What accepting refugees has to do with finding solutions to climate change

It’s week forty-eight of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. This week’s challenge is a little different, but is so important in today’s divided political climate. We’ll be remembering to relate to fellow humans, knowing we all want the same things out of life. This week is about become accepting, and even welcoming, towards refugees, migrants, and people of different cultures and backgrounds.

Our climate is changing, and with it comes habitat loss. That’s habitat loss not only for animals, but for us human’s, too. Land that has been habitable, and a home, for generations of people has changed drastically within our lifetime. Rising sea levels, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, droughts, and so much more are the cause of our changing climate and results in the displacement of people from all over the world.

In the worst cases, the loss of livelihoods of millions of people, mixed with political instability and corruption can lead to a civil war, like in the case of Syria.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Syrian refugee crisis; the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our lifetime. Since war started in 2011, more than half of the country’s population – over 12 million people – have been killed or forced to flee. However, you probably have not heard about the ways in which climate change had initially contributed to the country’s instability and unrest.

In the years leading up to the Syrian civil war the country experienced drought from changing rainfall patterns which reduced farm output and led to economic and social strife. Many Syrian farmers were focused to leave their farms and move to densely populated cities. The country’s citizens’, simply seeking water and a good life, demanded better management of the government, which in part led to the government suppression and rebel groups which eventually became the civil war. It’s a complex situation made worse by the stressors of climate change.

Loss of land, livelihoods and basic needs like water and food displaces people globally and that thread is only increasing. In the last decade, an average of 22.5 million people were displaced by climate or weather related events.

Those displaced by climate change did nothing to deserve their lives being uprooted. In fact, more often it’s those who’ve contributed least to carbon emissions who are most severely impacted by the effects; those living traditional (pre-industrial) lives, living in poverty, or in densely populated areas with less land and resources to make use of. None of these people want to leave their home, but are forced to, by real life or death consequences.

That’s why this week’s challenge is to become accepting, and even welcoming towards refugees, environmental migrants, and people of other cultures and backgrounds to your own. It’s a lesson in empathy. Relating to fellow humans, who want the same things out of life as you do: a safe home to live, work and raise one’s family.

It is choosing to turn a deaf ear to the hate and rhetoric of media that exists to separate and divide us. Instead knowing no culture is inherently evil, or breeds ‘terrorists’. That we all deserve the same chance at a happy, healthy life. And finding ways to connect with and better understand people from different backgrounds to you.

It is voting for politicians who’re working to support and uplift people of all backgrounds and classes. Governments who are open to providing a safe home to those who need one, though humane refugee and immigrant policies, knowing the long-term economic value they can offer. And donating, volunteering or supporting the work of refugee-support organisations.

It is taking a stand against bigotry. Not letting an unkind joke slide as it’s ‘just a joke’. But resisting such microagressions when they arise. Never allowing them grow from ‘a joke’ into real aggression. It’s being an ally to someone targeted by hate by offering kindness and protection through companionship.

It has been proven that diversity improves a group’s creativity and problem solving skills.  This is because diversity brings different information, opinions and perspectives. When a diverse team works together they are able to come to more creative and better solutions to problems; exactly the kind of creative solutions we will need to redesign and rebuild a more sustainable future world for all of us.

The hoarding of resources (land, fuel, food and material possessions) has gotten us into our current environmental predicament. But hoarding of resources (visas, jobs, wealth) really isn’t going to get us out of it. Empathy and compassion goes a long way to those you meet. They’re also core human traits. It’s the collective work of humanity that helps us progress as a society and species, but we can’t do that important work when we’re divided. Concern for the wellbeing of your fellow man/woman and child is what makes each of us human.

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