Mohamed Bouazizi was a Tunisian fruit vendor. Six years back in December 2010, he set himself on fire at a marketplace in the town of Sidi Bouzid. He was protesting because the police authorities confiscated his fruits. More so, he could not grease the hands of the police to get it released.
A volcano on the verge of eruption
The blaze that the ‘burning man’ radiated triggered an inferno of protests that sucked in almost all of Middle East in the following spring. And so the term ‘Arab Spring’ was coined. It commemorates the uprisings in recent history and signifies the much desired ‘springing’ of democratization of the regimes. The lava of unrest and terrorism has reached far since then. The world has submerged in the transformative process that has been defining and redefining the new pattern of the global fabric with political weft and social warp.
Waiting for the seventh spring since that event, the world is hibernating in dangerous isolation. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, and Morocco, though withstood tremors, have significantly weakened. Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen have been in a deadly civil war for a long time, witnessed almost helplessly by the United Nations and powerful world leaders. These countries are on the brink of devastation due to massive ruptures in their political and social landscapes giving rise to incessant seismic demands of ‘regime change’.
Correlating social and climatic tensions
Many research studies, the most well received being from Centre for Climate and Security, Washington DC, have shown that though climate change was not the direct cause for the Arab Spring, it hastened its occurrence. The Arab region is a major importer of food. The droughts in 2010 in exporting countries like Russia, Ukraine, China, and Argentina and the extreme weather events at the same time in major wheat and grain producers like Canada and Australia created global food shortages. As per the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), these climate change related events around 2010 drove global commodity prices up.
In the Arab regime which was already dealing with internal socio-political and suppression and reeling under the cover-up of inequalities among rich and poor, the steep rise in global food prices heightened the tensions. The event in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia was a proverbial last straw on the back of the camel in the Arab deserts.
Face to face with the refugee crisis
Come September of 2015, Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, made global headlines. In that European summer, he drowned in Mediterranean sea while his parents were migrating as refugees struggling to escape the violence in Syria. Alan’s body drifted and was found on the Turkish beach. That image of Alan, lying with his head in the beach-sand, as if imitating the Ostrich behaviour of the international community, raised many questions. It quickly drowned a number of world leaders into passionate debate during a number of elections around the world. Canadian elections too threw light on it, as Alan’s family was stated to migrate to Canada.
ISIS and climate change: Correlated?
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ‘Daesh’ in Arabic) is the violent and terrifying off-shoot of Arab Spring. It has taken the world by shivers. Indeed, history books will be replete with the root causes of the rise of the Islamic State and the subsequent terrorism of planetary proportion leading to Europe’s refugee crisis.
The invasion of Iraq by the USA is now well recognised by expert analysts as one of the root causes. The vacuum left by the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and not understanding the uprising of Islamic States was another. Those were again the last straws and the sparks needed for ignition. The real fuel for the inferno was provided by the brutal inequality and climate change.
A new study published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the drought in Syria, exacerbated to record levels by global warming, pushed social unrest across a societal-lines into an open uprising in 2011. Drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011, the worst on record there, destroyed agriculture, causing many farm families to migrate to cities. The influx added to social stresses already created by refugees pouring in from the war in Iraq. The violent conflicts and civil war have their brutal and inhuman consequences. ISIS-led terror attacks have triggered the unprecedented European refugee crisis with millions entering Europe every year since the past two years. Undisputedly an agonizing wave of displacement never seen since World War II. Most arrive in the European summer due to obvious weather advantage.
The Brexit-Trump syndrome
European summer of 2016 also saw Brexit and number of political upheavals and violent events in countries including France, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The spiral of terror and devastating social disruption is threatening to be the new norm and world order.
The telling chronicles of the USA’s Presidential election and the victory of Donald Trump are as astonishing as story-lines of European summers. More stunning stories that are now coming are about the American winter that has brought change in climate around Donald Trump after his election win warming hopes seen since then. His proposed appointments including that of Rex Tillerson, Exxon C.E.O, as Secretary of State, froze minds of the environmental warriors. Some of them see this appointment as a proposal to paint the White House black.
Trump concerned about climate change?
The less published news in American winter is about Trump’s meeting with Al Gore, former Vice President of the USA. Al Gore is a passionate scientific advocate of fighting climate change. As per Al Gore, they had a lengthy and productive session and that it was a sincere search for areas of common ground. Earlier in November, after the election, Trump said in an interview with New York Times that he is looking at Paris Climate Agreement closely and that he has an “open mind for it”. These turnarounds have signs of yet another new world order: disruptive controversies radiating hopes of change.
Turning tables in 2017
16 years of this millennium have seen a record number of hottest years ever in recorded human history. The receding snow line and reported polar vortex in Arctic are the obvious evidence of climate change. At the same time, the world is waking up in 2017 with disruptive controversies. Such disruption may prove to be positive and may finally break the ice on the fight with climate change.
After all the ‘talk without walk’ of the world leaders over the last 25 years on climate change has kept people in a ‘feel good’ state after every international event on climate change but brought the planet to the brink of disasters by accelerating the Arab Spring and the European summer. Maybe hibernating controversies in American winter will give rise to a newborn action on climate change. Indeed, climate change needs a business solution and revenue models that a businessman like Trump is conversed with.END
by Rajendra Shende, the Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP, IIT alumni and Senior Expert UNEP TEAP.