STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

OPINION 

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: 'The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities'
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

28th October 2020

On Tuesday 13th October, STAND, with support from UCC Enviro Soc, TCD Enviro Soc, UCC Fáilte Refugees Soc and TCD VDP Social Justice, held an online panel discussion on “The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities”. Chaired by Amali Tower of Climate Refugees, the panel included Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad); Jannie Staffansson (Indigenous Peoples Rights Activist) and Genevieve Jiva (Pacific Islands Climate Action Network).

 

The panel members began by discussing the field of their work and their personal involvement. Jiva described her work with PICAN which, comprising 130 member organisations across the Pacific, champions knowledge and leadership into the effects of climate action on the area. The Pacific, she detailed, is considered to be at the front lines of the climate crisis, as climate forced migration and relocation align with intense cyclones, coral bleaching, king tides and sea-level rise. Staffansson, growing up in a reindeer-herding family, is seeing fast changes occurring as a result of temperature-rise, which caused many of the indigenous species to suffer. Accordingly, she decided that she would try to adapt by educating herself in indigenous knowledge to adapt to climate change.

 

Schaeffer, from a traditional Alaskan background, is also witnessing the suffering of her own community as a result of rising sea levels and temperatures and tries to help science and research to understand the importance of the elders’ knowledge of nature in order to help with adaptation to the new climate. Ibrahim, by contrast, coming from a nomadic culture in the Chad Basin surrounded by desert, looked back on her childhood, noting that so many of the different species of birds, insects, flowers and animals that she played with have now disappeared, mentioning that in 1960, Lake Chad measured 25km2, whereas now it only measures 2km2. Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: “a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

 

Schaeffer expanded on the struggles facing her community: the extreme weather variances prohibited infrastructure, due to the eternal truth in that “pitting modern infrastructure against mother nature, mother nature will win every time.” The summers are becoming hotter and longer, the winters colder and shorter, and as a people of the ecosystem, her indigenous community that depends on the land and food resources and agriculture are seeing climate change drastically affect plants and animals. However, she maintains that her people have lived for 17,000 years on the land; they successfully survived a period of time in which summer lasted all year round, and a lot more besides; so to Schaeffer, this instance is a mere “glimpse in time” which is not going to win.

 

Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

Staffansson emphasised that some areas that were previously untouched by colonialism were now being destroyed in favour of windmill parks, for example. She asked, “Why not put them in places where you need them, beside the cities? In places where you have already destroyed the biodiversity?… We have paid for it enough.” She acknowledged that it is difficult to adapt and survive with climate change, but to also fight as a community against renewable energy destroying her lands: while it is preferred to fossil fuels, the price should not always be paid by indigenous people and their family, lands and animals. Ibrahim agreed also that it is not just about human species, but about the ecosystem as a whole.

 

Jiva acknowledged that the first thing that needs to be accomplished is visibility: the Pacific is so excluded in international spaces; and if it is not seen, then how can people care? A third of the world’s oceans are in the Pacific, lined with thousands of years of culture and history, and indigenous knowledge and science in the communities that are trying to survive. She noted how often neo-colonial thinking exacerbates suffering, for example, Australia’s grand compact.

 

Ibrahim described the impact that the Covid-19 crisis was having on her region – the Map of Hunger 2020 showed that Chad is the most vulnerable country, with an increase by 35% of food insecurity. She finds that countries are just focusing on Covid-19, when climate change is the main issue, as it makes people vulnerable. And those that are vulnerable will always be affected more by any crisis.

 

However, Schaeffer found some light at the end of the tunnel: because of the basic challenges of lockdown, her community had to revert to traditional methods of traditional medicines which were then shared across regions in the state. She emphasised the community mindset of such peoples, the focus on the bigger picture.  “The western mindset is self – family – community, while the indigenous norm is community – family – self.” This has never been more relevant than in the current climate.  She urged the youth to become their own inspiration – the voice of the youth has to be powerful but it has to be acknowledged first. The young should allow elders to tell their stories and share their knowledge; inspiration will only be what they know, and they can only know what they teach.

