From refugees to ‘envirogees’?
Scott Thill at Alternet has published an article on the social impact of climate change. The article goes as far as coining a new term: ‘envirogee’. The implication seems to be that ‘refugee’ has a certain amount of baggage, being intrinsically associated with political persecution. We are entering an age, mainly due to climate change, but also because of other cheery current/future phenomena such as peak oil, in which the traditional definitions of refugee will need to change to retain relevance. The article is certainly polemic in tone, but I think it does the job of provoking thought on what the world is going to look like in the not too distant future and how our understandings of human movement, human rights, national boundaries and so on. Here’s an excerpt:
Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee.
It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven’t been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth’s various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons.
In short, immigration is about to enter a new phase, which resembles an old one with a 21st century twist. For thousands of years, humanity has fled across Earth’s surface fearing instability and in search of sustainability. But that resource war has kicked into overdrive thanks to our current climate crisis — a manufactured war with its own clock.
And the clock is ticking.
From earthquakes in China to cyclones in Myanmar to water rationing in Los Angeles, societies are shifting like their borders. And all the outcry over so-called illegal immigration neglects to answer one time-honored question: If the borders aren’t standing still, why should the people who live in their outlines do so? Especially when they’re under attack from catastrophic floods, fires, droughts and any number of other environmental dangers?
Right now, the 1951 Geneva Convention does not recognize the envirogee phenomenon, instead focusing on immigration as a result of political persecution. But then again, it was established over five decades ago when Earth’s climate was anything but a terrorist. But the Geneva Convention, like everything that must adapt or die, needs to mutate in time with the rest of the world and its hyperconsuming inhabitants in order to remain relevant in our still-new millennium.