by Jay Ramasubramanyam
“Rains have become so fickle, the days measurably hotter, the droughts more frequent and more fierce, making it impossible to grow enough food on their land” read an article in the New York Times that appeared in late February which elucidated the grounds for mass-migratory patterns across Sub-Saharan Africa (Heat, Hunger and War Force Africans Onto a ‘Road on Fire’). In light of such patterns increasing more than ever in the global south, the role of Carleton University’s Climate Commons, a working group that brings together faculty members and undergraduate and graduate students to discuss climate change issues, becomes all the more prominent within the context of such narratives. An evening of discussion and dialogue on climate change migration on the 1st of March brought together professors, a slam poet and a graduate student to discuss ‘climate refugees’.
by David Meinen
First, a quick caveat for the uninitiated – there is no such thing, officially, as a ‘climate refugee.’ While a relatively new phrase, especially in the wake of recent ecological disasters, the idea that climate change would induce a new kind of conflict and migration in the global South has been gaining momentum since the mid-1980s (see El-Hinnawi, 1985). This narrative became firmly integrated into the collective conscience of UNEP and the UNSC in 2007 (Penny, 2007; Hartmann, 2010), followed quickly by Canadian policy-makers and development practitioners (see DND, 2010; Becklumb, 2013). Since then, the relationship between environmental changes, refugees, humanitarianism, and security has materialized in the notion of ‘climate security.’ This notion perpetuates a crisis narrative of politically unstable Third World peoples – colloquially referred to as climate refugees/migrants – fleeing their uninhabitable homelands and (inconspicuously) posing a threat to international security. The speculative nature of this notion brings the climate refugee into being only through “future conditional knowledge practices” (Gemenne & Baldwin, 2013, p. 267); thus, while there is a notable lack of empirical evidence on the phenomenon of climate security (Kothari, 2014), as the debate becomes further enmired in expressions of insecurity, the more the supposed climate refugee is cast as “something to fear and/or control” (Farbotko, 2010, p. 53).