 

STAND Fest 20: The impacts of climate migration among the most vulnerable communities (STAND.ie, 2020)

Jannie urged the youth to take care of their community, “spend time with your sisters, gather around the fire. Gather with your community, and if you don’t have one you need to create one and take care of it.” She pressed further: “If you are young there will come a time where you need to walk the streets and protest, for us indigenous peoples that live so close to nature, seeing everything we love dying or already dead… There is still time.” 

 

Ibrahim called it the “youth battle, not only the indigenous fight,” imploring us not to “let them decide in your place, decide for the future that you want, and you can do it.” Jiva urged us to work as intergenerationally as possible – you can’t fix the future without learning from the past. Her final words were words that echoed the message of the entire discussion: “Get involved. You are our leaders.” 

 

Conall Keane, Social Justice Officer of Trinity Vincent de Paul Society, was also in attendance of the panel discussion: 

 

I thought it was a very insightful discussion that really showed just how diverse and widespread the issue of climate change is. Hearing from a range of communities around the world – a rare positive side-effect of the current restrictions on in-person events – with such different cultures, such different ways of living, and such different experiences, yet all sharing the common misfortune of struggle with climate change, brings to light the stark reality of what most people only loosely understand to be a global issue.”

 

The unequal burden of the impact of climate change was evident to Conall who felt “hearing about the severe damage that we in Western countries cause for these communities serves as an urgent reminder that the issue of climate change needs to be brought more into the public eye; the fact that people from the places in the world that are least impacted by these issues are the ones who are making the key decisions on behalf of those who are suffering the most is awful and unjust, and listening to the accounts of the speakers added greatly to the frustration I felt with those circumstances. For that reason, I think it’s more important than ever that we educate ourselves and each other on the issue of climate change because unfortunately, we can’t easily shift the imbalance of influence so the only alternative is to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the problem in those places that are in the position to bring about the necessary changes.” 

 

You can watch back the panel discussion above or on Youtube here. For Conall, “the simultaneous wonder and frustration that the discussion evoked are a testament to how worthwhile a discussion it was! 

 

 

 

Featured photo by STAND

 
 

 

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

OPINION 

The complex relationship between climate change and migration

climate migration
deepthi suresh stand news

Deepthi Suresh

17th October 2020

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990 noted that the greatest single impact of climate change might be on human migration. Millions of people could be displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption. The meteorological impact of climate change can be divided into two distinct drivers of migration: climate processes such as sea-level rise, salinization of agricultural land, desertification and growing water scarcity; and climate events such as flooding, storms and glacial lake outburst floods. Successive reports and various other studies have argued that environmental degradation due to climate change is poised to become a major driver of population displacement. It is a mega humanitarian crisis in the making. These repeated analyses or predictions, such as the possible displacement of 200 million people by 2050, may have made the argument of climate change increasingly confident in the scientific community – but the consequences, and its impact on human population distribution, largely seem unclear. The adverse impact of climate migration cannot be portrayed by the simple imagery of a coastal farmer being forced to pack up and move to a rich country.

 

From livelihoods to identity, the environment plays an important role in everyone’s daily lives, hence different types of climate migrants. Climate change would therefore influence many people’s decisions to stay or indeed to move. There is a rapidly growing literature contributing to the migration-environment theory: (1) migration is a fundamental strategy for addressing household risk arising from the environment; (2) environmental factors interact with broader socio-political histories; (3) the migration–environment association is shaped by social networks.

 

The first group who were forced to relocate from their ancestral homes due to climate change were the inhabitants of the coastal villages in Alaska – namely the Shishmaref and Kivalina groups. The low-lying coastlands of Bangladesh and India have faced severe storms as a result of the dramatic change in climate. A sea-level rise of 20 inches could displace over 6 million people in Bangladesh alone. As a result, many rural Bangladeshis have migrated to the capital, Dhaka, thereby resulting in an increase in the population growth to about 17 million, and thus also causing severe strain on the capital’s infrastructure. As the trend suggests, more affluent people have the opportunity to emigrate, while the most vulnerable people from poor households are trapped in risky areas.

