THE EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES UPON BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY
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THE EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES UPON BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY John Cairns, Jr. PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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THE EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES UPON BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A. June 2010.

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THE EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES UPON BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY John Cairns, Jr.

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The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

THE EFFECT OF ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES UPON BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY

John Cairns, Jr.

University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus

Department of Biological Sciences

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A.

June 2010


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

ENVIROMENTAL REFUGEES ARE CREATED WHEN SOME PART OF THE BIOSPHERE CHANGES AND BECOMES INHOSPITABLE OR THE CARRYING CAPACITY OF THE REGION IS EXCEEDED.

  • Protecting biospheric health and integrity in all areas of the planet is an effective, long-term strategy to reduce the number of environmental refugees.

  • Nations usually do what is perceived to be in their own best interest.

  • When environmental refugees arrive in a region, they will probably harm the biosphere of that region.

  • Most people prefer to stay where they are if the regional biosphere does not deteriorate. Smith1 quotes Glenn Albrecht as saying: “People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.”

  • Enabling potential refugees to stay in their own country should be a good investment, unless the indigenous people have continued adverse effects upon the regional biosphere.


Illustrative factors generating environmental refugees

ILLUSTRATIVE FACTORS GENERATING ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES

  • Desertification is expanding deserts and engulfing agricultural or grazing lands.

  • Exponential population growth ignores regional carrying capacity.

  • Droughts or floods are caused by dramatic changes in rainfall patterns and increased percentage of impervious surfaces (e.g., roofs, parking lots).

  • Sea level rise and increased impact from storm surges are damaging formerly habitable areas.

  • Ice barriers that previously protected coastal areas are being lost (e.g., in Alaska).

  • Increased temperatures favor geographic expansion of both diseases and invasive species.

  • Melting glaciers increase variability of river flow.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

EACH TIME HUMANKIND REACHES A BIOSPHERIC TIPPING POINT, THE EFFECT SHOULD BE EQUIVALENT TO HITTING A SPEED BUMP WITH AN AUTOMOBILE – A WARNING.

  • Ignoring warnings ensures that the number of environmental refugees will increase – rapidly at times and in the millions.

  • Ignoring warnings is due both to a massive, well financed disinformation campaign2 and the comparatively long lag time required for major social change.

  • Unfortunately, the poor, third-world nations are presently suffering much more from the effects of climate change than the wealthy, developed nations.

  • However, the most attractive places for environmental refuges are the wealthy nations.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

AS DAMAGE TO THE BIOSPHERE WORSENS, THE VARIABILITY OF ITS ECOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES WILL INCREASE, MAKING MORE PROBLEMS FOR THE ATTEMPTS BY HOMO SAPIENS TO ADJUST.

  • Major climate changes are irreversible; consequently, environmental refugees will not return to the country from which they migrated.

  • In 2009, the ecological overshoot was 40%, which means 1.4 Earths would be needed to support present, unsustainable practices (http://www.footprintnetwork.org).

  • The planet should prepare for 500 million refugees (peopleandplantet.nt1).

  • Environmental refugees are desperate people with nothing to lose.


What will the new host nation do about the now permanent residents

WHAT WILL THE NEW “HOST” NATION DO ABOUT THE NOW PERMANENT RESIDENTS?

  • All the refugees will need food, water, shelter, medical attention, police protection, education, and sanitation.

  • Financing will be problematic – the refugees will probably be destitute.

  • If citizens of the “host” nation share their resources, significantly less resources per capita will be available for the original citizens.

  • Should protecting natural capital (the biosphere) be preserved for future generations instead of using it to help refugees?


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

SHOULD REFUGEES BE EXPECTED TO FOLLOW THE CULTURAL NORMS OF THE “HOST” NATION OR SHOULD THEY BE PERMITTED TO RETAIN THEIR OWN CULTURAL NORMS?

  • Cultural identities are already an unresolved problem in many host nations that regard the cultural norms of refugees as a threat.

  • A nation’s culture is the core of its identity, which might be lost if “diluted.”

  • On the other hand, a culture many be lost if the refugees are not permitted to retain their own norms.

  • The situation of people living in misery in a crowded refugee camp is an ideal point of origin for pandemic disease, which would decrease the security of the host nation.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

IF BOTH THE “HOST” NATION AND THE REFUGEES ARE TO STAY WITHIN THE REGION’S CARRYING CAPACITY FOR HUMANS, POPULATION CONTROL WILL BE ESSENTIAL.

  • The issue of population control has never been popular and is generally fiercely resisted.

  • Population control would require major cultural adjustments for both the citizens of the host nation and the refugees.

  • Nothing else could provoke religious, cultural, or individual outrage that even the mention of the issue of population control does.

  • However, on a finite planet, perpetual exponential population growth is simply not sustainable.

  • Should population control be left to starvation, disease, and death?


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF POPULATION CONTROL IS TO REDUCE THE MISERY RESULTING FROM THE POPULATION INCREASING FASTER THAN RESOURCES ON A FINITE PLANET.

