With climate change, it is estimated that we will see more refugees fleeing from climate-related disasters than wars.
Between 2014 and 2015, Germany saw hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and temporary housing complexes were built all over the country. However, it was not until September 2015 that back home in Canada, people woke up to what was happening with the Syrian civil war when the news hit about Allan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned along with his brother and mother in the Mediterranean Sea. After that, he became known as "the boy on the beach." The image of his dead body was front-page news all over the world. Suddenly people had to take notice. He was like Phan Thi Kim Phúc, who became known as the "Napalm girl" during the Vietnam war, finally waking people up. However, like most news stories, that story of Allan came and went. Nevertheless, we are just at the beginning of the crisis. Are we ready?
Humans have been migrating since we have been on earth in some form, whether seasonal migration, continually searching for food supplies, or climate-related. However, more recently, large numbers of migrants over long distances have been a reasonably new phenomenon. The largest was the "Great Atlantic Migration" of migrants from Europe to North America, the most significant being in the 19th-century migrants from Ireland and Germany. Then there was a second wave that was even larger, and in 30 years between 1880 and 1910, over 17,000,000 Europeans entered the United States; overall, the total amounted to 37,000,000 between 1820 and 1980.
Recent times with conflict in countries including Syria, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, and the extreme violence that forced Rohingya to seek safety in Bangladesh have displaced millions of people. However, more than ever, we face large numbers of people needing to migrate due to extreme changes in weather and weather-related hazards, particularly in Mozambique, the Philippines, China, India and Latin America.
The Mediterranean Sea is the deadliest migration route holding the most significant number of casualties and missing people. The Balkan border closure has resulted in 72,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, Cyprus and the Balkans, including over 22,000 children. Between 1994 and 2018, over 34,000 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean. No one is held responsible. Furthermore, United States Border Patrol recorded, between 1998 and 2018, the deaths of 70,505 migrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States.
It is a horrifying situation in Greece and Croatia, where an investigation revealed they are now using unidentifiable "shadow armies" to force people back off their shores. Additionally, Greece announced a 40K fence and surveillance system at its border with Turkey over concerns about a surge of Afghanistan migrants.
Most of the world's borders were formed after World War I. Now our borders have become a political card to pull. Nothing showed the importance of borders in politics more than Donald Trump's campaign to build walls along the border with Mexico. However, many do not realize that behind closed doors in Europe, military-armed walls have been going up to keep migrants out, along with policies put in place without a vote or discussion. Recently the Uk, for instance, quietly amended its Draconian Nationality and Borders Bill by introducing a provision that gives Border Force staff, if they fail to save lives, immunity from prosecution. In Poland, the government passed an emergency law allowing authorities to turn back "illegal" refugees that cross into the country. The surveillance and border wall industry is set to be worth over 68 billion dollars by 2025.
There were reportedly 7,500 children migrants this year alone, and of those migrants, 92% were travelling alone, putting them at risk of human trafficking and forced labour. Most who take the journey are on a "pay as you go" system. Some are forced to work days or months along the way to pay off their smugglers. Europol earlier this year reported that 10,000 refugee children had gone missing.
"If you try to run, they shoot you, and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade," said one 16-year-old from The Gambia who worked on a farm in Libya.
"We're now refugees. People don't like us. No one is loyal, everyone lies. I was a kid before. I am older now. I know more." Rawan, aged 12, who had to flee from Aleppo in Syria.
Moreover, with every tragedy comes to a rise in economic exploitation. Migrants are at a considerable risk of human trafficking, a very profitable business today. According to the International Labour Organization, the annual profits generated by trafficked people in forced economic exploitation can be estimated at approximately USD 4 billion. Annual profits from forced commercial sexual exploitation due to trafficking amount to USD 28 billion. The total illicit profits of all forced labour resulting from human trafficking are about USD 32 billion per year.
Migrants who are taking the journey to find a safe home puts them on a path outside the borders of humanity. Without the right to citizenship, they are stripped of dignity and left without protection and human rights. Migrants are so vulnerable to dehumanization. The worry is that we have become so desensitized to the same world of "Migrant" that it has taken humanity away from who migrants are, our fellow humans that have been put in circumstances that required them to leave their homes.
This expression is felt in words spoken by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. "You have hopes, dreams and expectations. You take your humanity for granted. You keep believing you are human even when the catastrophe arrives and renders you homeless. […] You try to make it to the border. Only then, hoping to leave, or making it across the border, do you understand that those who live on the other side do not see you as human at all,". To be able to endure their dangerous journey, migrants must come to embrace their own worth as human beings while those around them refuse to acknowledge it.
Without a doubt, if we do not immediately address the need for large amounts of people to be displaced through climate disasters due to climate change, this will and has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.
We can no longer be spectators in the dehumanization of migrants and allow people worldwide to be confined to inhuman conditions. Let us not wait for another Allan Kurdy or Phan Thi Kim Phuc to get our attention. Humans will need to migrate in large numbers with our current climate crisis, and we need to be prepared, not with border walls and guns but with a plan that does not hold people at their death but allows for their fundamental rights as humans to live.
