Bangladesh, where millions have been displaced by rising sea levels
Yesterday I sat around my 60 inch television set, made myself some toasted cheese sandwiches and watched a miracle as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. Considering how our football team was 2 – 14 last year and is today 1 – 1, I felt nice.
And for a time I didn’t give a thought to the mass migration of whole nations trudging along European roads, carrying their children and elderly parents, seeking safety, peace and food. Seeking a place which will shelter them; a place they can live their lives.
Whole cities in Iraq and Syria have been emptied; whole neighborhoods left their homes together and march on the roads together while Europe puts up razor wire fences and herds these desperate people into camps.
Have we reverted to barbarism?
We like to think not but are we so different in our attitudes from the fascists of the 1930s?
This century may turn out to be the hundred years migration and mark the return of genocidal starvation, cursed by the failure of states, religious warfare and climate change resulting in the frantic stockpiling of food. Those nation states with insufficient stockpiles will face mass starvation.
This week there was an article in The Guardian by Tim Snyder;
reviewed in the New York Times
“ BEFORE he fired the shot, the Einsatzgruppe commander lifted the Jewish child in the air and said, “You must die so that we can live.” As the killing proceeded, other Germans rationalized the murder of Jewish children in the same way: them or us.
The Holocaust may seem a distant horror whose lessons have already been learned. But sadly, the anxieties of our own era could once again give rise to scapegoats and imagined enemies, while contemporary environmental stresses could encourage new variations on Hitler’s ideas, especially in countries anxious about feeding their growing populations or maintaining a rising standard of living.”
Lebenstraum, Hitler maintained was necessary for the German people to be able to feed themselves from their own land. He vehemently denied that science and land management would be sufficient to increase crops and keep up with a growing German population. These were “Jewish” ideas. Germany needed land in the east.
And that land needed to be de-populated through starvation and settled with German farmers.
“As exotic as it sounds, the concept of Lebensraum is less distant from our own ways of thinking than we believe. Germany was blockaded during World War I, dependent on imports of agricultural commodities and faced real uncertainties about its food supply. Hitler transformed these fears into a vision of absolute conquest for total security.
Lebensraum linked a war of extermination to the improvement of lifestyle. The chief Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, could therefore define the purpose of a war of extermination as “a big breakfast, a big lunch and a big dinner.” He conflated lifestyle with life.”
In the coming century climate change threatens to provoke a new ecological panic. So far, poor people in Africa and the Middle East have borne the brunt of the suffering.
China for example, like Germany before the war, is an industrial power incapable of feeding its population from its own territory and is thus dependent on unpredictable international markets. It was not that long ago (in my lifetime) that Chinese died from starvation by the millions.
“The danger is not that the Chinese might actually starve to death in the near future, any more than Germans would have during the 1930s. The risk is that a developed country able to project military power could, like Hitler’s Germany, fall into ecological panic, and take drastic steps to protect its existing standard of living.” It becomes a matter of the survival of the state.
“How might such a scenario unfold? China is already leasing a tenth of Ukraine’s arable soil, and buying up food whenever global supplies tighten. During the drought of 2010, Chinese panic buying helped bring bread riots and revolution to the Middle East. The Chinese leadership already regards Africa as a long-term source of food. Although many Africans themselves still go hungry, their continent holds about half of the world’s un-tilled arable land. Like China, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea are interested in Sudan’s fertile regions — and they have been joined by Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in efforts to buy or lease land throughout Africa.”
Hitler spread ecological panic by claiming that only land would bring Germany security and by denying the science that promised alternatives to war.
By polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the United States has done more than any other nation to bring about the next ecological panic, yet it is the only country where climate science is still resisted by certain political and business elites. These deniers tend to present the empirical findings of scientists as a conspiracy and question the validity of science — an intellectual stance that is uncomfortably close to Hitler’s.
Ecological damage will not dramatically affect the United States for decades after it wrecks havoc on the rest of the world. By that time it may be too late and the door will be opened to the demagogy of ecological panic in America.
Meanwhile the European Union is under threat as nations close their borders and populist parties talk of leaving the Union. Russia tries to negotiate oil and gas treaties with each nation separately doing it’s best to undermine the Union and expand the reach of Russian influence.
When the killing comes it may seem different from the last century but many of the causes will be similar.
“It is not difficult to imagine ethnic mass murder in Africa, which has already happened; or the triumph of a violent totalitarian strain of Islamism in the parched Middle East; or a Chinese play for resources in Africa or Russia or Eastern Europe that involves removing the people already living there; or a growing global ecological panic if America abandons climate science or the European Union falls apart.
Today we confront the same crucial choice between science and ideology that Germans once faced. Will we accept empirical evidence and support new energy technologies, or allow a wave of ecological panic to spread across the world?”
Ask yourself what would our right wing, anti-science, anti-immigrant supporters do to protect our “way of life”. Our “lifestyle”. Would they support shooting starving Mexicans migrating north in mass at the border? Taking Canada’s resources to support our consumer society? Would they be willing to live more simply? Smaller houses. Public transportation, Less heat in winter. Less air conditioning. Fewer choices.Would they be willing to give up anything?
Or would they follow Goebbels, supporting the extermination of others (so long as they didn’t have to see it) if it meant continuing a “big breakfast, a big lunch, a big dinner?”
The ghost of Christmases past.
Although Tim Snyder is ‘selling his book’, he does make some good points. I have no doubt that the world will be turned upside-down (though perhaps after my death) by the need for water, and food. As the second article alludes to, China’s population will need more room to grown food very soon. How they go about getting that extra fertile land will be something for the rest of the world to consider, of that you can be certain.
Things change in history. Situations become fluid, and accepted norms and values melt away, in the face of catastrophe. To imagine it will just remain the same is naive in the extreme.
Good stuff, Frank. As always.
Best wishes, Pete.
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In New Zealand, we have followed Iceland’s and Ireland’s example and started a movement to accept refugees in our homes. Thus far 3,100 Kiwi families have signed up (our current quota is 1,000): http://openhomesopenborders.org/sign-up/
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I’m sure there are thousands in America who would take in a refugee family – I am one of them. Regards from Florida