Brexit, Trump Just the Beginning: Climate Will Drive Refugees, and Resentment

June 27, 2016

Joe Romm at ClimateProgress:

E pluribus unum — out of many, one — has been an official motto of the United States since June 20, 1782. Writ large, it could be the motto for climate action.

There have always been two poles representing how the world might respond to the increasingly painful reality of climate change (or indeed any global scale problem). At one pole is unity driven by our moral sensibility — a concerted national and global effort to address the gravest preventable existential threat to Americans and indeed all humanity. It is embodied in the Pope’s Encyclical from a year ago, a clarion call on the moral necessity of climate action.

At the other pole is disunity driven by self-interest: “Après nous le déluge,” everyone for themselves, the very source of the “tragedy of the commons” that thwarts collective action. It is embodied in Trumpism and Brexit — the vote Britain just made to split from the European Union, driven in large part by scaremongering around the Syrian refugee crisis.

On this spectrum from unity to disunity, the world has, until recently, been far too close to the disunity pole for a quarter century — which is why, until recently, global emissions have been close to the worst-case trend-line. In the last two years, though, we have seen China make a game-changing deal with the United States to become the first big “developing” nation to pledge to cap its emissions. That was quickly followed by serious climate commitments from the vast majority of the world’s leading countries of the world.

And that led to nearly two hundred nations unanimously agreeing to an ongoing effort of increasingly deeper emissions reductions aimed at keeping total warming “to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels.” In a reversal of the tragedy of the commons, the world united in an agreement to leave most of the world’s fossil fuels unburned — voluntarily abandoning trillions of dollars in short-term value to avoid decades and then centuries of incalculable cost from Dust-Bowlification, sea level rise, extreme weather, ocean acidification, and the like.

So humanity is now in a race to see whether the forces of unity can beat the forces of disunity. It’s now clear we have at hand the core enabling clean energy technologies to keep total planetary warming below catastrophic levels. What isn’t clear is whether we have the will and the cohesion to deploy those technologies rapidly enough to do so.

We’ve known for a while that there are scientific tipping points beyond which certain climate impacts — like the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet or the thawing of the carbon-rich permafrost — become unstoppable. But it appears there may also be political tipping points, where certain climate impacts cause so much widespread harm simultaneously that they simply fragment the world.

In this fatally-fractured future, countries focus almost exclusively on the ever-worsening climate devastation to their country, destroying the possibility of collective action by the world to help those worst off.

Recent events, especially Trumpism and Brexit, are omens of the disunity we face. Trump’s campaign is driven by racist statements and wildly impractical plans to wall off the country literally and figuratively from various ethnic and religious groups.

The Syrian migrant crisis “had an outsized impact on the Brexit,” as NBC News political director Chuck Todd said Friday. You can see that in the pro-Brexit poster from the U.K. Independence Party (above) — which became a major advertising campaign of the referendum — featuring thousands of male refugees streaming from Croatia into Slovenia last October.

It bears repeating that a major 2015 study confirmed: “Human-caused climate change was a major trigger of Syria’s brutal civil war.” This study 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,” the lead author explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”

And that mass migration ultimately fueled the mass refugee crisis of the last two years, a crisis the world has utterly failed to figure out how to handle.

In a globally warmed world, we will face endless refugee crises like Syria’s

The problem from a climate perspective is that while these hundreds of thousands of refugees have led to the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” as the European Commissionhas described it, the numbers of refugees pale in comparison with what the world faces if we don’t avoid catastrophic climate change.

On the one hand, study after study are now finding that only aggressive climate action can save the world’s coastal cities from inundation by century’s end. The world should be anticipating five to six feet of sea level rise by 2100 — which by itself would generate hundreds of millions of refugees.

But at the same time, we face as many (if not more) refugees from Dust-Bowlification and the threat to our food supplies.

This map of the global drying we face uses the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), a standard measure of long-term drought. It is excerpted from the study, “Global warming and 21st century drying.”


We are currently on track to make drought and extreme drying the normal condition for the Southwest, Central Plains, the Amazon, southern Europe, and much of the currently inhabited and arable land around the world in the second half of the century.

Brexit and Trumpism make plainly — and painfully — visible that even rich, democratic nations deal poorly with a moderate amount of refugees, immigration, and economic dislocation. Imagine how we’ll deal with the 100-fold escalation of those problems if we fail to stop catastrophic climate change.

I’m not certain there is much middle ground in the global struggle between unity and disunity. Either the world works together to keep total warming well below 2°C — or our disunity leads to catastrophic warming and further global disunity not seen since the fall of the Tower of Babel.

15 Responses to “Brexit, Trump Just the Beginning: Climate Will Drive Refugees, and Resentment”

  1. Tom Bates Says:

    I am sorry, this is total BS. Those refugees from the middle east are there because of Obama, he supported war and still supports war in the middle east. That drives the people to leave for personal safety, draft dodging and economic betterment. Climate has zero to do with the refugees, most of whom are men and draft dodgers at least from the Syrian war. The rest of Africa is a war zone in places like Somalia, Mali and Nigeria again that has zero to do with climate change. The drought effecting southern Africa is causing hardship. The problem is all those countries are run by thugs and thieves who think beating up on the other tribe while stealing as much as they can is proper public action for a politician. Not a single FDR among them to mobilize the country to build dams and water supplies for the people.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      These people are fleeing places that border the Sahara and Arabian Deserts. Why? Because they are growing. I’m not saying War doesn’t play a role (neither did this article), but to the extent it did, it was HARDLY “Obama’s War”. Someone else fractured Iraq and in that wound ISIS grew. And an epic drought in Eastern Syria hardly helped matters. That has been well-established.