Over the past year, I have witnessed increasing anxiety surrounding climate change in our communities. The covid pandemic, of course, played into people's worry. However, in addition to the pandemic, we witnessed devastating natural disasters, from extreme weather like forest fires to massive flooding. Rightly, there is so much political talk about climate change and what the world can do to curb the speediness of the effects. Nevertheless, I feel the political agenda will not say the one thing we can do that would have an immense impact on our negative effect "Consume less, " one of the most important conversations we must have now.
Over the last 800,000 years, there have been natural cycles in the Earth's climate with ice ages and warmer interglacial periods. When I was a child, my father, Paul Tudge, flew his helicopter and spotted something that looked like logs and stumps. It turned out to be a 45-million-year-old fossil forest more than 1,500 km north of the Arctic Circle in remote Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's Far North. My father passed away 20 years ago, and talked about climate change my whole life.
We know that the Earth goes through periods of change. However, what scientists believe is happening now is the acceleration of climate-changing due to human interference, which is an undeniable truth. We have entered a phase in the planet that scientists call Anthropocene, where humanity is the dominant influence on the Earth. It does not help that our current economic system relies on infinite growth, and everything on the Earth is considered a resource. These very principles in how we interact with the Earth need to change. Furthermore, until it does, all the increased taxes and battery-operated vehicles will not help us.
We need to look at our current climate change from many angles. The past centuries of deforestation, mining and extractions, agriculture, manufacturing and construction have been extremely hard on our environment. And then, we use the products and resources extracted from these methods and create waste and a lot of it. Companies and governments will never tell us to "buy less." They will only ask us to "buy differently." So, therefore, I wanted to look at our everyday consumption and waste to break it down into food, clothing, housing, transportation, and entertainment, and see how we can immediately change today.
Ever-expanding industrial food production has come at a high cost to the natural environment. For example, we have destroyed or irreparably degraded over 80% of the world's forests, primarily for agriculture resulting in being the leading cause of habitat destruction, the loss of species, and biodiversity erosion. Consumer food production also has profound implications for energy and water usage. Food systems consume about 30% of available global energy and 70 percent of all freshwater use globally. The environmental impacts of food loss and waste are enormous. Uneaten food is the single most significant component of municipal solid waste. Once in the landfill, food gradually breaks down to form methane, a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The fashion industry needs to change to fundamentally mitigate the environmental impact of fast fashion. As a business model, the fashion industry treats cheap clothing as a perishable good to dispose of after brief use. In the U.S., people buy one item of clothing every 5.5 days. Furthermore, In the U.K., the average lifetime for a garment is estimated at 2.2 years. The complex supply chain process for clothing includes a heavy toll on the environment. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. Moreover, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. Nearly 60% of garment fibres such as polyester, rayon, nylon, and acrylic are essentially plastic. Reportedly, 35% of all microplastics in the ocean (the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles) come from the laundering of synthetic textiles each year. Synthetic polyester, which accounts for 51 percent of textile production, is made through a chemical reaction that involves petroleum, coal, air, and water. Additionally, when the clothing ends up in a landfill, it does not decay quickly. For example, a polyester shirt could decompose up to 200 years.
Then there is the dyeing of textiles, the world's second-largest water polluter, with untreated toxic wastewater from textile factories often dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. In many cases, the manufacturing occurs in countries where regulations are less strict, allowing the wastewater runoff from the textile manufacturing to enter freshwater streams people live from and pollute the water.
Then there is the practice of luxury brands keeping their high prices. For example, the British fashion brand Burberry burned or destroyed more than $110 million worth of unsold clothing, perfumes, and accessories between 2013 and 2018 rather than sell those items at a discount.
The construction industry erects and demolishes hundreds of new buildings and homes daily. Nevertheless, not everyone realizes that when we build and demolish houses, we disturb and erode soil, disrupt habitats, deplete natural resources, pollute air and water and use upland.
Demolition wastes are an often highly toxic mix of building materials usually contaminated with paints, fasteners, adhesives, wall coverings, insulation, and dirt. As a result, construction and Demolition Waste is one of the heaviest and most voluminous wastes generated in the E.U., accounting for approximately 25–30% of total E.U. waste.
Electronic waste ( E-Waste) is another huge thing we need to consider. Electronics have become way more disposable in my lifetime, and the list of typical household electronics increases every year: smartphones, tablets, phablets, desktops, laptops, monitors, smartwatches, speakers, V.R. headsets, LEDs, LCDs, Projectors, T.V.s. Europe alone is over 10 million tonnes per year of E-Waste. For example, we are constantly advertising the next generation phone, with obsolescence being the planned design feature. Companies across the sector have increasingly changed the design of their products to accelerate the replacement cycle by promoting a new design, making them difficult to service or upgrade, shortening the useful life of otherwise functional devices. There is another side to all these electrical gadgets now: Household energy is the third-largest energy use in the United States. The average U.S. home uses 30 kWh per day.
Surprisingly one of the best ways to save energy is to stop "Vampire Energy." Vampire energy refers to energy use from devices that use power even when they are turned off. Including digital cable or satellite DVRs, laptop computers, printers, central heating furnaces, routers and modems, phones, gaming consoles, televisions, and microwaves. For example, a charger left plugged in can drain 1.5 kWh annually.
