Drew Milne: Trumpapocalypse – migration and climate change politics

Children filling water bottles at Al-Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan
Children filling water bottles at Al-Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Photo by Mustafa Bader

Within hours of Donald Trump’s inauguration, his team had deleted the page on climate change from the WhiteHouse.gov website and replaced it with a pledge to drill lots of oil and ditch regulations on the energy industry. Trump pretends to think that the scientific consensus on climate change is a hoax and has declared war on the global climate. What McKenzie Wark has called the Carbon Liberation Front now has a defiant leader.

Amid the myriad threats to the world posed by Trump – not least the risk of nuclear disaster – this is perhaps the most serious. The political challenge is to understand how the denialist politics of climate change unleashed by Trump can be resisted. This also entails confronting the ways in which many or most political struggles are now shaped by global warming. Bridges need to be built between anti-colonial struggles and migration solidarity networks, and between environmentalists and socialists.

Climate change is among the various dynamics underlying Trump’s noxious executive order on immigration. This attack on Muslims has scarcely been disguised by legal posturing, and it has even been argued that the ban may constitute a trial balloon for a coup. But it is important to grasp, too, how the associated geopolitical struggles and the causes of migration relate to global warming.

The dynamics of how climate change migration shaped the Syrian civil war have been misrepresented, but climate change nevertheless played a significant role, driving rural and mountain communities into Syrian cities. In the early moments of the 2011 uprising, new alliances were forged as a result.

Oil is a crucial factor, but there is a longer history of water conflict in Sahelian Africa, and a recent study has suggested that aerosol and greenhouse gases have played a significant role in creating drought conditions there. If true, the severe famines that afflicted Sahelian Africa in the 1970s were not natural disasters or biblical famines, but effects of anthropogenic climate change. Some years later, the paths of US bomb strikes and drone attacks across Africa and the Middle East can be mapped along these zones of aridity.

Understood in this light, the Muslim-majority countries targeted by Trump’s immigration bans – Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen – are not just a random set of geopolitical targets picked out from among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.

The scientific consensus, and indeed the IPCC, recognise that the region of the world in which humans will suffer most severely from global warming is Africa. Despite this, resource conflicts, political instability and the associated migratory trends in Africa are often reduced to colonial formulae involving tribal conflicts, religious differences and corrupt regimes.

The very ecology of Africa is being reshaped by global warming, which is in turn central to the dynamics of modern migration. Resistance to the legacies of colonialism and capitalist models of economic development needs to be linked to resistance to global warming. Both Trump and the apparent desire in the UK for a Fortress Brexit make clear how refugees from the emerging climate wars are likely to be treated, unless we can organise international resistance and alliances around freedom of movement. Solidarity across international social movements is needed to confront the politics of Trumpism and global warming.

The politics of oil, water and human-produced climate change are not yet adequately integrated into analysis and political strategy. Merely local green solutions remain complicit with global climate injustice. What are needed are sustained and sustainable forms of ecosocialist politics, capable of articulating global struggle, from the Dakota pipeline to the Sahelian zone of aridity. Rather than seeing migration politics and environmental politics as separate spheres, we need to grasp the reality that they are deeply intertwined.


Drew Milne





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