“There is widespread agreement that scarcity is a threat to democracy.” — The Coming Age of Scarcity, 1998
Donald Trump’s climate policies would create dozens of failed states south of the U.S. border and around the world. They would lead to hundreds of millions of refugees and more authoritarian demagogues like Trump himself.
Trump’s policies would assure that a tremendous number of people become veterans of one of the ever-growing number of climate-related conflicts.
Trump has said he will cut funding for clean energy, facilitate oil, gas, and coal production, put a climate-denier at the head of the EPA, and work to kill the Paris climate agreement. It will take a massive fight to prevent a very grim future.
The Pentagon itself made the climate/security link explicit in a 2014 report warning that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” has impacts that can “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” and will probably lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources.”
The world’s leading scientists and governments came to the same conclusion after reviewing the scientific literature. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2014 that climate change will “prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and intergroup violence.”
All the way back in the Bush Administration, Thomas Fingar, then “the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst,” spelled out exactly what would happen in the kind of world Donald Trump’s pro-pollution policies will create:
By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.
For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest.
…Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.
“Under conditions of ecological scarcity,” as one 1992 book put it chillingly “democracy as we know it cannot conceivably survive.”
The post-World War II trend toward democratization and pluralism was made possible by an unprecedented increase in economic growth and material abundance. A growing pie is easier to share.
Sadly, for more than two decades now, we’ve known that this growth was a Ponzi scheme built around the accelerating overuse and/or destruction of key resources like fresh water, soils, fisheries, and arable land — and of course a livable climate. On top of that, the vast majority of the “wealth” generated at the expense of our children and future generations has ended up in the hands of the wealthiest few.
Disunity driven by self-interest — “Après nous le déluge,” everyone for themselves — is the very thing that thwarts collective action. It is embodied in Trumpism and Brexit — which was driven in large part by scaremongering around the Syrian refugee crisis.
The Syrian migrant crisis “had an outsized impact on the Brexit,” NBC News political director Chuck Todd said in July. You can see that in the pro-Brexit anti-refugee poster from the UK Independence Party. Anti-immigration became a major ad campaign of the referendum.
And, of course, the Syrian migrant crisis — and America’s natural humanitarian desire to help the refugees — figured prominently in Trump’s endlessly repeated attacks on Obama and Clinton policies.
It bears repeating that a major 2015 study confirmed that “human-caused climate change was a major trigger of Syria’s brutal civil war.” The 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.”
Unchecked climate change will mean hundreds of millions of refugees and immigrants.
If authoritarianism and disunity was worsened across Europe and in this country from “only” a million Syrian refugees, imagine what happens when the world tries to deal with more than a hundred times that many climate refugees in the coming decades. The Dust-Bowlification of one third of the world’s inhabited land — together with the inundation of rich agricultural deltas and coastal cities — will lead to hundreds of millions of people having to leave their homes.
The UK government’s former chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, laid out a scenario similar to Fingar’s in a 2009 speech. He warned that by 2030, “A perfect storm of food shortages, scarce water, and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts, and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions,” as the Guardian put it.
Trump’s policies would also be creating failed states at America’s doorstep. Here is what a 2015 NASA study projected the normal climate of North America will look like (under the kind of fossil-fuel-intensive growth Trump has promised). The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to that seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl.
Our poorer neighbors to the south will be engulfed by near-permanent Dust Bowl or severe drought. At the same time, their coastal areas (and ours) will be trying to “adapt” to sea level rise of perhaps 6 or more feet by 2100 (rising as much as a foot a decade after that). For all but the wealthiest, abandonment will be the primary adaptation strategy.
Inevitably, over a hundred million people from Mexico and Central America will be trying to find a place to live that isn’t anywhere near as hot and dry, that has enough fresh water and food to go around. They won’t be looking south.
Tragically, Donald Trump combines xenophobia with a vow to be the world’s primary obstacle to preserving a livable climate for our southern neighbors. It’s like we would be setting fire to our neighbor’s house and farm — and then blocking efforts by the fire department to put the fire out AND at the same time condemning any notion that we have an obligation to house and feed them.
Trump would be creating the perfect conditions for failed states and violence in North America.
A world where President Trump succeeds in thwarting or reversing climate action is a world with dozens of Syrias and Darfurs and Pakistani mega-floods, a world with hundreds of millions of climate refugees in the coming decades, all clamoring to move to places that aren’t flooded or Dust-Bowlified, including parts of the United States.
It would be a world where everyone eventually becomes a veteran, a refugee, or a casualty of war. That’s something worth remembering this Veteran’s Day.