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Climate change, the refugee crisis and the development of alternative energies: causal connections between environmental challenges and migration movements

Migration has many causes. Next to economic refugees and those fleeing from war and hunger we see political and religious refugees who seek better conditions in other countries than their home country. All three factors – politics, religion and economics – are closely intertwined: a refugee coming from Syria, for instance, has often humanitarian, economic, political and religious reasons for fleeing his country. The same goes for many migrants who come from the African continent or those fleeing from natural disasters. There rarely is one single factor for leaving a country in direction of another. It is above all the idea of democracy, human rights and freedom aspirations that seems to influence people´s decision, even if in some cases unconsciously, to move and migrate. The connection between the development of electrical cars and climate change or between destruction and refugee movements, however, is not necessarily obvious at first sight. I.e. even if not everyone experiencing war necessarily leaves his home country or even if not every electrical car produced will directly have an effect on the climate conditions, one can detect certain trends during certain periods. For instance, we are living through a phase in which the development of alternative energies seems to have passed its zenith: much money had been invested and a lot of technology explored with, however, poor results. Yet, some countries have introduced quota in order to promote the selling of electrical cars and therefore one can hope that electrical cars will probably be more numerous in the future. Germany is still discussing such a move as it seems that through the production of electrical cars many jobs in the automotive industry, on which rests a big portion of Germany´s exports, would get lost.

At present, we are also witnessing an exponential rise of the world population and the greatest migration movement since the Second World War. Most commentators seem to agree on this. With the push-and-pull-model one can better understand the phenomenon: the push factors in the origin countries such as war, hunger and instability draw the migrants towards the immigration countries through the pull factors such as jobs, housing, freedom promises, social benefits, more participation in the long run and consumption. However, it has to be noted that migration is not only the movement from one country or continent to another, but takes place also from one town or village to another. This kind of migration is as yet very poorly understood, as most people rather take a global perspective on the phenomenon. In Germany, for instance, the East is less populated than the West as many companies had their origin where the coal and steel industries were first built up, although they also have their dependencies outside these centres by now. Migration within one country due to lack of jobs in villages and the countryside has considerably added to the environmental problems that we are faced with at present as commuting, for instance, burns a lot of fossile energies. Migration is also closely linked to the issue of poverty and the lack of education. Therefore, a new study has to take all these factors into account when analysing the phenomenon.

The knowledge production within the humanities on the topic of „climate change and migration“ has to consider several factors. These can only be properly analysed if one introduces the category of „power“. In academic writing the concept of power has been widely employed in order to explain scopes of action and the freedom of decision-making. It was among others Michel Foucault who has shown that power is not something that only rulers or governments possess, but also the so-called “common man”. “Power” was explained as an open concept that could change the course of action in considerable degree. One has to ask who is in power where and when the coordinates within the power matrix do change? Are the subjected who sometimes turn into dictators truly powerless and is terrorism their only response? Why do prevention programmes which, in fact, are used far too reluctantly not lead to the desired effects such as de-radicalising the culprits of attacks and destructions? How come they often seem better organized or networked than the great powers such as the US, some European countries or Russia and their secret and intelligence services? Are they more intertwined than we would like to believe or are secret services merely doing a bad job? Who is supporting whom in this power game with which outcome and why do governments often seem so powerless when it comes to arresting terrorists or persons at risk to get radical? Are right- and left-wing populists right when they say that governments, states and secret services work against the interests of the citizens they are supposed to protect by law? Is security in a migration context possible or is freedom more important for a well-functioning society? What is the true conflict of interests here beyond what the media broadcasts day in and day out, i. e. the religious conflict lines along the three big denominations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Hinduism, Shikism and Buddhism playing a rather minor role in this broadcasting). Is the conflict rather of a religious or an economic nature and in how far does religion reflect the economic agenda and development? Is religion merely economics with its dogma of monetary, psychic and societal success?

