The refugees keep pouring into Europe. Who can blame them for leaving? What sensible person would not want to escape war and poverty? It’s heartbreaking just to read about the hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and Northern Africa trying to find sanctuary in Europe. They take trips on overloaded ships out of Libya, Morocco, Syria and other countries. Many of these ships are deliberately sunk near shore. Thousands of refugees and migrants have likely drowned at sea this year. Others try to escape over land — a difficult journey at best. After being holed up in Hungary, about 20,000 refugees won passage through Austria and arrived last week in Munich, Germany. They were the lucky ones. They made it and even luckier they were greeted warmly upon their arrival with food and shelter.
But Germany is already warning that these refugees are straining their services. England plans to take 20,000 migrants. France is preparing for 24,000. Germany expects that it might host nearly a million refugees this year. Other European countries are turning refugees away. The United States is largely looking the other way and will only accommodate a few thousand. In spite of Pope Francis’s call for kindness and sanctuary for refugees in its churches, it is likely that the world’s goodwill will quickly run out.
I have a feeling of foreboding, but it’s not paranoia. It’s a matter of simply looking at world trends and projecting them forward. There have always been refugees, but what we are likely to see in the first half of the 21st century is mass migration on a scale we simply have not experienced in modern times. This will have a profound effect on us, calling us toward our better selves, but it’s likely that we’ll move in just the opposite direction. Here in the United States, Donald Trump is its clarion. He’s calling for the United States to build a wall on our Mexican border not to mention somehow deport 11 million people already living here, but he’s hardly alone. All nations can help mitigate this crisis to some extent, but at some point it becomes too much. The drawbridges are raised and each nation declares, “Sorry, we can’t help anymore.”
Walls or not, it’s not going to stop. Desperate people do desperate things. We have much more coastline than we have borders with Mexico. If a wall works, which I doubt (tunnels will simply be dug under them), other tactics will be used to get into our country. Like Cubans did fifteen years ago, and Haitians still do sporadically, we can expect boats full of refugees on our doorstep too, washing up on our Gulf, Pacific and Atlantic shores. The wealthier ones will simply arrive on a tourist visa and overstay their welcomes. They will keep coming to Europe as well. Many will perish in the process. They want what all reasonable people want: freedom, prosperity and a better life for themselves and their children.
We will try to keep things the way they were, but it will increasingly become impossible. The numbers coming will make cultural conflict inevitable, likely fueling race and religious divides. Most of those streaming into Europe are Muslim, and Muslims frequently feel unwelcome in Europe. In France, the National Front Party’s rise has been linked to the discomfort many French are feeling to the Muslims in their communities. Arguably Donald Trump is feeding the same paranoia here in the United States, but this discomfort is what is driving the Tea Party. Trump has simply become its ringmaster.
The immediate cause of the crisis is political instability, particularly in Syria. Larger macro forces, particularly climate change, are feeding political instability. It’s made worse by overpopulation. We keep adding people but the size of the earth doesn’t change. It creates a downwardly vicious cycle. We consume more resources and deforest more of our planet, making problems that much harder to solve. Sea level rise will force people to move, including many here in the United States. If you look at the areas of the world that will be most affected by sea level rise, you are also looking at some of the most populated areas of the world, which also happen to be among the poorest parts of the world, places like Bangladesh. Sufficiently large numbers of poor and desperate people will overwhelm local governments. In fact, they will be able to change national boundaries and start their own states. This conflict will inevitably breed many wars where the competition will simply be to see who survives and gets to control the remaining resources. It may look a lot like a Mad Max movie.
The tendency will be to close our gates and protect what we have. Real solutions though require international cooperation that has so far eluded us. Addressing climate change is a big part of the solution but this must be done while knowing temperatures will still increase over the next century no matter what we do. Outside of China, no serious attempt has been made to address population control but it will have to be done and it fill feed religious outrage. Industrializing countries are likely to not be interested in ways to industrialize cleanly. We must do all this while trying to act humanely toward the living and while coping with the increasing presence of the other in our midst.
It’s pretty clear to me that government as we have known it so far is not up to this challenge. To address it, you have to give up the idea of having autonomous countries. Decisions need to be made collectively and worldwide. Survival of the species becomes a unified struggle or it devolves into widespread war, poverty and anarchy. Which one is more likely based on our history?
So the gates will go up instead and this will feed the problem rather than solve it. Those that have will effectively push more misery on those that don’t, which will feed the drive of those that don’t. There are many more of those that don’t have than those that do. In their quest to have what the rest of us have, we that have will compromise our values and fundamentally change society. We will become a meaner, harsher and more class-divided society.
I pray for sensibility in the decades ahead, but I sense anarchy at our doorsteps. I sense it will arise within us as we tighten the screws. Pray that our better half wins, but it is likely to be in vain.