The coming earthquake is deadly climate change – New York Daily News – New York Daily News
This month, my home country — Turkey — and our neighbor — Syria — were struck by apocalyptic earthquakes. A monumental disaster which has so far killed more than 50,000, injured and traumatized tens of thousands more, and displaced almost six million.
Like many Turks and Syrians, I’ve been touched by the world’s response. We received aid from ordinary citizens — and the largest global bodies. That included millions in assistance, relief, and rescue, with the international community feeling like a genuine community.
But what is occurring in Turkey and Syria is only a glimpse of what is to come. In the past decade, global migrant flows have doubled, and by 2050, up to a billion of our fellow human beings are at risk of displacement from the looming climate disaster.
You read that correctly: One billion.
Although, unlike what happened in southern Anatolia, this would strike the whole planet — with almost one in eight people wrenched from their homes.
Nobody, nowhere, is entirely shielded. Which is why everyone, everywhere, must act.
Perhaps for many this doesn’t quite feel possible. Yet, climate change has displaced three times more people than armed conflicts in the last 15 years, but these tend to be overlooked for reasons of class, distance, even bias: Thus far, most of the climate refugees are sub-Saharan African or Middle Eastern and North African.
They often come from widely dismissed regions, meaning the real reasons for their forced displacement are ignored, allowing arguments rooted in bigotry and stereotypes to proliferate.
While, yes, the initial impacts of climate change have fallen more severely on countries that are already more vulnerable due to poor governance, civil unrest, or other forms of instability and stress, climate change is so large a threat that it will eventually batter even the wealthiest and most prepared.
Last year, for example, 3.5 million Americans, or almost the population of Los Angeles, were displaced by floods, fires, hurricanes, and drought. Under half returned to their homes in a week, but almost half a million, or more than Staten Island, can’t go home. There may not even be a home to return to. The full costs spiraled well beyond $150 billion.
Yet many of the world’s most important governments and agencies seem to be failing entirely. At COP27, for example, climate-driven displacement was mostly pushed off to the side, while international law doesn’t even recognize climate refugees as deserving protection. (The 1951 UN Refugee Convention limits that to race, religion, nationality, politics, or social group.)
Without the protection of international law, climate refugees frequently get deported en masse. It’s as if we know a wave of earthquakes are coming, yet sit on the sidelines, waiting for the fault lines to erupt.
But I am hopeful that America, which has so often stood up in defense of a more stable, secure, and humanitarian world, will do the right thing.
President Biden has already shifted the American economy towards more sustainable and responsible directions. For instance, the Inflation Reduction Act will hopefully cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. But it’s not just the political sphere which is waking up, civil society organizations are increasingly adapting to address climate concerns.
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For example, the world’s largest Islamic non-governmental organization, the Muslim World League, is now laser-focused on climate change. In fact, its Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa has founded a global interfaith coalition, Faith For Our Planet (FFOP), that challenges the world’s faithful (almost 90% of the world’s population no less) to incorporate climate science into sermons and religious teachings.
FFOP even held its first Youth Interfaith Fellowship at Duke University, where young religious leaders from 20 countries gathered to organize grassroot climate projects and learn from scientists — a stark contrast to the climate denialism which hindered environmental progress in the U.S., and elsewhere, for decades.
But while I applaud the advancements that are happening, the cultural, economic, and political shift that’s needed to avert global meltdown is still only in its infant stage.
In the end, there is much to learn from what went right — and wrong — in Turkey and Syria. But most of all we should hold to this: In the case of the climate emergency, we can no longer afford to be unprepared.
Because in the disaster that’s already unfolding, none of us are immune.
Özdemir, an ecologist, has been a consultant to the United Nations Environment Program since 2015. He is professor of philosophy and ecology at Üsküdar University and founding president at Hasan Kalyoncu University, and previously was director-general at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Turkish Ministry of Education.