We also have to deal with new categories which only came up during the modern age such as „races“, for instance. Thus, during the modern and postmodern age there has been an orientation more along differences than along common traits and interests. Religious divisions into denominations and sects and nationalistic interests have further divided society rather than uniting it around the challenges of the postmodern age. Mainly Christianity´s, Judaism´s and political Islam´s confrontation have led to so many wars that one can barely speak of a peaceful age, although in many people´s perception, mainly in Western societies, though, we have probably lived through the longest peace period ever witnessed since the Second World War. This distorted perception was the result of a lot of media manipulation that right-wing radicals, for instance, have tried to exploit in order to herald the age of the end of social market democracies as we know them. The rise of political Islam has been taken to mean that Western societies have failed in their attempts to tame the wild nature of Islamists who are disappointed by unkept promises or are simply led by the revenge for the fact that Islam´s zenith seems over as far as its contributions to inventions, progress, liberalism, economic prosperity or modernity in general are concerned (although this could be disputed when looking at the great number of wealth producing entrepreneurs of Muslim origin and many liberal minded Muslims).

The rise of terrorist organizations such as Al Kaida, Boko Haram, Al Nusra, Islamic State and others, which are mainly characterized by their brutality and intolerance towards so-called non-believers, has been seen as the result of a failed US or Western foreign policy which was led more by “divide et impera” than my unifying concepts or true co-operation. Again, it was the dependency on oil, in which the Kurds play a major role, and massive drug consumption which have been the main reasons for this kind of policy-making that seemed to be led more by the interests of the energy sector and the chemical and weapons industry than by the premisses of democracy or true political liberalism. The failed states became legion, above all in Northern Africa and the Near East, and one developing country after another queued up in line for being rebuilt. So far it looks like these rebuilding attempts are another failure of foreign policy concepts that are rarely guided by sustainability, but rather by short-term profits, quick military successes and competition over competences. In today´s migration contexts questions on the right of asylum have to be raised, too, as many politicians would like to restrict it given the high number of applicants among which are also economic refugees. Under the Geneva convention of 1949, however, anyone fleeing from war has the right to get shelter and protection.

Many studies on climate change are controversially discussed. Scholars are divided over the question how vital the topic of global warming presently is and whether it is not simply a normal development when compared to earlier phases of human history and, for that matter, the development of our planet. The same goes for migration: have human beings not always migrated to more hospitable and friendly areas? With growing population numbers and increasing migration the topic, however, remains high on the agenda. This is so because the issue of the energy supply remains to be solved with a view to a more secure future. Alternative energies are increasingly tested in order to find out whether they can truly replace the traditional ones since the former are considered to be less effective and more dependent on the weather situation than the latter. Solar energy was a big concern, but most companies had to admit that they had no chance against the big energy suppliers which dominate the energy market with oil, coal, gas and other traditional resources that diminish the more the world population grows. Germany had introduced the charcoal penny once as a subsidy and in the meantime the energy suppliers are working on new technologies in order to find ways to resolve not only the question of sufficient supply, but also of how to prevent more damage to our environment. Are we witnessing an age of increased artificial intelligence meanwhile that could not only dramatically change labour and consumer markets and their conditions (it, in fact, already has), but also determine with which kind of energy resources we will have to deal with in the future?

With the rise of third world and developing countries the problem has become more virulent. More people want to have a share of modernity´s promises such as jobs, secure and warm housing and consumption. Meanwhile the energy sector has become very globalized. Different companies are competing over increasingly narrower market shares while the climate is more and more heating up. In some countries there is no doubt that environmental standards are much higher (for example in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the US or Scandinavian countries - just to name a few) than in others (for example on the African continent, Russia, China, India, Brazil or Turkey). Global players have recognized not merely since the Paris climate summit that one of the overall aims should be to harmonize environmental standards as clean water in one country, for instance, easily gets polluted by dirtier water in other countries as water flows within a circular and not a closed system. Also, some countries have agreed not to trespass the two-grade-rule, i.e. to push annual global warming under two centigrades. Will this solve the problems that we are confronted with?

Be it coal, carbon dioxide or oil – all three contribute to the pollution of the air, the soil, food and the water in considerable degree. The manipulation within the automotive industry further suggests that our environment is more polluted than the statistics on exhaust emissions really show. Is it an option for refugees therefore to come to the West or to Europe in order to build up a more secure future for themselves and their families? What about migration within Third World countries? Some diseases that are due to industrial pollution, for instance, are coming back or are on the rise because we still have not completely solved the problems that have come along with the industrial age. One of the biggest problems remains the access to clean water. Meanwhile some technicians have invented the method of fracking. Fracking is a very advanced technology, but its negative effects on the ground water are undisputed among many environmental activists. Some countries, however, have already started to use this technology despite all the protest of critics.