      “Après nous le déluge”: I found a motto for your flag.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Ubrew? You actually replied to The Master of Mental Onanism as if you took him seriously?

        This article, particularly the excellent first video clip, gets to the root cause of the present mayhem in the Mideast and the slopover effects in Europe and other parts of the world. Humans have been warring ever since they started living in groups, but the PRESENT situation can be largely blamed on climate change and the heat waves, drought, and water shortages that are impacting so many places.

        Tom Bates makes a rather definitive statement that this is “total BS”? (and apologizes for it like the moron he is?—he’s “sorry”?) His “reasoning” behind that statement is so whacked out that it would be rejected by any self-respecting pile of real BS, which at least can be used as fertilizer after some composting—-his “BS” is poisonous.

        The emanations from Master Bates mental onanism are so odoriferous and repellent that the only response should have been “Go Away, you moron!”

        (Of course, if he is a POE or a denier who just wants to distract us and disrupt discussion, he has scored again. Too bad—-this is an important piece and deserves discussion)

        • lracine Says:

          Bad Form!!!

          Chances are you are reading the post of a “young naive person” who is a product of our educational system….

          NO you do not want to lose people like that… you do not want them to go away… They are the next generation and you have the opportunity to share a different point of view that they may not have considered…… or to make them aware of facts/events that they were never taught at school…

          The consequences of failure is extinction of the human race….

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “Bad form” (with three !!!, no less) says Louise? And then takes a gratuitous slap at “our educational system” as she blames it for Tommy’s reasoning deficits? Is Tommy actually Louise’s son? And mooching off her and living in her basement Omno or Russell Cook style because he is unemployable? Is that why she is so “charitable” towards him and seeking to lay blame for his inadequacies somewhere other than with his genes and upbringing?

            Tommy may be “young and naive” but if not a POE, he is either deluded or dumb as a brick, and we don’t have the time to waste dealing with him. Has Louise not noticed the many moronic comments he has posted over time on Crock and the inordinate amount of time and energy people here have wasted trying to educate him rather than discuss the substance of the post?

            Tommy’s ONLY success in life appears to be how easily he distracts and deflects us from serious discussion of the topics at hand. This retired educator gives him a “B” for that, and would give him an “A” if he didn’t display such ignorance of the failures in his “science.

            Yes, “the consequences of failure is extinction of the human race….”, but the failure lies with the parents, corporations, and politicians who have “created” the Tom Bates of this world and encourage his ignorance—-that’s YOU, “Mom”.

    • lracine Says:


      Perhaps you are unaware of “The Carter Doctrine?

      “The Carter Doctrine was a policy proclaimed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter in his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980, which stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf.”.

      All Presidents since then have supported tactics that undermine any governing bodies, in oil supply nations, that threaten our national interest.

      Another consideration is as a county improves it’s standard of living and population growth, the county consumes more of the oil they produce… most oil producing counties have peaked or are peaking in oil production, the low hanging fruit has been picked and consumed. That leaves less and less oil available for the”export market”, price instability etc etc. You can get rid of some of that by “bombing them into the stone age..” which President said that??

      Howard Zinn said before he died and in the beginning of Obama’s Presidency,

      “Obama is going to be a mediocre president–which means, in our time, a dangerous president.”

      Just Obama’s inactions on Climate Change has proven those words true.

    • lracine Says:


      Perhaps you might want to read it…

      Click to access 150724-congressional-report-on-national-implications-of-climate-change.pdf

      This link to to a lecture by General Gordon Sullivan, “National Security Implications of Climate Change” at Norwich University.. it is worth listening to what this old, gray haired, war “dawg” has to say…

  2. Steve Koo Says:

    The drought & Central Plains comment is BS


  3. […] based policies of national governments around the world. Such use of international trade policies has promoted an increasing Tragedy of the Commons in which equality has been undermined, wealth has been concentrated at the top, environmental […]

  4. ubrew12 Says:

    Should point out that drought is not the only consequence of Global Warming. Those coral reefs dissolving everywhere? The protein base for millions of people. Whatever protein they might switch to will be contested, and their negotiating ‘trump card’ of choice in that contest, is ultimately ‘no contest’ (guns)

  5. Peter, just got to say this is really excellent reporting. It’s a disturbing call to action but it’s well done. Thanks.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Joe Romm’s words, my videos. ClimateProgress is invaluable, if you have not seen it, particularly anything Joe writes himself.

      • Lionel Smith Says:

        Seconded. If the ignorati have not heard of Joe Romm they could start a catch-up with e.g. Straight Up

      • As usual, I worded it poorly because indeed, yes, Joe Romm deserves praise for his typically excellent text. It’s just that the combination of text and video brought it together for me in an even more powerful way. But thanks to you for a great job of cutting to the chase and bringing us the best of many sources and your excellent videos. Good luck on the ice!

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