 

Climate migration occurs both between and within countries. It may be temporary or permanent. It could follow existing routes or forge new ones. The impacts of climate change could trap people in dangerous places, and on the other hand, force people to move. Most people move within their own country if they are forced to flee due to floods, droughts and rising seas. But sometimes, when disasters unfold more slowly, some people decide to move across borders – either with or without the help of their governments. Climate migrants’ choice of potential destinations is further affected by the policies in these destinations.

 

It also seems as though there has been a collective and unfortunately a successful attempt to ignore the scale of this problem. Climate migrants who were forced to flee due to sudden or gradual changes in their natural environment as a result of climate change are omitted in international refugee and immigration policies. There is considerable resistance to the idea of expanding the definition of political refugees to incorporate climate refugees. When, where and how people will be forced to move as a consequence of climate change remains elusive, as do definitions about what it means to be a climate migrant and how best to govern the problem. It is also highly likely that the burden of providing for climate migrants will be borne by the poorest countries, especially by those who are least responsible for emissions of the greenhouse gases. This plight has been thoroughly observed and discussed, yet with no sustainable solutions to the horrifying crisis faced by political refugees. Those who are forced to move as a result of climate change are not protected by existing laws, and thus, the human rights afforded to them are unclear.

 

The complex status of human mobility is further debated upon, including the argument surrounding whether or not the climate migrants should be given a climate-specific legal status in addition to the refugees’ status (if given in the first place at all). It might also lead to a biased debate and would give only partial solutions to address the issue of human migration and climate change.

 

According to the Division of UN Migration Agency (IOM), the media has time and again pushed for features on climate refugees. In contrast, however, some of the smaller affected communities or states do not want to leave their homes or would rather move in dignity through regular channels without having to leave everything behind and run for their lives. IOM stresses the fact that “reducing the issue of migration in the context of climate change to the status of ‘climate refugees’ fails to recognize several key aspects that define human mobility in the context of climate change and environmental degradation.’’

Some of the aspects are as follows:

 

1. Climate migration is mainly internal: when migration is internal, the migrants remain under the responsibility of their state, as they do not cross borders and are not seeking protection from a third country or at the international level.

 

2. Migration is not necessarily forced, especially for a very slow onset process of climate change. In this instance, migration is still a matter of choice, even if it occurs in a constrained manner, so countries need to set in place a proper strategy migration management and agreements rather than refugee protection.

 

3. It may be an impossible task to separate environment or climatic reasons from humanitarian, political, social, conflict or economic ones as it may lead to long and even unrealistic legal procedures.

 

4. Creating a special refugee status for climate change-related reasons might, unfortunately, have the opposite effects of what is sought as a solution: it can lead to the exclusion of certain categories of people who require protection, especially the poorest migrants, who are moving as a result of a mix of factors and would not be able to prove the link to climate and environmental factors.

 

5. Opening The the 1951 Refugee Convention might weaken the refugee status, which would be tragic given the state of our world in which so many people require protection because of persecution and ongoing conflicts.

 

6. Creating a new convention might be a lengthy political process that countries may not even have an appetite for. Many responses can come from migration management and policy as highlighted already in the 2011 International Dialogue on Migration and the recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The Nansen Initiative that was launched to look at gaps in protection for people being displaced across borders by disasters, undertook thematic and regional consultations and also concluded with a document that proposed a “toolkit” of migration policies, rather than recommending the establishment of a new status for these people.

 

7. Climate migration discussions should not lose their focus on preventive measures: the key objective of our generation is to invest in climate and environmental solutions for our planet, so that people will not have to leave their homes in a forced way in the future. The Paris Agreement offers anchorage for climate action that considers human mobility to avert, minimize and address displacement in the context of climate change.

 

8. IOM encourages the full use of all the existing bodies of laws and instruments pertaining to human rights, refugees etc.

 

9. Human rights-based approaches are key in the addressing of climate migration: states of origin bear the primary responsibility for their citizens’ protection, even if their countries have not been the main contributors to global warming; they should therefore apply human rights-based approaches in terms of their citizens moving because of environmental or climatic drivers.

 

10. Regular migration pathways can provide relevant protection for climate migrants and facilitate migration strategies in response to environmental factors. Many migration management solutions are available as a response to challenges posed by climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters, in terms of international migratory movements. They can provide a status for people who move in the context of climate change impacts, such as humanitarian visas, temporary protection, authorization to stay, regional and bilateral free movements’ agreements, among several others.