A further problem is the question of the radioactive waste storage. Germany has meanwhile made an important move by deciding to discontinue the use of atomic energy. But as yet there are no suitable storage places in sight. The atomic energy companies are now bound by contract to participate in the costs of the storage since they have made billions of profits thanks to the commercialisation of nuclear energy. But whether this will be sufficient in order to cover all expected costs remains to be seen. The advantage of nuclear energy has long been seen in its more environmentally-friendly effects compared to oil or coal. However, after the accident in Fukushima there has been a change of mentality as far as security aspects are concerned. It has taken a great catastrophe until politicians have realized that security should be the biggest concern next to health. However, too many security measures endanger our freedom to move and to decide. This kind of mindset is guided by the insight that there is no security to be had without being accompanied by freedom. Many critics agree that terrorists will have attained their aim if we start restricting long held traditions of political liberalism that in turn, however, has produced many of the problems that we encounter in a globalized world today.

The freedom of choice should play an important role in so far as as to guarantee that citizens can still make choices that are best and more accommodating: why should consumers not have the choice to decide whether they prefer atomic energy, energy gained through oil and coal or, in fact, alternative and environmentally friendly energy resources if these are better for their health? The factor of costs and the unreliability of weather conditions, however, thwart the intended results. Even though one of democracy´s and capitalism´s promises has always been the concept of more freedom as compared to dictatorial regimes both political systems do restrict our freedom of choice increasingly. The challenge is to preserve democracy and the rule of law and to enact more progress by finding real and sustainable solutions to modernity´s problems while at the same time ensuring that populism can not gain more ground. With the idea of the Brexit, Britain will probably accelerate migration movements of citizens who fear disadvantages as soon as the Brexit has become reality while at the same time hindering migrants from Europe and beyond to enter the country. Both developments will have considerable effects on the economy and will enhance Britain´s old "special relationship" with the US. The recently enacted US President Donald Trump´s decision to forbid immigration of Muslims from seven countries has just been declared illegal by a federal judge in Seattle, however, because it violates the US constitution. It also endangers the aim of more security as a ban will be taken as a provocation by Islamistic terrorists. Furthermore, building a greater wall against Mexico will not solve the problem of illegal immigration as people will find ways to bypass the wall. The "special relationship" with Britain, thus, is based on an age old tradition that both sides, the US and Britain, would like to see revived by talking of free trade for the world, but actually meaning protectionism to the advantage of these two countries. Would Germany or Europe apply the same kind of punitive tariff duties to the US, however, they could not gain any economic advantage through this measure.

Climate change will remain on the agenda, that much one can already say. The difference to the past is that today we have many more experts working on nothing else than on developing new technologies. However, it is mainly lobbyists who block fundamental change as they value profits more than health, even though they can also be forerunners for progress. This, in fact, is one of the fundamental contradictions within capitalist systems that are able to provide high medical standards on the one hand, while endangering these very standards through the support of questionable methods for gaining energy, for instance, on the other. One further contradiction is the promise of equality, human rights and freedom while not truly and always securing equal wage for women, foreigners and refugees. "Cheap labour" remains attractive to entrepreneurs and therefore one can suspect that one of the reasons that Germany, for instance, had opened its borders to many refugees was the prospect of economic prosperity. But this again seems like a typical circular system´s default: only by ensuring contradictions and inequalities there remains room for action and profits and many more jobs can thus be created (for example in the field of social work or in the security sector). Also, some observers point at the fact that Angela Merkel´s motive in letting refugees in was guided by the intention to prevent ugly pictures of German police trying to withstand refugees, given that Germany´s historic past does not allow for any misunderstandings in this respect.

Finally, the question of genetically modified food has to be raised. Migration is an expression of dissatisfaction with one´s own living situation and the adaptation problems it entails are not always easy to solve. Where the cause is hunger, one can clearly see that ways to find solutions are being explored. One is charitable donations, but they do not eradicate the root of the problem. More sustainability is being hoped for, in contrast, by producing genetically modified food in order to increase the quantity of food to feed the whole world population. Yet again, the health aspect is often being neglected. Historically speaking, one has to ask whether people in past times already posed such questions? Did the Indians in North America, for instance, already raise questions that dealt with climate change and did they have remedies against it? Many First Nations have raised the awareness for our responsibility for the environment and some of their ideas have since long entered the political debate and discourse, even though many were rather smiling at some of their attitudes than taking them seriously.

