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Syrian Refugee Crisis, Climate Change, and “The Collapse of Western Civilization”

GraceNL's picture

Syrian Refugee Crisis, Climate Change, and “The Collapse of Western Civilization”

 “Then we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why is this happening?’… Because of terrible governance, because of corruption, because of conflict, because of climate change.” – Hillary Clinton, on the Syrian refugee crisis (Ross)

In recent years, climate change has been a much talked about crisis on the political agenda but while it is much talked about not much has been done to stop it. Rather than working towards reducing carbon emissions and developing greener sources of energy, many powerful countries, including the U.S.A and the UK, have chosen to ignore the problem. This inaction has lead to a number of crises that have happened or are on the verge of happening. Since 2008, 161 countries have experienced “environmental disasters, most of them due to weather-related events, [which] have caused mass displacement of people…” (Bawden 5). In Alaska, some towns “’are predicted to be underwater by 2017’”, a result of rising global temperatures which has lead to thawing of “a once permanently frozen layer of subsoil…” which is resulting in the quite literal “washing away” on the land beneath coastal towns (Denchak 2). In northern Africa and the Sahel region desertification and drought has already causes “failed crops, ailing livestock and localized conflicts over resources…” which is “driving residents of Sahel northward to flee poverty” (Baker 2). In Syria, the 2007-2010 drought caused wide spread panic and mass migration to urban centers, resulting in the Syrian conflict and in turn the Syrian refugee crisis.

Already today hundreds-of-thousands of Syrian refugees have migrated to Europe as a result of the conflict in Syria. With poverty, violence, and food and water shortages in Syria, the number of Syrian refugees to enter Europe is only going to increase. The 2007-2010 drought in Syria put major strains on the farming community, decreasing water supply and killing crops and livestock. As a professor at Columbia University said, “Syria was destabilized by 1.5 million migrants from rural communities fleeing a three-year drought that was made more intense and persistent by human-driven climate change…” (Bawden 3). The instability that stemmed from the mass migration to urban centers “’increas[ed] political unrest, and further prim[ed] the country for conflict,’“ said President Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice. This increased environmental disaster mixed with the conflict resulted in the need Syrian refugee crisis.

Today, the Syrian refugee crisis is what is on the publics mind but soon the refugee crisis is going to get a lot worse. Climate change is raising global temperatures resulting in glacial melting and coastal flooding. Climate change in increasing the number and intensity of droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Climate change is changing the way the environment works. “In these circumstances, mass migration will be occurring in many regions of the world, with or without armed conflict” (Bennett 2).

            For years the governments of the world have done little to nothing to stop wide climate change and scientists alone don’t have enough power or money to do anything substantial. If the world continues to act the way it is, ignoring climate change and only focusing on money, the world as we know will end up like the world in “The Collapse of Western Civilization” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

            In “The Collapse of Western Civilization” a scientist from the future is looking back at today’s present and present-future and is discussing the causes and results of the world’s inaction towards climate change. A world where “ 60 to 70 percent of species were driven to extinction” (Oreskes 31). A world where coastal cities became flooded and unlivable, not unlike what is going on the Alaska now. A world that “forced dramatic interventions to relocate citizens displaced by sea level rise and desertification, to contain contagion, and to prevent mass famine” (Oreskes 48). A world not so unlike our own.

            With the Syrian refugee crisis the current world is already experiencing the mass migration talked extensively about in “The Collapse of Western Civilization”, but this may be just the beginning. As in the novella, “if the government continues to move backwards on climate change, then we should get ready for a much bigger refugee crisis before very long” (Bennett 3).


Works Cited

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Bennett, Craig. "Failure to act on climate change means an even bigger refugee crisis." theguardian. N.p., 7 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <


Baker, Aryn. "How Climate Change is Behind the Surge of Migrants to Europe." TIME. N.p., 7 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

Denchak, Melissa. "MAN, ON THE MOVE." onEarth. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

Bawden, Tom. "Refugee crisis: Is climate change affecting mass migration?" INDEPENDENT. N.p., 7 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <     crisis-is-climate-change-affecting-mass-migration-10490434.html>.

Ross, Chuck. "Hillary Ties Syrian Refugee Crisis To Climate Change [VIDEO]." The Daily Caller. N.p., 4 Nov. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <     syrian-refugee-crisis-to-climate-change-video/?print=1>.


Anne Dalke's picture

I'm very glad that you took the imaginative project of Oreskes and Conway and brought it to bear on a current crisis which (I know from what you said in class) affects you emotionally. I'm glad to see evidence of the further reading you did, and the ways in which you've been able to link climate change with human rights abuses. 'Climate refuges' such as those you describe are @ the very center of the field we called 'environmental justice.'

And/yet/but: I don't actually see you in this essay. You conclude by saying that 'In “The Collapse of Western Civilization” a scientist from the future is looking back at today’s present and present-future and is discussing the causes and results of the world’s inaction towards climate change.' But you stop short of saying what it feels like, standing here, today, looking @ the refugee crisis.

One poll reports that 53% of American adults don't want Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S.

And/so: what to do? Where to do from here? How to intervene in this public debate?