  • Environmental refugees increase the demand for all types of environmental and social services but not the supply.

  • Decreasing natural capital (i.e., the biosphere) to help refugees may be viewed as an act of compassion in the short term. However, leaving a habitable planet for future generations yet unborn is a long-term act of compassion.

  • Deciding between the two choices is not easy, especially since one choice is close in time and distance while the other is remote in both.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

IF HUMANKIND’S GOAL IS TO PRESERVE THE BIOSPHERIC LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS, ACTIONS THAT APPEAR TO LACK COMPASSION WILL BE NECESSARY.

  • Nations with an ecological overshoot that accept any environmental refugees will damage further their regional component of the biospheric life support system.

  • Citizens of nations with ecological overshoot are at risk of becoming environmental refugees.

  • Actions that appear noble and compassionate will adversely affect future generations if the health and integrity of the biospheric life support system is impaired.

  • However, environmental refugees can be helped without impairing the biospheric life support system if citizens are prepared to reduce markedly fossil fuel and renewable resource consumption.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

ALL HUMANS HAVE A STAKE IN PRESERVING BIOSPHERIC HEALTH AND INTEGRITY, BUT CONVINCING HUMANKIND WILL NOT BE EASY.

  • Nurturing the biosphere will require a sense of global community unprecedented in human history.

  • The most formidable obstacle to nurturing would be an increased number and ferocity of resource wars that have occurred throughout human history, although they have frequently been misidentified as wars for other reasons – ethnic, religious, etc.

  • Resource wars markedly reduce resources available for civilian use and usually damage portions of the biosphere.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

SOCIETAL COLLAPSE IS OFTEN SWIFT AND “UNEXPECTED” BECAUSE THE ILLUSION OF STABILITY ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO ACT AS IF THE THINGS THEY TAKE FOR GRANTED AND DEPEND UPON WILL ALWAYS BE THERE.

  • There have been numerous examples, even in the 21st century, of how fragile social and ecological systems can be: the earthquake in Haiti, the global financial meltdown, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the debt in the European Union.

  • Even Earth’s climate is no longer as dependable as it once was due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Although combustion of fossil fuels is altering Earth’s climate irreversibly, many people and corporations strongly resist changing to alternative, non-carbon sources of energy (e.g., solar, wind).

  • Most of humankind’s practices (e.g., exponential population growth) are not environmentally cost free and failure to face that reality will produce millions of environmental refugees.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

AMONG THE THREATS TO THE BIOSPHERE ARE EIGHT INTERACTIVE GLOBAL CRISES: HUMAN ECONOMY, CLIMATE CHANGE, EXPONENTIAL HUMAN POPULATION GROWTH, ECOLOGICAL OVERSHOOT, BIOTIC IMPOVERISHMENT AND REDUCTION OF BIODIVERSITY, RENEWABLE RESOURCE DEPLETION, ENERGY ALLOCATION, AND ENVIROMENTAL REFUGEES.3

  • Since all eight of these crises are interactive, a worsening situation in any one of the areas would probably increase the number of environmental refugees and have adverse effects on one or more of the other seven.

  • Conversely, reducing the urgency of the crisis in any of the areas would reduce the threat of an environmental refugee crisis.

  • A probable benefit of the interactions is that more attention might be given to the entire system, as well as the biosphere.


Failed states pose a special problem since they are at high risk and lack stability 4

FAILED STATES POSE A SPECIAL PROBLEM SINCE THEY ARE AT HIGH RISK AND LACK STABILITY.4

  • Failed states are nations that are most likely to produce substantial numbers of environmental refugees.

  • Failed states are also candidates as sources of pandemic disease.

  • Since the global ecological overshoot is 40%, any aid will result in more hardship if the overshoot is not eliminated and aid is given to a significant number of failed states.

  • The basic problem is one of both ethics and balancing risks.


Reducing the conditions that produce environmental refugees is a formidable task

REDUCING THE CONDITIONS THAT PRODUCE ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEESIS A FORMIDABLE TASK.

  • The default position – doing nothing – could easily result in millions, even billions, of deaths.

  • Humane reduction of the human population to match Earth’s carrying capacity must begin now.


No individual or nation can escape the deleterious effects of runaway climate change

NO INDIVIDUAL OR NATION CAN ESCAPE THE DELETERIOUS EFFECTS OF RUNAWAY CLIMATE CHANGE.


The effect of environmental refugees upon biospheric health and integrity john cairns jr

Acknowledgments. I am indebted to Darla Donald for transcribing the handwritten draft and for editorial assistance in preparation for publication and to Valerie Sutherland for converting it to Power Point.

References

1Smith, D. B. 2010 Is there an ecological unconscious? New York Times 31Jan http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/

magazine/31ecopsych-t.html

2Hoggan, J. 2009. Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Greystone Books, Vancouver, Canada.

3Cairns, J. Jr. 2010. Threats to the biosphere: eight interactive global crises. Journal of Cosmology 8:19-6-1915.

4 Failed States Index. 2009. The Fund for Peace, Washington, DC. http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php.


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