Power, oppression and violence have shaped human interaction since its inception. Competition over territories, manpower and resources were their main reasons. All three factors have a considerable influence on individual as well as collective behaviour. This could very well be observed during the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015, but also during the attack in Nice later that same year and lately during a suicide attack on a Christmas fair in Berlin. Turkey above all has been struck very heavily by violent attacks due to a government which is caught between two antagonistic frontlines (the West and Islamic countries, although one can no longer draw a clear line between the two). Many citizens got the impression that violence was one of man´s inalterable characteristics and that it has left its mark like an anthropological constant through human history. Yet, this seems like a wrong perception because human behaviour is conditioned by fears that often have their origin in religious and political manipulation. It is clear, however, that defence mechanisms like the NATO have to remain in action in order to have effective security measures. Yet, as soon as violence, battles or war set in motion, human intelligence, empathy in order to get along with one´s alter ego and the truth seem to be the first victims. So, what needs to be done to reverse these conditionings in order to have the chance to build up a worthwhile future rather than one incessantly being shaped by war and destruction? To see migration as being intertwined with climate change, climate change in turn with the refugee crisis and the energy question with the question of how to attain sustainability is what needs to be explored. How has mankind dealt with the question of energy supply historically? Why has this led to wars which seemed so inevitable and yet were probably preventable? Are we witnessing a new age of successful alternative technologies and energy resources that have the potential to end all wars and therefore also bring massive migration to a standstill? The United Nations climate summit held in Paris, for instance, has to be critically reviewed as to its intended aims. Are they sufficient to build up a more secure future and to curtail the effects of migration?

In order to analyse these factors, one first has to be aware that the production of knowledge and so-called facts has traditionally been a privilege of elites among which corruption was widespread. During Antiquity it were mainly philosophers who analysed the phenomena of nature and the cosmos and the characteristics of man. In turn, it were monks, archivists, librarians, historians, journalists and scientists who made many attempts to later conserve this knowledge for future generations. They also tried to classify knowledge which has brought about new ideas on systems, human races and animal types (animal rights, for instance, have also become ever more important in the modern age and they raise questions as to their lodging and treatment). In sociology, economics and the historical sciences theories and models have been developed in order to explain human progress (or backlashes for that matter). Peter Weingart10, for instance, has analysed the characteristics of today´s knowledge production and discovered that universities have widely lost their privileged positions while a complicated network of research institutes, government agencies, secret services, industrial laboratories (among them also secret ones), think tanks and consulting firms all participate in knowledge production and alleged „fact creation“. In contrast to knowledge production of ancient times, the modern one is no longer devoted to analysing the laws of nature, but rather concrete application contexts with a view to the advantage to be gained for a certain client or peer group, for instance. The results of such research are no longer solely communicated through institutional channels, but through the participants of the research process themselves. Furthermore, science and research become accountable and truly reflexive. Thus, science is confronted with changed legitimation pressures. Its orientation is along social norms and values and political aims as well as the media which have to be questioned, too. Therefore, any migration study has to take into account that we no longer do science in a reference-free environment, but that its results and findings find direct application within policy schemes and electoral campaigns. Right-wing and left-wing populists therefore are on the rise because the population is looking for quick solutions, identifications and easy answers which this topic, however, can not provide given its intertwined logics and dependencies. Whenever politicians have promised to find solutions, many of the problems got worse and progress in terms of security and freedom came about only very slowly or not at all. On the other hand, it is clear that in functioning democracies the responsibility is not solely politicians´ alone.

Migration has always been a hot topic because it unites most of the issues that mankind has witnessed right from its start on the planet. Mentalities, expectations and aggressions have shaped the course of action and only rarely reason or logic with a sustainable outcome. The task of scientists therefore is to continue the age of enlightenment right into the 22nd century in order to bring about better living conditions for a majority of people who are willing to participate in modernity´s promises and often extraordinary designs.

Devrim Karahasan (January 2017)