Around two months ago, a small piece of research carried out by the University of Buffalo found that in environmental disasters, humans tend to make things worse. Rather than getting together to resolve issues, the bickering starts and the fists start to fly. It’s a pretty bleak look at human society but one which I don’t buy into. I’d like to think that if/when things turn ugly due to runaway climate change, that the human race will sit down and try to avoid all sorts of nasty things like water wars. Indeed, there is a growing body of research which suggests that scarce resources could encourage better regional co-operation.
However, every now and then something happens which makes me doubt my faith in humanity and it’s ability to do ‘the right thing’. The recent report presented to Israel’s environment minister suggesting that they build a border fencing – including a marine border in the Mediterranean and Red Seas – to keep climate refugees out is one such example.
The report states that Israel must prepare for a situation in which climate refugees escaping drought and rising oceans will flood into the country in their efforts to reach Europe. “The lack of water, warming and sea-level rise, even if it will occur on a different schedule, will bring migration movements from all impoverished regions to every place where it is possible to escape this,” wrote a team of academics, led by Prof. Arnon Soffer and Dr. Anton Berkovsky of the University of Haifa’s Geography Department.
Moreover, the experts told the Jerusalem Post that additional law enforcement resources will be required to deal with the ramifications of securing the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, as an economic crisis might ensue for Negev Bedouin who trade across those lines. “In India, they shoot; in Nepal, they shoot; in Japan, they shoot,” Prof. Arnon Soffer said, adding that in Israel, the refugees know they can find welcome. “I am one that fights for building fences all around Israeli borders,” he said to the Jerusalem Post.
“We are an island – we don’t belong to this region, and we have to defend Israel from waves of migration from Egypt from Jordan and maybe from Syria. If we want to keep Israel a Jewish state, we will have to defend ourselves from what I call ‘climate refugees,’ exactly as Europe is doing now,” he said.
I think this statement from one of the authors is particularly telling and illustrates how national fears (real or imagined) become imprinted on the spectre of ‘climate refugees.’ For Soffer it seems to be about keeping Israel Jewish and making sure they are not ‘flooded’ by (let’s face it) Arabs. However, not only is this fear xenophobic but it’s inaccurate too. According to the latest research on climate refugees by Gregory White, climate disasters actually make it very difficult for people to leave and those that do travel, don’t go very far. So stating that you are justing doing what Europe is doing actually means following an illogical policy put in place due to irrational fears.
Whats more, White states that a “security-minded approach to CIM [Climate Induced Migration] diverts intellectual energy from more important endeavours.” Endeavours such as helping the developing world adapt and mitigating the emissions of the developed world. He adds that efforts to encourage adaptation and nurture south-south cooperation on trade and sustainable development practices, would be “far better than sounding an environmental-refugee klaxon and securitizating international borders.” Especially as the securitization of borders would have its own ecological costs inflicted by the military-security industry.
On a lighter note, the report does recommend swift action to increase Israel’s water supply and secure its food and energy. Soffer also says that sharing water resources between Palestinians and Israelis may well lead to peace. Whats more, the Environment Minister is a little dubious of the extreme measures proposed by the report. Speaking to Ynetnews he explained that “hiding behind fences is not a solution. Instead, it’s important to develop cooperative (initiatives) with neighbouring countries and international agencies.” How genuine this statement’s co-operative spirit is considering he said he’s happy to cut Gaza’s power supply if Israel faces any shortages, is another issue for another time.
For now, I just want to say that any notion that Israel’s should build a(nother) barrier to keep out climate refugees is not only irrational but it’s also not a particularly useful way to handle the unfair hand climate change will deal some of the world’s poorest people.
: Image of the boundary on a lock, of Israel/Lebanon via Maxmac/Shutterstock.com
For more on Climate Refugees see: