Climate change is not an environmental issue

Migration, Borders and Climate Change

Every year we are seeing thousands of people fleeing their countries of origin in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, hoping for a better life. Whilst the majority will move to nearby countries, a few will attempt the long and dangerous journey to Europe. It is impossible to determine exactly how many people are forced to migrate directly by climate change. However, what is clear is that the position of wealth and privilege in the global north is, to a large extent, the result of the exploitation of land, people and resources of two-thirds of the world, the very same processes that have driven industrial capitalism and caused climate change.

The world’s poor did not cause climate change, but they are more vulnerable to its effects because of both where and how they live. Whether it’s in agricultural areas or city slums in the global south, they have fewer options available to them to adapt when things go wrong. Africa and South East Asia, for example, are some of the most geographically vulnerable places on the planet in terms of droughts, rising sea levels and extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods. But this is not exclusive to the global south: when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans it was the poor, black neighbourhoods that were hit hardest and have ever since been excluded from where they used to live.

Political systems, willing to place one group of people above another, are already responding to the potential impact of climate change. With the “war on terror,” security politics and nationalism flourished globally; climate change is being used to give further legitimacy to the concepts of “national preservation” and “homeland security.” So the Indian state is currently building a perimeter fence around its entire border with Bangladesh, a country more at risk than almost any other from the devastating consequences of rising sea levels. The fence has been explicitly talked about as a barrier to migration. If sea levels rise and Bangladeshi people are driven from their homes, they will now find themselves trapped inside this ring.

The extreme-right British National Party in the UK gives very serious attention to questions of environmental damage, peak oil, famine and food supply. For fascists like them climate change provides the perfect opportunity to try and argue their view of the world that humanity consists of races and nations in constant conflict and competition. What these people might advocate in the face of the effects of climate change does not bear thinking about.

This year, in April 2009, the NATO war alliance celebrated their 60th anniversary with a summit to discuss NATO’s new strategic direction. A strategy paper published in April 2007 stressed the need for a more “proactive approach,” in which the pre-emption and prevention of threats are central. To the NATO strategists an array of threats exist in today’s uncertain world, from terrorism and transnational crime to unrest following food crises, extensive migration to the countries of the NATO alliance and social conflicts as a result of climate change. The paper maintains that proper “defence” requires the concept of “homeland security”, which entails a “comprehensive approach” of the military, police, politicians, researchers, academics and civil society, and the continued blurring of internal and external security, to build up a “global security architecture.” We can already speak of a global market boom in databases, biometric readers, data mining programs and other new technologies of control, with multinational corporations poised to make huge profits.
In Autumn 2009, under the Swedish presidency, interior ministers will meet in Stockholm to decide the next five year framework on internal security in the EU. “The Stockholm Program” will foster more surveillance of the internet, common access to European police databases and more cross-border police collaboration to fight “illegal migration”. It will force countries outside the EU to take back their citizens who enter the EU without a visa and it will push the use of biometrics and radio-frequency identification (RfiD) and enlargement of the police agency Europol and the EU border watchdog Frontex.

Freedom of movement is a contested common right. Understood as a form of grassroots globalization, migration is contained, managed and restricted by a top-down process of trans-nationalization. And with an increase in mobility and migration, irregular migration is being perceived as a threat to the world-order and to the integrity of the nation state. “Project Nation State” is challenged by an unregulated globalism. Borders are an attempt to limit and privatise freedom of movement as a common right. Wherever physical migration occurs, new borders are erected where one is “processed,” “profiled,” “sorted,” “filtered,” “contained,” or “rejected”. The border is a site of unequal power relations where a selection is made between the useful and unwanted in relation to market demands. The border is a site of conflict that is costing yearly the lives of many who try are trying to cross borders in spite of the latest technological advances in security, surveillance and control. These people are suffocating in containers, drowning in rivers and seas, exploding on mine fields, or being shot by border guards.

‘No Borders’ is a clear anti-authoritarian position that fights for the freedom of movement for all and the abolition of borders, while recognizing the massive injustice which exploits people and resources around the world for the benefit of few. The immigration system of Fortress Europe is designed to preserve this division. And while the EU is working towards One Europe, “Project Nation State” continues far outside the EU borders. New borders are created and existing borders are transformed to also exclude from Europe the growing group of climate refugees.

A crucial part of the No Border fight is supporting and building a radical climate change movement which challenges using the threat of climate chaos as an excuse for even more draconian migration controls. The radical climate action movement critiques responses to climate chaos offered by governments and corporations. For example, carbon rationing that would de-facto lead us blindfold into a police state, agrofuels that would take land and food from the global South to feed cars and airplanes in the north, and carbon trading which applies market logic to solve a market problem. No Borders has at its core this same resistance to intrusion on our liberties and sees that government systems of control which are often tested on migrants will affect us all. Those who have promoted and profited from our carbon dioxide intensive lifestyles are not only responsible for the current concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they are also the ones who are aiming to maintain their positions of wealth and privilege by getting ahead in the new eco-technologies and green capitalism, whilst always fortifying the walls around them.

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