 

It is of the utmost importance that greater resources are dedicated to mitigating the complexity of climate migration and to the finding of an effective solution. Further research is needed to determine the best ways in which to improve the migratory process, be it through providing safer modes of transport, or by increasing migration monitors, and most importantly, by improving the destination country integration resources. The solution and strategies that the international community might indulge in together may be the defining factors of international relations in the 21st century – which is presently in dire need of restructuring.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by pxfuel

 
 

 

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

2nd October 2020

From female CEOs to LGBTQ+ visibility in films, the participation of under-represented groups in powerful institutions has been widely praised as both a reflection of and a catalyst for, social progress. However, to what extent individual representation should be prioritised is a matter of serious contention within social justice movements. In the age of tokenism and performative allyship, many are now asking: how useful is representation in and of itself? If individual members of marginalised groups are in positions of power, will the necessary changes for their community be achieved, or do we need a collective movement of oppressed groups to attack systems of inequality from the outside? These questions have been particularly divisive in feminist discussions on women and the military.

 

Some women’s rights advocates argue that in countries such as the U.S. and Britain, the army is an instrument of patriarchy and imperialism that cannot be participated in from a feminist perspective. However, the argument generally put forth by liberal feminists is that progress in this area cannot be gained without female representation in the military. For instance, when all U.S. military positions became open to women in 2015, the move was praised by some as a victory for women’s rights; but some left-wing feminists argued that this development widened the reach of the American military, an institution that ultimately perpetuated violence against women of colour in other countries. In Britain, there was a similar discourse about whether the opening of combative roles to women should be interpreted as a feminist milestone. Today, the use of feminist language in British Army PR campaigns has raised scepticism again. When Laura Whitmore defended her appearance on the British Army podcast, she argued that “every industry and body is bettered by… a balance of all sexes”. While this is often true, is possible that the push for female recruits may do more harm than good for women’s rights?

 

 

There are undeniable benefits to promoting female representation in many contexts. Increasing the number of women in decision-making roles can lead to more gender-sensitive policies being adopted and improve institutions as a whole. For instance, when women are involved in negotiating peace processes, this not only increases the likelihood of gender provisions being included in peace agreements but also increases the sustainability of peace in general. The importance of female representation in influential roles is often discussed in the context of critical mass theory. This theory argues that having a very small percentage of female decision-makers is unlikely to progress gender equality. However, once a critical mass of female representation is achieved, usually estimated at 30%, women’s interests are more likely to be defended. This theory can be applied to boards of directors, political offices and any position involved in policy-making. However, does it apply to army recruits?

 

In considering this, it’s important to remember that the advancement of women’s rights through representation can only happen when women are actually given decision-making power. Entry-level cadets and lower-ranking members of the military have no say over the rules they follow. Moreover, even the highest-ranking members of the military ultimately do not determine their nation’s foreign policy agenda, and how it may impact female civilians. Therefore, when the army pushes for female recruits, be it through making more positions available to women, or using feminist talking points in their recruitment campaigns, this does not necessarily present an opportunity for women to shape military policy. Of course, it could be argued that a higher level of female participation at entry level will eventually lead to more women in higher ranks. However, gendered barriers and widespread discrimination make it unlikely for a critical mass of women at the top to be achieved through the normal course of promotion. If the British military actually wanted to include a female perspective, they wouldn’t be using media campaigns – they would be adopting targeted internal policies such as quotas for high ranking positions. Given that the army has only recently allowed women to even apply for all roles, it seems unlikely that affirmative action is on its way any time soon.

 

“If the British military actually wanted to include a female perspective, they wouldn’t be using media campaigns – they would be adopting targeted internal policies such as quotas for high ranking positions.”

However, even if there was a large minority of women in the higher ranks of the military, recent research suggests that this would not actually guarantee the progression of women’s interests. While some studies show that increased female representation will lead to more gender-sensitive policies when over 30% of decision-makers are women, other studies have shown the opposite to be true. Increased representation sometimes hinders women’s interest; while a small number of women may be accepted within an establishment, a large minority can be perceived as a threat to male dominance and thus face a negative response. This kind of backlash could be of particular concern in the military, where there is a long history of male dominance and ongoing issues of discrimination and abuse against women.

