The TIME website headline said: “What You Need to Know About the E.U.’s Refugee Crisis.” It was, of course, a follow-on to the deaths Sunday of nearly a thousand desperate refugees whose boat capsized off the coast of Libya, on its way to Italy. It was one of a series of accidents that killed 3,500 last year and 1,500 so far this year, a fatality rate that testifies to the size of the human tsunami that is crashing into the south coast of Europe. All we have are guestimates of the size, but one of them places the current flow at 10,000 per week.
So what, in TIME’s considered judgment, do we need to know about this rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis? First of all, as the headline attests, that the crisis is “Europe’s Refugee Crisis,” as if the worst thing about it is the inconvenience of having all these starving people coming into one’s country.
TIME lays the rest of it out in orderly succession:
Where do they come from? “mostly from North African and West Asian countries like Yemen, Nigeria, Gambia, Syria and Libya, to name a few.” One survivor of Sunday’s disaster was from Bangladesh. All of these countries have one thing in common, unmentioned by TIME.
Where are they going? North. Anywhere north of where they are. Seeking, in TIME’s delicate phrase, “better employment opportunities.” In the sense that a starving man staggers out of the desert in search of improved dining opportunities. A sense of perspective is important, don’t you think?
Why are they going? This of course is the heart of the matter, because refugees are not so much going toward, as they are fleeing from. From what? TIME has the answer. “Poverty or violent conflict.”
Oh. But wait. There has been poverty and violent conflict, as well as totalitarian repression, in North Africa and the Middle East since before the Bible found a publisher, so why are there human waves of refugees now? Why has the influx into southern Europe gone from huge last year to awe-inspiring this year? What else could be going on? You won’t find it in TIME.
You can find it on page 34 of a 2013 study by the Center for American Progress titled The Arab Spring and Climate Change:
“Much of the Middle East and North Africa will face drier winters, diminishing freshwater runoff, and dwindling groundwater resources as the century progresses. Overall, approximately 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity during the 21st century, and coastal agricultural zones around the Mediterranean will face erosion and salinization of freshwater sources. These changing environmental conditions will likely increase pressure on traditional livelihoods such as farming, fishing, and herding, rendering them unsustainable in the most-affected areas.”
Every country from which these unfortunate people come is suffering from water shortages (or in the case of Bangladesh too much water from an implacably rising sea), crop failures, drought and desertification, and these are the things that have given rise (or at least contributed mightily) to poverty and armed conflict, in some cases the disintegration of government.
This is what we need to know about those refugees: they are climate refugees. The worst, most dystopian predictions of the worst-case climate-change predictions are coming true before our eyes and all we need to know about them, in the words of a magazine that once set the world’s standards for journalism, is that they are seeking better employment opportunities.