By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Yesterday was one of those days that I learned far more from the commentariat in their comments on my post about climate change and the Oregon wildfire crisis than I conveyed in my text, More than 500,000 People in Oregon Flee Wildfires.
A half a million people have been displaced so far by the wildfire crisis in Oregon alone.
Now, one thing the commentariat emphasised is that wildfires in the Pacific northwest are not a new phenomenon. But prevailing forest management policies have certainly worsened the problem, as has relentless dynamics of climate change.
This is an ongoing crisis in some of the most affluent parts of the country that is supposed to be the richest in the world. This year Oregon and Washington have been caught up in the crisis, as has California, for which wildfires are now an annual scourge.
I juxtaposed this crisis against some reading today in the Guardian, reporting on a study done by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), that concluded that more than 1.2 billion people living in 31 countries are not sufficiently resilient to withstand ecological threats, and could find themselves as involuntary migrants by 2050, according to Climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050, report warns.
Wealthier, more developed regions in Europe and North America face fewer ecological threats and would be better able to cope with them, but most “will not be immune from wider impacts”. The report said 16 countries, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Iceland, faced no threat.
Tell that to the people of the Pacific northwest at the moment.
Alas, ecological catastrophe may prove to be much more devastating to poorer countries, according to the IEP’s Ecological Threat Register, which notes that “19 countries with the highest number of ecological threats are among the world’s 40 least peaceful countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan.”
Over to the Guardian again:
Many of the countries most at risk from ecological threats, including Nigeria, Angola, Burkina Faso and Uganda, are also predicted to experience significant population increases, the report noted, further driving mass displacements.
“This will have huge social and political impacts, not just in the developing world, but also in the developed, as mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries,” Steve Killelea, the institute’s founder, said.
“Ecological threats pose serious challenges to global peace. Over the next 30 years, lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation. In the absence of action, civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase.”
Withstanding Ecological Threats
The study evaluates the exposure of 157 countries to to eight ecological threats, then analyzes their relative resilience to withstand the threat. By 2050, 141 countries will face at least one ecological threat , with the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa those most exposed to the greatest number of threats.
According to the IEP:
- By 2040, a total of 5.4 billion people – more than half of the world’s projected population – will live in the 59 countries experiencing high or extreme water stress, including India and China.
- 5 billion people could suffer from food insecurity by 2050; which is an increase of 1.5 billion people from today.
- The lack of resilience in countries covered in the ETR will lead to worsening food insecurity and competition over resources, increasing civil unrest and mass displacement, exposing developed countries to increased influxes of refugees.
Methodology: Ecological Threat Register
The IEP is trying to predict some of the political consequences that will follow from ecological threats in part caused by climate change:
The Ecological Threat Register analyses risk from population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels. Over the next 30 years, the report finds that 141 countries are exposed to at least one ecological threat by 2050. The 19 countries with the highest number of threats have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, which is around 25 per cent of the world’s total population.
The ETR analyses the levels of societal resilience within countries to determine whether they have the necessary coping capacities to deal with future ecological shocks. The report finds that more than one billion people live in countries that are unlikely to have the ability to mitigate and adapt to new ecological threats, creating conditions for mass displacement by 2050.
The country with the largest number of people at risk of mass displacements is Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia and Iran. Haiti faces the highest threat in Central America. In these countries, even small ecological threats and natural disasters could result in mass population displacement, affecting regional and global security.
Resource Stress Leads to Political Unrest
I point out that these resource threats are already leading to political unrest. India and Pakistan don’t need yet another issue to fight over, as they have gone to war more than once since Partition, with the latest skirmishes occurring just last year.Now, they have been squabbling over the waters of the Indus for a very long time. Water disputes will no doubt continue and indeed accelerate.
Nor do China and India need additional areas to dispute- with stress between the countries exacerbating in recent months. leading to bloodshed. And it comes as no news that China is tying up the waters that flow through the Tibetan plateau, as well as other rivers, such as the Mekong.
The countries judged to be the most vulnerable are the least able to withstand these ecological threats.
I encourage readers to click on the following link, to see which countries the IEP deems the most vulnerable, Overall ETR Score.
Now no surprises among the weakest countries, which include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and India. and other Middle Eastern, and Sub-saharan Africa states.
What stood out, however, was that the United States squarely among the next group of countries. Just as the rest of the world averts its eyes rather than examine closely our COVID-19 record, the wildfire crisis produces a similar response. I point out that such a reaction is not just to the unique US situation. It wasn’t so long ago that the world’s eyes were trained on the Australian wildfire crisis. And Australia is also listed in the same group as the U.S. on the Ecological Threat Register. As are Russia, China, and the Netherlands.
Whereas the next group included Canada, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Spain, and Italy.. As someone who was quite peripatetic in the pre-CoVID-19 universe, this really comes as no shock to me. Whenever I find myself in the US, I am often stunned to see how much the infrastructure has declined. Or rather, how much the rest of the world has caught up.
I would have reproduced the complete list, except to do so includes the flags of each country, making the complete list of around 150 bulky and unwieldy. So I encourage interested readers to go to the link, which includes the full list, as well as an interactive map.
And what we are seeing in Oregon is, from what you have told me, is a combination of a natural historical cycle. Exacerbated by climate change. Made worse by our appetite for living in the wilderness – which may be a consequence of zoning ourselves out of city living space. And made much, much worse by infrastructural decline, and poor forest management.
Yves has mentioned in another context that because the United States is so relatively rich, it’s been able to tolerate high levels of political corruption, and our overpriced, less-than-universal health care system.
COVID-19 has pointed out the flaws in that model.
And, similarly, climate change is testing our infrastructure policies.
The question I think is how seriously wanting it will find us.