There is an immigration crisis in the Eastern flank of the EU. As the official narrative goes, the Belorussian regime is flying people over from Iraq and Afghanistan and then sends them to the border with Poland, encouraging or forcing them to make an illegal entry. Polish border guard then forces them back, locking hundreds, if not thousands, in a no-exit situation in what the government tries to portray as the no man’s land between the two countries. Men, women and children as young as one. An absolutely horrifying and heart-breaking sight.
According to a recent poll by Ipsos , more than 50% of Polish people are supportive of the government’s heavy-handed response. After all – the common thinking goes – these people are not ‘refugees’ but ‘economic migrants’ who willingly boarded flights to Minsk and can blame but themselves for the predicament. But are they?
Let’s have a look. Anecdotal evidence suggests most migrants on the border are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia or Syria which could pass as warzones. They are also coming from Egypt, Lebanon, DRC or Nigeria – so countries that formally are not at war, civil or otherwise. There are no official statistics on their nationalities, not least because the Polish border force (apparently with at least tacit support from EU’s Frontex) is denying them the right to formally lodge their asylum application – but I digress.
Now, what has this all to do with climate heating, this blog’s raison d’etre? Absolutely everything.
Why, just why would a person from a country such as – let us take it as an example – Nigeria, take a huge risk, board a plane and try their luck applying for asylum in a strange country? With, formally speaking, almost inexistent chances to obtain the asylum-seeker status? It may not be a long shot to assume they do it for one, very good reason – because they are hungry.
Let’s try to connect at least some of the dots.
Firstly, one piece of scientifically confirmed information – compared to pre-industrial levels, Earth’s surface temperature has already increased by 0.8°C to 1.3°C, with a best estimate of 1.07°C (IPCC 2021, page 5).
Now, let us turn at a model built by Climate Analytics, a Berlin based NGO showing impact of global heating to crop yields at 1’C heating (compared to simulated yields in the same area in 2000 – there could be other factor contributing to overall yield, e.g. technological progress, added irrigation, etc.).
As we can see, in most areas there is percentage yield decrease of up to 5%, with swathes of arable land where decreases are reaching 5-15%, with a median decrease of 2%
So that is effectively the present. Now let us look at at the future:
‘Compared to 1850–1900, global surface temperature averaged over 2081–2100 is very likely to be higher by 1.0°C to 1.8°C under the very low GHG emissions scenario considered (SSP1-1.9), by 2.1°C to 3.5°C in the intermediate scenario (SSP2-4.5) and by 3.3°C to 5.7°C under the very high GHG emissions scenario‘, tells us the IPCC. For the record, the ‘very low GHG emissions scenario’ assumes we will take immediate and radical action to mitigate global warming. Spoiler alert, we won’t.
Now, let’s have a look at the 2°C simulation, the lower end of the intermediate emissions scenario:
Basically, more orange, more red, a median decrease in yield of 9%. Now marry this with the fact that Nigeria’s largely rural population was 122 million in 2000 and is now 206 million (the World Bank tells us).
There is also a 3°C simulation available, but you will have to go check it out yourself, just in case there are children reading this. Nigeria aside for a moment, read up on the drought in North Africa over the last decade. Read up on how that had caused political unrest, the ‘Arab Spring’, which we conveniently try to put in a box ‘democratic movement vs. evil dictators’. Not all those seeking refuge in Europe today are victims of global heating, but it would be foolish (or political) to ignore the fact that many of them are.
What is the moral of the story? Well, what we are seeing on Poland’s Eastern border is just a prelude to a far, far greater tide of people running for their lives and seeking refuge in the North. It seems almost inevitable that our elected political representatives will be sending men and women with guns to shoot at people desperately trying to climb a razor-wire fence in not so distant future. There will be so many of them, that the cost of letting them in would be a complete societal collapse – so effectively there will be no choice.
We still have a choice now. Firstly, the choice we will not make, which is to shut off coal mines, phase out oil, rely on renewables, less GHG intensive natural gas and – first and foremost – nuclear energy. Do that in conjunction with a massive investment in the global South, helping societies there mitigate the inevitable effects of the warming that will follow the CO2 we already placed in the atmosphere. And just consume less. Way, way less.
Right now, we also have another choice to make: decide what is the threshold of pressure under which we will abandon morality and start sending innocent people, children included, to their death. The Polish government decided the moment to do it is when the first few hundreds turned up on the border and shame on them for doing that.
The girl from the picture below and her family were taken back to the forest by men with guns and forced to the Belorussian side of the border. No one has seen them since; at night, the temperature dropped below zero in North-East Poland last week.
The day when doing such things will be inevitable will likely come, and will come too soon, but it need not be in 2021.