 

A lack of understanding of civilian women in war is another reason why female participation in the army might not be effective in bringing about change. The reason female representation at the top can sometimes advance the position of women more broadly is not that every woman is necessarily committed to feminism – but because female leaders often have shared experiences with their female subordinates, and can understand and empathise with what it means to be a woman in their institution. However, servicewomen in the British Army are unlikely to have experienced the gendered impacts of war or understand the experiences of female civilians in conflict. Furthermore, the disproportionate effects of conflict on women are often indirect and may not be witnessed first-hand by foreign soldiers. Because of this, increased female participation might lead to some advancements in the internal workings of the military, but is unlikely to make war safer for female civilians, the most vulnerable group in this context.

 

British Army 2020 recruitment Campaign Women Confidence

British Army recruitment campaign targeting women (Ministry of Defence, 2020)

Overall, the British military pushing for female recruits could lead to improvements for servicewomen at some undefined point in the future. However, these benefits are ultimately uncertain and indirect. Unfortunately, the harms of this kind of campaigning are more concrete. When the British Army uses feminist rhetoric to sell militarism, it is intended to sanitize their public image and make war seem more palatable to those who value women’s rights. This situation can be described as “woke-washing”, and serves to drown out concerns about the oppressive impact of militarism on female civilians. In practice, this means that the lived experiences of marginalised women are shoved to one side, while images of the military as a driving force for empowerment circulates mainstream media. This situation could make people being less likely to fight for justice because there has been the illusion of progress but no meaningful change. From the army’s perspective, if they can reap the benefits of being perceived as feminist either way, there is no incentive to acknowledge women’s rights abuses in the past or to work towards change in the future. These damages exist even if the military is unsuccessful in recruiting more women because the affiliation of the army with feminist talking-points is powerful in of itself.

 

“Prioritizing the individual ambitions of white women over the collective needs of women of colour is a defining feature of “white feminism”, and yet another issue with the military co-opting feminist language”

On the other hand, if this kind of campaigning does attract more women, it means that the army can expand its reach and power. If history is anything to go by, this looks like a greater capacity for unnecessary military interventions that disrupt civilian lives and perpetuate gendered violence. It is of course true that some women may find military service empowering and want the chance increase to improving conditions for servicewomen. While everyone should be free to choose their career path, praising these cases as a win for feminism is misguided. An increase in female recruits could someday benefit the predominantly white population of British servicewomen, but these gains would ultimately rely on an institution that oppresses and kills women of colour. This is particularly problematic given that servicewomen choose to be in the army, while civilian women don’t consent to how their lives are impacted by military intervention. Prioritizing the individual ambitions of white women over the collective needs of women of colour is a defining feature of “white feminism”, and yet another issue with the military co-opting feminist language.

 

For as long as civilians shoulder the cost of imperialism, and empty rhetoric is used in place of real change, the military will continue to be a patriarchal force. As feminists, this is not a system we should strive to participate in or strengthen, but rather something we should refuse to accept. Whether it is in the ballot box, in the streets or in the media, feminist action needs to incorporate an anti-war perspective and raise the voices of civilian women in conflict throughout the world.

 

Check out part one and part two of Aoife’s ‘Women and the Military’ series. 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard

Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard

OPINION 

Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard on the anniversary of Shepard’s death

matthew shepard john lennon
parisa

Parisa Zangeneh

11th October 2020

Today, October 12th, 2020, marks twenty-two years since Matthew Shepard’s murder, three days after the 80th birthday of John Lennon, international peace and human rights activist and icon, who was also murdered and lost to the world at an unbearably young age.

 

Why is it important to remember their lives and what they stood for today, in 2020? It is important because their lives and deaths symbolize the fragility of the global fight for human rights. The victims of hate and violence, such as Lennon and Shepard, are among the people who made it possible for us even to begin to talk about human rights and pie-in-the-sky notions such as world peace. Additionally, many young people do not know who Matthew Shepard was.

