The Syrian civil war has been a savage case study in every element of human nature; the depths of depravity, the dangers of ethnic fragmentation, the Machiavellian calculations of outside actors and the lengths people will go to in pursuit of compassion have all stood in the spotlight during the conflict.
Beyond the obvious crisis of war, the conflict also has made clear the impact of mass migration, as European countries strain to cope with a sudden and massive influx of refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.
Unfortunately, with the concrete effects of climate change being felt, the world might have to learn to cope with this paradigm as a new normal.
Whether you agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is primarily driven by human activity or not, the climate is changing. According to NASA data, 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001; global sea level has risen at twice the rate in the past decade than it did in the previous century; glaciers have begun to disappear; and snow cover on most of the world’s mountain ranges has retreated consistently over the past 50 years.
These changes feel abstract when looking at a data sheet, but they impact human lives. For example, according to the World Bank, the 65 cm (around 2 feet) rise in sea level predicted by the 2080s could inundate 40 percent of Bangladesh’s productive land. The loss of agricultural production and strain on food supply would force many of the country’s 170 million people to move into India or Myanmar.
Keep in mind the turmoil that Europe is going through right now with its migrant crisis. According to Eurostat data, somewhere around two million non-EU individuals have sought asylum within the European Union since 2014. Now, think about how much more difficult it would be for India, a far poorer country than its EU counterparts, to deal with a significantly larger number of migrants coming from its neighbor.
These climatic impacts are not merely the trouble of the developing world; cities like New York and New Orleans are at or below sea level. Small changes in sea level, combined with stronger weather patterns, could cause massive economic disruption here at home.
This is not just some hippie issue either; Secretary of Defense James Mattis describes climate change as one of the major security threats to the United States and has pointed out that American forces and policy planners are already adapting tactics because of climatic changes.
Human nature makes solving climate change difficult; it is a problem driven by a variety of factors, and it is hard to see. However, it is still imperative that we attempt to address it.
Curbing CO2 emissions from industrial sources, maintaining mileage requirements on American vehicles and honoring our commitments to international climate accords like the Paris Agreement are all ways to responsibly move forward.
Rising sea levels and intensified droughts across the globe will likely spark new movements of people across borders, seeking security and shelter. Now is not the time to turn our back on worldwide attempts to curb the alteration of our climate; now is the time for the United States to take a leading role.
Ian Hutchinson is a Greenfield native pursuing his master’s degree in international affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.