What a climate guy has to do with refugees

“You’re a climate guy – why are you jumping on the refugee bandwagon now?”

“Aren’t you instrumentalizing the refugees for your climate message?”

I was a bit shocked at these types of accusations when I brought up the topic of refugees in the context of climate at a few events recently. Initially, I didn’t think that mentioning this would cause a ruckus, but some people (who didn’t know me) didn’t see the connection and felt it was too far-fetched. I hadn’t realized that the links are not so well-known in the public eye yet.

To me, climate change has always been strongly linked to the displacement of people: In the simplest terms, it’s the people in coastal areas affected through the sea level rise. However, it goes a lot deeper. Climate change will fundamentally change our life on this planet, and with more extreme weather patterns will lead to less inhabitable and farmable land, which will change where on this planet people can live (well).

Back in 2010, when we hosted the German premiere of “The Age of Stupid” in Berlin, we invited Hermann Josef Hack, an artist who visualizes the looming climate refugee crisis if we fail to solve this challenge. I’m not concerned about climate change because of a romantic idea of a healthy planet – I’m pretty sure the planet and nature will survive whatever happens. The question is if we will survive, and how we will. Will we stick to our ideals of human rights when we are tested in tough times?

With so many people fleeing Syria at the moment, many don’t see that even in this case, climate change underlies the tragedy. For more than 4 years, a drought forced more than a million farmers to flee into the city. It has been well documented by the Washington Post in 2013, made easy-to-understand by this comic, and already in 2003 the Pentagon recognized the security and migration implications of climate change.

Once we understand this connection, I think it’s time to ask the question: What the hell is an “economic refugee” anyway?

Why do we choose to only help people fleeing from military conflict (and only if we recognize it as such) and not help people fleeing from extreme poverty or loosing their land? Island states such as the Maldives have been pretty vocal about the question of their future when their islands will disappear. How do we deal with these questions? When the inhabitable parts of the world shift, how do we justify our perceived right to the land we currently live on and our reflex to defend it against ‘intruders’?

I’m passionate about climate change because I believe it is the largest challenge we are facing, and I think it’s the calling of our generation to solve it for future generations. I’m passionate about solving the refugee crisis because it is the most urgent humanitarian crisis we face, and I believe that it is in times of crisis that we have an opportunity to prove that we really do stand by our values. These two causes are linked, and my engagement in both of them comes from caring for humans and the desire to make the most impact I can to leave behind a better world for us, humans.

#COP21 and the Road to Paris

My speech at the Silent Climate Parade focused on COP21 and I promised to post some information for people too lazy to surf the internet. Well, this won’t be a dissertation, but I wanted to collect and point to a few good resources for people to get started with talking about it. Leave more in the comments if you’d like to point my attention towards interesting stuff.

Why does it make sense to solve climate change? If you’re stuck on that question, read the fantastic ‘Story of Energy’ chapter on this waitbutwhy article.

As I said, I think COP21 we need to see it as a chance for our leaders to solve a the issue of climate change, which is so fatally different from other challenges and so far-reaching. Not to say it will solve anything, but it can be a major step in the right direction – the first real one in 23 years since the creation of the UNCCC at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Many people are still frustrated about the failure of Copenhagen’s COP15 in 2009, which was pushed into the public eye as a decisive moment for climate action. The enormous media attention and heads of state in attendance didn’t really get us anywhere. Many on the activist side explored different paths such as the very successful divestment campaign or direct actions, or like myself more towards pushing practical solutions though innovation and entrepreneurship. Follow the #climate tag on this blog for some things I posted about.

With COP21, there’s again a blossoming hope that there can be a global political solution. On the other hand, if talks fail then it is probably the last nail in the coffin to the idea that we’ll come together as a global village and make the rational choice to preserve our habitat. My wish is that we can start talking about it more and bring the urgency of this to the public awareness. I think those that are serious about a sustainable future need to be vocal about their expectations from their political leaders and drive the conversation.

The Guardian is a good place to get an overview of the most basic facts on COP21 in Paris in December as well as this article on ensia. If even a fraction of this information would permeate into our conversations I’d call it an achievement. Even better, if we would could make it understood that solving climate change is an opportunity to build a better world.

In addition to my posts on this blog, for further reading some more articles that deserve attention on COP21 or climate change:

I’ll be adding things here as I come across them. For now I’ll leave you with Leo.

photo above by Jason Krüger at ekvidi

nice appearance by the always-amazing naomi klein on bill moyers. 30 min worth watching. i love her analysis of most climate activist messages that target the individual (‘you can do something about it by changing your behavior’) and often neglect the necessity for collective action. this point is the reason i finally became a fan of annie leonard’s story of stuff series when she presented the story of change, and what i love about occupy movement: the realization that we need to break out of the individualistic thinking that keeps us competing against each other rather than working together. we’re all in the same boat and should start acting more like it.

i’m mostly contemplating her point that part of the reason why public opinion on the subject of climate change has been so shaky is the discrepancy between saying ‘this is a huge, armageddon-style problem’ but suggesting that the solutions only have a very minor impact on our lives (‘changing light bulbs’) and do not demand big sacrifices from anyone. maybe it’s because ‘being radical’ has been put in such a bad public light, and the public debate tends to frame climate activists as radical – while it’s actually the other way round, as mckibben so rightly points out: the true radicals are those who are fundamentally changing the composition of the atmosphere.

i’m no historian, but i do tend to agree with her (as i usually do..) that this is the greatest problem we’ve ever faced as humanity. it’s what makes this the most interesting issue to work on and be a part of.

by the way, also just in: is calling climate activists around the world to join the global power shift kick-off in istanbul from 10-17 june 2013. i’m hoping i can join, and look forward to meet climate activists from around the world! on the Do The Math Tour: 3 sold-out nights so far, and clear language: 5 times more than is safe to burn.

It’s simple math: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.

What we can do? Well, join the tour, join the movement. It sounds very promising, with an interesting program and some great guests, incl. Naomi Klein and Kumi Naidoo. Wish the tour would make it to Europe.

And I like the approach of divestment from the fossil fuel industry to solve this problem:

It just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on, or for pension funds to invest in corporations that will ruin the world we plan to retire in.
The one thing we know the fossil fuel industry cares about is money. Universities, pension funds, and churches invest a lot of it. If we start with these local institutions and hit the industry where it hurts — their bottom line — we can get their attention and force them to change. This was a key part of how the world ended the apartheid system in South Africa, and we hope it can have the same effect on the climate crisis.

the yes men are crowdfunding their next movie on the chamber of commerce, one of the major reasons that effective climate change legislation is not happening in the US! highly worth supporting, they are some of the most inspiring contemporary activists.

(if you don’t know it yet, check out their movie ’the yes men fix the world’)

they also made significant contributions to the book ’beautiful trouble – a toolbox for revolution’ which is indeed a book that’s a great resource for anybody interested in activism.

tomorrow on saturday, may 5, the silent climate parade joins forces with tar sands activists in berlin to protest against the catastrophic environmental destruction shown in this shocking (but great) video!

all around the world people are organizing events on the climate impacts day to connect the dots between climate change and the dramatic spike in extreme weather events:

join us: Das TEERSANDÖL kommt! – alexanderplatz, 11:30