 

In the next few weeks, we will march into a time of intense vitriol and polarization. The progress on which we have been riding will be renegotiated and redecided at the ballot box by over 300 million people. During this period, we must remember the sacrifices of people whose work and memories have formed the basis of the human rights movement, which is at a critical stage in its progression. Matthew Shepard and John Lennon are two of those people.

 

 

Let’s remember.

 

 

John Lennon was shot outside of his apartment building, the Dakota, in New York City on December 8th, 1980. Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die on the Wyoming prairie and died on October 12th, 1998.

 

Shepard’s mother described his final moments in his hospital bed this way:

 

“Bandages and stitches all over his face,” […] “and bandages around his head where the final blow had crushed his brain stem. His fingers and toes were curled in a comatose position already. Tubes everywhere enabling his body to stay alive. One of his eyes was partially open so you could see his blue eyes and the tubes in his mouth. You could see his braces, so of course it’s Matt. His face was swollen, actually kind of unrecognisable till you got closer.”

 

Lennon was a political target not only due to his support for the peace movement but because he was married to a Japanese woman, with whom he eventually had a son, Sean. In the 1960s and 1970s, inter-cultural marriages, which is one way of putting it, were not easy affairs. Lennon’s personal decisions were political. Significantly, Lennon’s professional decisions were also political: Ono was only named as a co-writer of Imagine in 2017.

 

Lennon was also a baby boomer, of the same generation as my parents. His parents would have involved in or at least affected by, the war that undoubtedly left Ono’s childhood with deep, indelible scars and trauma. Their martial and professional union literally spanned the globe, cultural borders, and historically disparate human civilizations. Lennon would have grown up among the first generation in human history, probably, to be educated about concentration camps and the evils of mass murder, or the international crimes that comprise the basis of the jurisdiction of a human innovation formed after his death: the International Criminal Court.

 

Their lives and deaths are clear, strong reminders of the work that is left to be done for all vulnerable people, including women, not just to be able to physically survive in the world, but to thrive. In the coming days and weeks, many of us will have a critical choice to make that will influence the world. We will continue to have micro-choices in front of us on how we implement our commitment to human rights and feminism in our daily practices.

 

This brings me back to the context in which I introduced this topic: The future is ours. The question is: what will we do with it? I hope that we will choose to “Give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace. All we need is love. I believe it.”

 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

OPINION 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 lockdown measures

climate migration and covid-19
lydia howard Chevalier

Lydia Howard Chevalier

6th October 2020

Unfortunate, though it may be, the initially positive reactions of eco-activists after the introduction of strict lockdown measures may have been premature. Online reports of crystal-clear water running through the canals of Venice and visible starry skies in China proved to be the glimmer of hope we were all desperately searching for in the midst of these unprecedented times. That sense of hope was short-lived, however, and data soon emerged showing that although levels of carbon emissions declined somewhat thanks to lockdown measures, this was merely a temporary slowdown – and environmental damage from the burning of fossil fuels is continuing, unabated. Indeed, pandemic safety measures, such as the wearing of PPE, is contributing even further waste – non-recyclable face masks and gloves can be found discarded carelessly on our streets and in our landfills. Whilst our attention has been almost exclusively focused on COVID-19 during these past few months, we must not forget that nothing on our planet exists in a vacuum – climate change is inextricably linked with public health as well as with migration.

 

In 2019 alone, extreme weather events displaced 24 million people within their own countries – an alarmingly high number, serving as a stark reminder that we must not ignore the seriousness of the issue. Climate change is likely to result in even more frequent and intense weather events in the future, which will inevitably lead to a dramatic shift in the demographics of our planet. The displacement of large numbers of people is a high-risk scenario, particularly during a global pandemic – how can migrants obey stay-at-home orders when their homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, bush fires and major floods? Can we reasonably expect social distancing in cramped refugee camps or frequent handwashing in places where soapy water is often unavailable due to damage to infrastructure? Consider the example of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti; survivors in crowded camps were often forced to drink water that had been contaminated by flooded rivers and latrines, resulting in a serious cholera outbreak, killing many of those who already displaced. If we wish to suppress the spread of COVID-19, we must also simultaneously address climate change.

