Climate Change Refugees

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Three hundred people drowned last week when an overcrowded fishing boat sank off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, close to the north African coast. They were emigrants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa seeking a better life in Europe.  The numbers fluctuate between the years – there were 64,000 boat people who landed in Italy in 2012 alone.


The island of Lampedusa provides a relatively close landing point for migrants into Europe.

The motivations for these brave men and women to risk everything, including the lives of their children, are obvious: conditions at home are bad – and expected to get worse – and conditions in Europe, despite Europe’s woes and high unemployment, are infinitely better.

History Future Now has written about this issue many times (The North African Threat and Mediterranean ReunificationDealing with the consequences of climate chance inaction: the impact of food, and How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe for example) and it is clear that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the motivations of Europeans – who want to keep waves of immigrants out  – and emigrants who want to get in.

So what does the Lampedusa tragedy have to do with Climate Change?  In the short term, nothing.  In the medium to long term, a lot.  Climate change will make it more likely that we will see more of these tragedies in the future.  The population of North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa is increasing rapidly and is actually expected to explode as the graph below (thanks to the NY Times (source from United Nations Population Division) shows.


Growth rates are declining but fertility rates in Sub Saharan Africa are still massively larger than in the rest of the world.


Population Growth rates

The population of Nigeria alone is expected to grow to over 1 billion people by the end of the century.   Population increases will further stress the local environment, increasing the likelihood of famines and civil wars as groups fight over fewer resources shared between more people.   Climate change is nothing more than petrol being thrown on an already blazing fire – there are underlying problems that exist irrespective of how bad global warming will get.

Some left of centre commentators say that Europe should just let all of the people in that want to come. This is a humane response to a humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, commentators on the right hand side of the political spectrum complain that providing aid and assistance to Africa is a waste of money and that we should be focusing on our own internal issues.  This is a logical response to an economic crisis.

Both sides of the political divide are wrong.

Allowing mass immigration is not feasible.  The number of people who would like to come exceeds the actual population of Europe itself.    The continent would not be able to absorb all of those very poor, mainly unskilled, mainly unhealthy (due to malnutrition and diseases that prey on the weak) people who have radically different attitudes to religion, women & minority rights and democracy, without being radically and permanently altered.

Equally, abandoning North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa to get on with their own problems ignores the fact that if life is too terrible then millions of men and women, like those who died trying to get to Lampedusa last week, will try to force their way into Europe, whether Europeans like it or not.




In a previous article History Future Now argued that it made sense to create a trading block that included North Africa (The North African Threat and Mediterranean Reunification).  This would help to make the North African coast of the Mediterranean a more viable place to live and raise a family.  That would significantly reduce the pressure to emigrate.

In another earlier article History Future Now showed that a poor response to immigration pressures – as done by the Roman Empire  – can lead to chaos and collapse of the recipient country (How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe).


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