In this climate

With ever-worsening climate conditions, those of us who live in temperate regions are just going to have to get used to increased incoming migration from regions hit by intense drought.

Conflict over scarce and dwindling water resources is on the increase, though few of us notice, so used are we to the simplistic apocalyptic binary narrative of good and bad, us and them.

We see fanatics waging insane ideological wars, and no doubt many a foot-soldier believes in the cause; we do not see the control of dams, skirmishes over shrinking lakes, the abandoned dust-bowl farms that lead and feed into these battles of epic proportions.

Here in temperate regions, for ordinary people, climate change is still a theoretical phenomenon to be debated in religious terms: we are either believers, disbelievers or agnostics. But for many elsewhere it is already a stark reality.

If we are to understand today’s geopolitical environment we’ll need to start looking beyond ideology at conditions on the ground. There is nothing new in ideologues invoking religion in times of hardship. This is from SOAS Professor, Paul Gifford:1

“In 1989 I heard a pastor in Greenville, Liberia, preach on Revelation 6, 1-8, a passage which deals with four horsemen given authority over a quarter of the earth ‘to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and by wild beasts’. He claimed that this text was being fulfilled at that very time. He linked the prophecy of famine with Liberia’s food shortages.”

Today, ISIS in Syria and no doubt others in Nigeria and Somalia, invoke similar apocalyptic hadith from the Islamic tradition, but they are by no means alone. The debate about increased migration into Europe is also clothed in mythology: amongst the Right wing, as a Christian heartland under attack from marauding barbarians; amongst the Left, as a battle between secular modernity and religious backwardness. Realities on the ground are infrequently recalled.

But if we are to understand the years to come — and view our brothers in humanity through more compassionate eyes — we’ll need to equip ourselves with the tools to cut through the propaganda of ideologues on all sides. Most people in the world are in a battle for survival: against environmental degradation, failing crops, diminishing water sources, rising sea levels, flooding, dwindling rainfall, rising food prices, intense heat… and the violent conflict spawned by these conditions.

Simplistic narratives of a war of worlds, of a clash of civilisations or of a battle of ideologies simply leads us towards blaming victims, instead of addressing their needs. There must be a better way to spend 5 trillion dollars than on bombing and maiming people on the wrong side of the ideological divide.

  1. P Gifford, Christian Fundamentalism and Development (Review of African Political Economy 52, 1991), p.11.

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