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The Forum > Article Comments > Climate Refugees: the hidden cost of climate change > Comments

Climate Refugees: the hidden cost of climate change : Comments

By Stephanie Long and Cam Walker, published 20/6/2005

Stephanie Long and Cam Walker argue we need to think now about how we deal with environmental refugees.

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"embarrassed to be an Australian"? Why now, for the past 200 years there has been no shortage of reasons for embarrassment. Don't filter history - acknowledge unsavoury elements ; and the many which were excellent.

"Climate refugees" is just the most ominous of a host of categories. It is not new, having been around since Homo sapiens expanded from Africa; a historically notable lot were the Germanic tribes that were forced into confrontation with Rome.

Awesome! But "climate refugee" should not currently be the pre-eminent concern. Rather, consider it a subset of the exponential growth phenomenon. How does humanity expect to survive as a species when it disregards mathematics - That developed from building blocks assembled by our Arab brothers? We live in a finite world, yet do not face up to the impossibility of exponential growth forever.

The planet suffered the imprint from less than a quarter of a billion people at the time of the Roman Empire; two centuries ago it was 0.8; one century past, 2.5; today about 6.5 billion and rising fast. Such expansion has been at the expense of the very environmental resources upon which we depend: So starkly evident in those areas from where social tensions, malnutrition and outright starvation, and disease, currently manifest themselves distressingly. Yet those are the very areas where populations are increasing most rapidly.

We can best help climate refugees by assisting them confront their own problems of population expansion within their home nations. It would be an act of compassion that is effective. Hopefully even the 10,000 people on little Tuvalu might refrain from doubling their numbers in a generation or two. Trying to devote our entire resources towards an Australian refuge for all them might provide a warm inner glow for some here, but would be a futile gesture at the expense of everyone's tomorrow. And we should face up to our climate obligations.

The sad problem of "Climate Refugees" has to be viewed in the totality of Frank Fenner's Guest Opinion in today's Canberra Times, titled "Humans can survive but not at the current rate".
Posted by colinsett, Monday, 20 June 2005 1:39:49 PM
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In this whole debate there are two points that are so fundamental that I am surprised they are not acknowledged.

The first is that unless the problem of population growth, mainly in the undeveloped world, is addressed, ALL other responses will be futile.

The second is how fortunate we are to have a sea boundary. This means that we will be able to stop the flood of refugees more easily.
Posted by plerdsus, Monday, 20 June 2005 8:41:16 PM
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Australia has a carrying capacity of about 20 million people. 25 million if we decentralise away from major cities to even out water usage concentrations.

New zealand has a carrying capacity about the same as the UK, 60 million, due to it's mountains and consequent fresh water supplies.

The laws of thermodynamics as applied to human populations predict that allowing climate refugees to enter Australia will result in consumption outstripping resources in an unmanageable way. That is the definition of chaos and no matter whether we are afflicted with
soft hearted, thick headed weakness or with uneducated, we have the knowledge to break the laws of thermodynamics and physics, hubris, the results will still be the same. CHAOS. And the losers in chaotic situations are not 'tough as nails' refugees. The losers are always the weak, soft hearted and hubristic do-gooders who haven't got the intelligence to know the difference between kindness and true intellectual and physical strength.

In the meantime, New Zealand will need to structure a management plan if it chooses to accept up to 50 million refugees. Even though that country can support that number, the ramifications of such a massive change in culture and power will be difficult to control and effectively manage.

Might I suggest that before people who get that warm cosy feeling at the prospect of inviting climate refugees to Australia voice their opinions that they visit the local abbatoir and see what it is, thermodynamically speaking, that really makes our society kick along.
Posted by KAEP, Monday, 20 June 2005 10:33:42 PM
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Funny that - in my little town the local abbatoir employs several former refugees in the production of halal mutton.

While colinsett is of course correct that exponential growth of the human population (and by implication of production and markets) is unsustainable, I doubt that - short of some kind of global Armageddon - growth will slow appreciably in the short to medium term.

Instead, we will witness an inevitable increase in the movement of people around the globe, as those who are displaced by climate change, warfare and the other detrimental effects of economic globalisation move to more opportune places. I see it as a case of chickens coming home to roost in the West, actually.

And of course we in Western nations that have routinely exploited the developing world to further our own economic and social development will bemoan the fact, and try vainly to stem the tide.
Posted by garra, Tuesday, 21 June 2005 10:31:06 AM
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Well letís hope climate change (as distinct from specific human induced climate change) continues in the way it is where the increased glacier melt is offset by the increasing thickness of the East - Antarctica ice sheet, which holds 80% of worlds water in ice form I think that is the right figure. That is from a recent report using NASA satellite measurements. In fact since global dimming reduced sun light reaching the Earth surface and pollution in the west is being addressed (Europe is currently seeing now a rise in sunlight) more evaporation from more sunlight will lead to more snow-fall and hence potentially offset sea level rise. That is a guess based on my limited knowledge.

Also I agree that Australia should look at CO2 address but since a small but not insignificant amount of emissions is from the mining/smelting and power generation which generate the raw material other countries i.e. China, India etc use it is obvious end users should pay since there would not be the emissions if others did not buy. I think the lifecycle of the material /equipment must be considered in what portion of emission is truly allocated to what country/region. Or we could let others China, India etc set up their own industry and hopefully use the best environmental and safety practices for their workers to then generate the materials. Hmm!
Posted by The Big Fish, Tuesday, 21 June 2005 1:42:17 PM
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AND

And Australia should look at the alternative energy generation such as the 10x500 MW Nuclear power stations/50000+ x1MW wind turbines/god knows how many kilometres square of solar panels to help us on the way. And obviously the energy to build those energy generators is taken into account. Including the land used for these.

Thatís if Human induced global climate change has a significant part in climate change. I still cannot get my head around the fact most greenhouse gas is in fact water and natural CO2, volcano and biomass generated, and humans have a pretty small portion in comparison? But anyway that is for people with more time on their hands to analyse and theorise.

As to population I think you will find that the UN has recently revise down the population growth and final level to under 10 billion (I think - I cannot find the report on this just yet)
Posted by The Big Fish, Tuesday, 21 June 2005 1:42:54 PM
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