In my first blog post, I briefly mentioned a United Nations report that estimated between 200 million and 1 billion climate refugees by 2050 if nothing is done about the climate crisis. I drew a comparison between those numbers and the five million refugees that threw Europe into an unprecedented crisis in 2015. However, I failed to bring up the devastating political and social consequences of the European refugee crisis, which was worsened by an extreme wave of xenophobia, and how the climate crisis has the potential to destabilize nations to the point of genocide or ethnic cleansing.
As someone who has lived in Europe during a few years of my adolescent life and still continues to follow up on events over there via social media, I have personally witnessed the intense, often violent discrimination migrants face. Even today I still find anti-migrant Instagram pages with thousands of followers that repeatedly post completely unverified instances of migrant crime and cries for a “pure” Europe ethnostate (Pure = White and Orthodox Christian, at least from where I was from).
Before we continue, it is worth noting that various studies conducted in over a dozen EU countries have already concluded that there is no evidence of immigration leading to an increase in crime and unemployment in Europe. This information is pretty bad news for xenophobic groups, given that the backgrounds, demographics, and rampant discrimination migrants face in all aspects of their lives should make them much more susceptible to crime. But as we all know, ignorance is bliss – especially if your entire message relies on bigotry.
Xenophobic pages that are dedicated to creating a false narrative about migrants in order to justify an already existing hatred for them are always disgusting. While it is easy to just block the page and move on with my life, I figured it was worth investigating such behavior. Why are so many ordinary people susceptible to discriminatory propaganda that can be used to justify something as monstrous as genocide?
I was listening to the David Pakman show on my drive back home from my sister’s therapy when I finally got my answer. In an interview with Professor David Livingstone Smith, who authored On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It, David was able to ask important questions as to why ordinary people can often fall victim to scapegoat lies.
Smith explains that a process known as dehumanization has been used throughout human history to justify mild discrimination up to outright genocide. The objective is not only to blame issues on a scapegoat but to convince others that they are literally subhuman.
Such ideas seem crazy now, most of us probably tell ourselves that we would never fall susceptible to such bigotry, and many of us may be right. But it is well-known that when economic, political, or social crises strike, scapegoats always arise and are often effective at garnering a substantial political base. A haunting example of how effective dehumanization can be seen in Nazi Germany, but there are many recent examples as well. Greece’s Neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” party garnered a shocking 10% of the national vote during the peak of the European refugee crisis.
All of this provides the necessary context to understand the severity of that UN climate study. But a crisis of such proportions is bound to deal a catastrophic blow on the global economy which can lead to even further destabilization in regions around the world. And by the looks of recent political events, society remains vulnerable to the far-right populist rhetoric echoed by world leaders such as Donald Trump, perhaps more now than ever.
Although the climate crisis is finally receiving proper attention across the world, it may be too late. Biden’s ambitious climate plan may never see the light of day given the filibuster in the Senate and many steps should be taken now in order to prepare for the enormous impact millions of climate refugees will have on our society.
It may not feel like it, but we are at a tipping point in human history. A climate crisis left to wreak environmental havoc across the planet has the potential it has to destabilize global governance and lead to horrendous levels of human misery.
When we study discrimination and genocide in history with the luxury of hindsight, it is easy to identify the warning signs and recognize the immortality of such events. But it is even easier to give the present the benefit of the doubt and underestimate the severity of early warning signs.
Given the empirical data and historical context we have now, there is certainly no excuse. We must act now before it is too late.
Title Image: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images