 

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm
Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm

Hurricane Matthew: the impact on housing in Corail and Jeremie, Haiti (BBC, 2016)

Migration due to environmental change is not a new concept; however, the levels of climate migration have increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Migration Data Portal, in 2019 alone, nearly 2,000 disasters triggered 24.9 million new internal displacements, the highest number since 2012. These were mostly the result of tropical storms and monsoon rains in South Asia and East Asia and Pacific. While it is difficult to measure exactly how many have fled their homes as a direct result of climate change, it is categorised as a “threat amplifier”: something which exacerbates an existing situation, such as conflict or competition over scarce resources. Those who are forced to flee their homes as a direct result of sudden-onset weather changes face a complex legal situation when attempting to access assistance or seek asylum; the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) currently refuses these migrants refugee status, designating them merely as “environmental migrants” and leaving them out in the cold without legal protection.

 

Unlike the measures introduced to tackle the pandemic, there is no organised effort to monitor the migrant population, and the UN lacks the resources to address their needs. The Sustainable Development Goals mention climate action and the urgent need to address it; however, the refusal of the US to adopt the Global Compact and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement are not very encouraging signs of a commitment to future action. The Global Compact on Migration represents a unique opportunity for the international community to understand the climatic drivers of migration as well as the impact of migration on the environment, while the Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by setting out goals involving carbon-emission mitigation, new technologies and the reinforcing of countries’ adaptive abilities in the face of severe weather events.

 

How a situation is perceived is critical when planning an effective response. Too much doom-and-gloom on the news can lead to “crisis fatigue” – a phenomenon many are already familiar with, watching the ever-rising death toll on television every night. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which is only amplified when the population also views extreme weather events as “acts of God” over which they feel no sense of control. Utilising a crisis-narrative inhibits effective action, as crises are typically short-term, unexpected events of which we could have had no prior knowledge or indeed, any level of preparedness. This can be applied to both COVID-19, which proved to be the “Disease X” public health experts have warned us about for many years, as well as climate change, the effects of which we have long been aware of. We cannot keep burying our heads in the sand when faced with mounting evidence of the effects of both of these threats.

 

COVID-19 and climate change pose immediate and long-term challenges to our well-being and everyday survival; the New York Times estimates that in South Asia alone, the living conditions of 800 million people could dramatically diminish due to climate change. Therefore, both must be addressed with an equal amount of urgency, long-term planning and multilateral cooperation. One significant difference must be acknowledged, however: flattening the curve of climate change will take many years, as opposed to mere weeks, and will require effective, pre-emptive intervention. International organisations such as the UN should specifically target the most vulnerable populations when planning to provide assistance and support, as it is often the countries with the lowest adaptive capacities who suffer disproportionately from the effects of flooding, droughts and desertification.

 

“The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility.”

The idea that closed borders represents safety while open borders bring chaos and danger is a flawed and dangerous one that right-wing populists across the developed world have capitalised on throughout both the 2015 refugee crisis and the current pandemic. The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility – a mere snapshot of what it is like for those fleeing parts of the world rendered uninhabitable by the devastating effects of climate change. Whilst all public health experts recommend travel and border restrictions as a necessary part of the pandemic response, they emphasise that this must be done on a test-and-trace basis, instead of an all-encompassing blanket ban. Such measures could lead people to fear “outsiders” or “foreigners” as potential sources of infection, a fear which could translate into a long-term policy if we are not careful. We need to remember the opportunities and benefits of welcoming migrants into our communities: many societies are experiencing a demographic decline and ageing populations – a fresh injection of migrant workers can provide a significant boost to local economies, a much-needed necessity in many post-COVID nations. The irony seemed lost on U.K. politicians recently when many applauded and expressed gratitude to the NHS for saving lives throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that many of its healthcare workers are migrants living in a nation whose Home Office is fighting to maintain policies that promote a “hostile environment” for such workers in order to deter any future influx.

