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Refugees -- Another 'New Normal'


Europe used to be a good idea. It really did. What better way to continue advancement of human civilization into the concept of a single humanity navigating a Spaceship Earth than to remove barriers, standardize currency, while at the same time honoring cultural differences such as language? If we are to survive and thrive on this spaceship, we'll need to eventually get there. But there is a danger in bold maneuvers that happen in advance of their time, no matter how honorable. And Europe is now finding that out.

The issue is that if one draws a boundary around an entity called 'Europe' then it's also necessary to draw a boundary around an entity called 'Africa', an entity called 'Middle East', and an entity called 'Asia'. For 'Europe' to work, 'Africa', 'Middle East', and 'Asia' need to have approximately equivalent resources, functional governments, and opportunity to succeed.

This requirement was invisible to Europe. Setting aside for the time being the internal issues within Europe, which are significant, the issue of the boundary around Europe creating 'have' and 'have not' societies in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia may well be significant enough to doom the initiative. And it's playing out in the form of refugees.

Wars in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are blamed on many causes. Religion, politics, power, oil--pick one. But there is really only one underlying cause for this multi-regional conflict, and that's a general lack of sufficient access to clean fresh water. At the dawn of civilization, there was plenty. Then we used it up--at far greater rates than natural replenishment could support. And the result was desertification. A gigantic band of desertification that extends from West Africa to Eastern China. A gigantic band of desertification that may take hold in much of Indonesia, the Amazon, Mexico, and even the Southwestern United States. Water depletion, and the Earth's response to it, don't care about haves and have-nots. If you deplete the water, then it's gone. You'll live with it, or you'll die from it. End of subject.

So the first indicator of how badly we've messed this up are refugees--this situation's canary in the coal mine. Refugees flooding into Europe have concluded that they have no future in Middle Eastern and Northern African lands with no water, with wars bursting out all around that are largely motivated by efforts to control the remaining supply. Refugees flooding from one part of Africa to another, typically attributed to evil warlords asserting power, are still primarily a result of wars to control water. Much of Africa has used up its water. And in doing so, has used up the protein that once grew in that water. And used up the opportunity to grow crops with that water. And so the people--real human beings like you and me--are fleeing. I would flee. You would flee too.

So what are the lessons from all this? I would present several for your consideration:

  • Refugee crises throughout the world, although prevalent throughout time, will accelerate as water scarcity grows worse.
  • Refugees will largely migrate from areas that have suffered desertification to areas that have not: the Middle East to Europe, Northern Africa to Southern Africa, Mexico to the US, etc. These are predictable things. These are issues for which effective public policy can be developed in advance. It requires foresight, and it requires the good will of our better selves to make it turn out right--but we CAN survive this issue.
  • Refugees should not be considered a threat, no matter the circumstance of their arrival. They are honorable people who value family and hard work, who happen to be in an unfortunate circumstance. We who consider ourselves 'civilized' have always been willing to extend a helping hand to those less fortunate. That was easier to do back when we were offering that help to people of the same skin tone and religion. But that's probably not going to be the case here. We need to be grown-up enough to recognize that skin tone and religion really don't make us different from one another, and must not change the conditions of our goodwill.

So, circling back: What will be the future of Europe? In response to immigration from Mexico, what will be the future of the US? In every immigration circumstance, what will be the future of the receiving people?

I would submit that refugees will make our civilization stronger in every respect. These people bring wisdom; they bring family values; they bring the ethic of hard work; they bring perspectives that can protect us from what they went though--and we have but to ask to access their knowledge. So let's do it: Whether you are in Europe, the US, or wherever, meet a refugee today. Befriend them. Enable their success as as citizens of Spaceship Earth as you would do for anyone you reach out to. It's a win-win situation, so make it happen.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.