Our first, & not our last, climate change refugee at NZ’s barricade

In July of this year, the Supreme Court denied the application of Ioana Teitiota from Kiribati to be granted asylum in Aotearoa New Zealand as a climate change refugee. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said he could not be granted asylum as he was not in danger of harm because Kiribati were taking steps to protect their citizens from the affects of climate change.

Those strategies are a National Environmental Management Strategy that includes “vulnerability assessment and coastal zone management,” identifying gaps in their strategy, accepting development that is environmentally sustainable. Lately they have installed a lot of solar panels. They are also, as a last resort, encouraging planned emigration of their population and raising their qualifications so Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia want their population as skilled migrants.

None of these strategies will stop Kiribati being swamped by rising seas. They are already struggling to grow food crops because of the salination of the soil. Kiribati and other Pacific Islands are going under, they know it, we know it, but we will do nothing about it except lobby and bully for no challenging statements about climate change from Pacific nations.

Our political leaders seem to operate on the mistaken belief that it is best to do nothing. They fail to lead, and are instead led by votes to inaction for a scared majority who sincerely believe we can’t do anything to help others and should protect our way of life first.

We can’t protect our way of life.

uninhabitable planetThis map shows which parts of our plant would be uninhabitable in 2050 if the world was to become 4 degrees warmer. Spoiler alert: the habitable parts are not in yellow. This is a bad scenario, but not even the scientific worse scenario.

This image communicates one simple thing: people all over the world are going to have to move because of climate change.

The first great evacuation is happening before our eyes at the moment. The tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria are of course fleeing a conflict, but that conflict came out of the devastating drought in the region from 2006 to 2011. This put an impossible burden on the rural areas that saw most farms fail and consequently unprecedented numbers of Syrians move into the major cities like Damascus. This influx coincided with the Arab Spring, and the military violence was the actions of a state that had no capacity to respond to the needs of its starving and frustrated population. The refugees in Europe today are the first of many regional evacuations because of the impact of climate change. Climate change creates political and social instability; increasing war and violence is going to become the symptom of the stress on human communities due to the collapse of local environments and ecosystems.

The foolish and violent policies of Hungary to exclude refugees on the basis of fear and some farcical proclamation of a “Christian identity” is the equivalent of some New Zealanders wanting to protect our way of life, just writ large.  It is an impossibility; the numbers will overwhelm your fences, people will clamber over the bodies of those you execute, you won’t be able to read your racist laws as they are trampled by the masses into the mud.

You cannot protect a way of life that relies on excluding the majority of the world from a future for their children.

Ioana Teitiota is the first refugee at our own barricades. But make no mistake, the Pacific Islands will be one of the areas that people will evacuate. They will come to Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. I want to hope that we will respond as Germany has done: opening arms and homes. I suspect that when they come in great numbers, they will expose our ugly, selfish, hateful inhumanity for the world to see. We will barricade our ports and our airports, we will imprison refugees in camps, we will caricature Pacific refugees as violent, subhuman deviants who threaten our families and children.

Germany’s response today comes out of their experience of the collective and communal hate of the Other they expressed or condoned in World War II; they have seen the monster inside, and they have seen its rise, and they do not wish to allow it space to do so again. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we still believe that we are the good guys. We think we are heroes who defeat monsters; so we will be blindsided by the rise of our own monster, and we will be swept along in a tide that will see us commit atrocities we never thought possible in our little islands.

Ioana Teitiota is the first refugee at our own barricades. One day he will tell his grandchildren how lucky he was to get away from our barricades before the violence began.

[The header image is from Widew_Nefarius on comicvine.com]

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