The world is running out of water, and the amount of freshwater consumed daily outpaces the rate at which we can replenish it. Water is something it seems people who have it take for granted. According to a projection by the United Nations, by the year 2040, there can be about 4.5 billion people affected by a water crisis. Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related diseases, and it is estimated that every 2 minutes, a child dies from a water-related illness. In Canada, people think of the abundance of rivers, some of the largest fresh lakes in the world and oceans. However, despite Canada being home to one-fifth of the world's freshwater, many indigenous communities have gone as long as 20 years without access to clean water.
All this makes it even more disturbing to find that it is estimated that the average Canadian uses about 329L of water per day. In the average home, domestic water use is broken down as 10% drinking and preparing meals, 25% Cleaning (including laundry), 30% toilet flushing, 35% bathing and unknowingly waste up to over 100 litres of water per day.
Worldwide there are 1.42 billion cars, including 1.06 billion passenger cars and 363 million commercial vehicles. The vehicles on the road will emit 2.23 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this year. In addition, transport demand is expected to grow globally in the coming decades as the global population increases, incomes rise, and more people can afford cars, trains and flights. In its Energy Technology Perspectives report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects global car ownership rates to increase by 60% and demand for passenger and freight aviation to triple by 2070.
No one is going to say buy fewer cars. They say buy electric vehicles. However, keeping your old car until it is dead might be better for the environment because the carbon footprint of making a car is immensely complex. After all, materials like steel, rubber, glass, plastics, paints, and many more must be created before a new vehicle is ever on the road. Then the companies that make cars have offices and other infrastructure with their carbon footprints, which we need to allocate proportionately to the cars that are made. Although Electrical vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gases and air pollutants than petrol or diesel cars, we also have to consider the manufacturing impacts of new cars.
Additionally, we must consider that once you have an electric car, they run on energy. Electric cars burn no petroleum, thereby shifting any environmental impact from the car user to the electric utility. In South Africa, an electric vehicle will be powered by coal-generated electricity and harm the environment, versus in Norway, an electric car will be powered by hydroelectricity.
Then we need to think about the mining of Lithium batteries. According to some sources, between 2008 and 2018, the annual production of lithium rose from 25,400 to 85,000 tons. To extract it, miners drill holes in the salt flats and pump the salty, mineral-rich brine to the surface, leaving it evaporating in huge artificial lakes or ponds. This process uses over 500,000 gallons (close to 2 million litres) for each ton of lithium produced. The enormous consumption of water impacts the surrounding ecosystems. In addition, these large evaporation pools are often far from sealed, leading to toxic substances leaching into the surrounding water supply. For example, huge problems have been reported in the surrounding areas of Tibet's Ganzizhou Rongda lithium mine. Protestors from the nearby town of Tagong took to the streets in 2016 after fish from the nearby Liqi River were found dead in mass numbers following a toxic chemical leak from the mine.
Additionally, the end of a car's life does not mark the end of its environmental impact. Plastics, toxic battery acids, and other products may stay in the environment. The end of use for electric and fuel-powered cars, at the moment, is similar except for one big thing: batteries. Only around 5% of the world's lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled. That is a massive problem since batteries can leak harmful chemicals into the ground. Tesla says that it recycles 60 percent of the components from its lithium-ion batteries once they have reached the end of life.
I am not sure if people are genuinely aware of the environmental impact of the internet. The transfer and mass storage of our data is enormous and proliferating. Every time we perform simple daily actions like browsing a website, sending and receiving email, using an app on our phones, saving a file to our cloud drives or searching Google, data gets transferred between our devices and the servers. A typical website produces 6.8 grams of carbon emissions every time a page loads.
Data centres are detrimental to the environment, and there are now more than 8.4 million data centres on Earth. Facebook, for instance, electricity use has increased in recent years as newer data centers have come online. In 2019, the company's electricity usage reached 5.1 terawatt-hours ( 5.1 trillion watts per hour). Servers used by streaming companies like Netflix represent about 3.3 percent of all carbon emissions, and it will only get worse from here. 53.6% of the global population now uses the internet. Moreover, every small digital transaction we make adds up. The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions.
One study from 2012 estimated that a five-hour meeting held over a video conferencing call between participants in different countries would produce between 4kg (8.8lbs) CO2e and 215kg (474lbs) CO2e. Imagine if we calculate that from the past year of the "zoom boom" with Covid forced home offices?
It seems I have barely touched the service on our current society's level of consumption and waste. There are currently over 7.7 billion people on this planet, and everything we do on this Earth has an impact, even if we can not see it. We can no longer rely on trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignoring the slight daily differences we can make, which, over time, add up to significant differences that we often cannot foresee. The time of infinite growth and resource extraction has to end.
The good thing is that nothing I have listed is new; industry and governments are busy with research and technology to address nearly everything I have discussed. However, what we can do immediately without spending billions on research and technology that will undoubtedly have an immediate impact is consume less, waste less, and rethink everything we are doing in our daily life in the way we all consume.