Mainstream media has flooded sources of entertainment with stories of dystopia. Films like Mad Max, Children of Men, or The Day After Tomorrow have created amusing fiction out of end of the world scenarios. Video games often follow the same narratives, where teenagers are scavenging and fighting for resources in the aftermath of a climate induced apocalypse. However entertaining, these grotesque plot lines have the potential to be an austere reality as the climate crisis progresses and creates sobering consequences in the realms of conflict.
Of course, the effects of the ecological crisis will be indiscriminate—we all share life on the same dying planet—however, beginnings will be disproportionate. Perhaps most concerning, the poorest people from the poorest countries will be moving in large numbers from rural regions to increasingly overburdened urban areas. These dramatic swells of migration has a high possibility to lead to major disruption and instability.
The Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America are among the most vulnerable for climate conflict. Various countries in these areas are either in the midst of a climate induced war, have extreme political instability, or have projected to be in the future.
Using Syria as an example, soon before the outbreak of their devastating civil war in 2011, the region suffered one of the most severe droughts in its history, quadrupling rural-to-urban migration and causing food riots. Climate change is cited as one of the major causes of the civil war that continues to devastate Syria and the surrounding region. This has resulted in millions displaced, thousands of lives lost, and a still unstable country with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Peter Kiemel, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, admitted in a House committee investigating the global effects of climate change on national security that it played a role in the bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, and will do the same in the future. He explained that “We already have seen water crises exacerbate social unrest in and emigration from fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa.”
The World Bank released a report last year that outlines the projections of displacement of peoples due to climate change. The report, the first to look at such possible population distributions within countries, estimates up to 86 million people could be displaced in Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia, and as many as 17 million in Latin America. These projections are among the more optimistic— “business as usual” activity will increase displacements to an unthinkable extent, causing death and destruction.
“Internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change,” the report says. Exacerbating this already horrifying reality, many governments have a negative perception of immigrants and refugees, causing increased issues for people searching for a safe place to live. European countries like Hungary, Poland, and Italy along with their far-right and populist parties have enforced strict migration policies that make the flee from conflict incredibly dangerous. To make matters worse, this migration is expected to intensify over the next few decades before further accelerating beyond 2050.
However bleak, a doomsday future is not inevitable. Although, without immediate drastic action, our current prospects are poor. We must act collectively in order to survive.