holding it for recreation, environmental protection or future development.