How Climate Change (Essentially) Led to the Refugee Crisis

April 6, 2017

Ben & Jerry's: climate change creates refugees

The World Is Getting Smaller

You have to admit, it’s a beautiful thing when you can enjoy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s pretty much wherever you are around the world. Who would have thought that a company that started out in a renovated gas station, in a very small city, in a very small state, could go global?

Thanks to revolutions in technology, transportation, and communication, the world is smaller and more connected than ever before. It’s become easier to move ice cream, and most other things, from continent to continent. And while it’s great that you can get a scoop of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough on most continents, an ever-globalizing world also opens itself to considerable risk. Right now issues like climate change and the refugee crisis are forcing us (citizens and countries alike) to flex our collaborative muscle to get things done.

It’s also becoming clear to us today that seemingly isolated crises are in fact connected. Let’s take a look at how climate change is contributing to the refugee crisis in a substantial way.


From Fertile to Forever Fallow

Some of the impacts of climate change are here for us to see already. Whether it’s larger storms, changing weather patterns, or heat waves, we can’t deny the science: all of this is being influenced by climate change.

Unprecedented droughts across the US, Middle East, and beyond have been putting stress on the world food supply, resulting in added stress on society, and they aren’t showing signs of slowing.

This is a phenomenon called “climate stress,” and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably will soon. It’s a term being given to climate change-related impacts that are driving societal pressures.


Beyond Agriculture

Climate change affects more than food production, of course. Even access to electricity is at risk in places that rely on hydroelectric energy, such as Zambia and the Big Kariba Dam. The dam was a hydroelectric success story that helped lift the Zambian economy, but its output has slowed to just a trickle due to droughts, destabilizing Zambian society.

In the US, research now shows that while most Americans believe that climate change is real, they also don’t believe that it will really harm them. If only believing something made it true! The truth is that people around the US are already being forced from their homes due to climate change. It’s the same story, on a much larger scale, all over the world. 


When It Rains It Pours

If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably seen the unsettling and upsetting pictures of thousands of refugees seeking passage (safe or, more often, not) across the Mediterranean Sea, fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, such as Syria.

Historically, many refugees lived off the land in rural parts of Syria which, if you remember your history, is part of the Fertile Crescent (a crescent shaped piece of lush farmland thanks to the nearby Tigris and Euphrates rivers), where agriculture first took hold. Over the past few decades, the impacts of climate change (as well as government-led damming and wetland-draining projects) have caused drastic drops in water levels in the area, resulting in less desirable farmland, reduced output from farms and, in turn, fewer jobs and less income.

This forced many desperate Syrians to head toward already heavily populated city centers to look for work and support from their government. While it’s a complicated issue with multiple factors, many observers believe that the changing climate spurred on the refugee crisis.

In the words of water-management expert Aaron Wolf, “You had a lot of angry, unemployed men helping to trigger a revolution.”


Take Action Now

When leaders deny climate change, they aren’t merely showing themselves to be anti-science and anti-fact. As we’ve seen, climate change is harming people in this country and all over the world right now. Today. And if those in positions of power refuse to acknowledge that reality and refuse to help, then it’s up to us.

That’s why it’s time to take action! Here’s where a globalized world comes in handy again. No matter where you are, you can make a difference—you can help Avaaz in its fight for 100% renewable energy by 2050. We need to do all we can to mitigate the effects of climate change—for the sake of the environment, and for the sake of those people most vulnerable to its impacts.

As important as that effort is, there are people right now who need our help. We call on our leaders to open our country’s doors to refugees from all over the world. And we ask you to join us in supporting the International Rescue Committee to aid all those fleeing conflict.