 

And so, we have arrived at our current situation, through a combination of denial, ignorance (politically motivated or otherwise) and a preference for short-term gain, all whilst ignoring the true long-term pain. This myopic attitude must change if we are to ensure the survival and quality of life of the inhabitants of this Earth. We cannot simply relocate the problem, irresponsibly dispose of our waste in developing nations, and perpetuate an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The evidence is clear: the developed world may be more capable (but perhaps not always willing) to prepare for and manage the effects of extreme weather events, while many in underdeveloped nations lack this capacity. Yet as true as it is that we will all suffer through our own inaction, this conversely means that we will surely all benefit through positive, coordinated action.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

OPINION 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

anti-mask far right grafton st ireland
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

4th October 2020

If you have wandered through O’Connell Street in the past number of weeks, you may have noticed certain groups protesting outside the GPO. Upon first glance, it may have been difficult to identify exactly what was being protested: some raised placards call to “Protect Our Children”, and Irish tricolours are plentiful. Then, however, you may see the signs that beg you to “take off your mask”, claiming that “it’s only a common cold”. It becomes clear that the demonstration in question is an anti-mask one, protests that have been ongoing in Ireland since July.

 

The latest in these strings of incidents took place yesterday afternoon, October 3rd, as hundreds of anti-mask campaigners held a sit-down in the middle of Grafton Street as part of a protest in Dublin city centre. The protesters started with a rally outside the Custom House before marching to Grafton Street chanting “no more lockdown” and “no more masks”. While Gardai are investigating the organisation of the protest, it was believed to be linked to the group Yellow Vest Ireland. Yellow Vest is a populist movement that was founded to imitate the French Gilets Jaunes, describing itself as a “people’s movement” that is “not aligned to any political group, organisation or politician”. It has protested on a range of issues in recent years, like vulture funds, property taxes, the banking system and the immigration system. Their most recent activism has been aimed towards the anti-face-mask movement, however, with no social distancing and, of course, no face-masks, present at the event. Some of these demonstrations’ attendees may merely be believers of conspiracy theories about the virus, while others might simply be of the opinion that Government restrictions have gone too far. But is there a more sinister edge? It has come to light that such issues like direct provision, child protection, and most recently, this opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.

 

 

The Yellow Vest protest was led by a formal “colour party”, comprising members of a Donegal-based far-right group named Siol na hÉireann. Its founder, Niall McConnell, spoke at the protest, rallying against “LGBTQ+ propaganda” and equating immigration to plantation. Earlier on the 12th September, veteran LGBTQ+ activist Izzy Kamikaze was struck in the head with a piece of wood wrapped in an Irish Tricolour at an anti-mask demonstration on Kildare Street that she was counter-protesting. The masked man who assaulted Kamikaze was part of a smaller group of protestors wearing badges that read “Antifa Hunting Permit. Open Season. All 58 Genders”. Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist, which is a decentralised left-wing protest movement that gained prominence in the U.S. recently for aggressively protesting against the far-right. And on August 22nd, a small number of far-right protestors, wearing face-masks and surgical gloves and armed with weapons such as iron bars and batons, attended a large anti-mask protest outside Custom House. These protestors were believed to be members of the Irish branch of Generation Identity, a thought-to-be deplete white nationalist organisation focuses on street activism and thought to have attended combat and survival training courses abroad.

 

“Opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.”

Gardaí have been concerned about the expanding far-right in Ireland for many months now. In November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed that he is “concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe.” In June, Europol warned of a meaningful escalation in far-right activity in Ireland. Dr Eileen Culloty, a disinformation researcher at DCU, explained that far-right activity has merely accelerated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken. “Back in March, they were mostly scapegoating minorities for breaking the lockdown rules, even though minorities are making up a large proportion of the key workers keeping Europe open. Then over the summer, it moved towards exploiting people’s frustration over the restrictions and claiming Covid was a hoax. And then, in the last month or so, it has culminated in these anti-mask demonstrations that are popping up around Europe.”

 

Opposition to lockdown measures is merely the latest cause commandeered by the far right. This is clearly seen in the case of McConnell and his far-right ideals infiltrating the supposedly non-political Yellow Vest protest. Yellow Vest leaders later spoke out against McConnell’s speech, claiming that all were welcome at their protests – and it is true that the far right is just a tiny minority of the attendees at such protests. But they are present. They are able to utilise the platform to advance their own agenda. They have an audience, willing to listen and capable of being persuaded. This is where the danger begins.

 

 

Featured photo by Paul Dunlea