That Phillip Hammond – he of the “marauding migrants” soundbite – might actually have a point. No, don’t worry: i haven’t suddenly gone all UKIP on you! Because while he may have said something with more than a grain of truth in it, he said it for all the wrong reasons and, as one might expect, has utterly failed to draw the wider, more important lessons from the migrant issue.
He is part of a problem which will, in our lifetimes, have implications that are far-reaching for all of us – and not part of the solution.
Let’s start with what Hammond said: “millions of marauding African migrants pose a threat to the EU’s standard of living and social structure”. Park the kneejerk use of “marauding”, a nasty spinword, worthy of uber-spinmeister, Joseph Goebbels. Get past the fact that talk of “millions” when we all know the total that have actually made it to our shores are but a few thousand.
For in the decades to come, that is the size of the issue. And on present trends, not one British politician seems prepared to acknowledge this, let alone begin to talk rationally about it.
Because climate change is coming. We’ve seen a few weather anomalies so far, but nothing compared to the big global shifts on the way. Some time in the next year, we will pass the point at which we could have held global warming to 2C: that is the level of rise that was believed manageable without major disruption.
As in: we would lose a few of our smaller island nations: and the US will be subject to a growing number of extreme and unpalatable weather events. But, hey: get over it!
The Paris climate change conference later this year is meant to be the latest in a long line of last chances to bring this phenomenon back under control. Few believe it will succeed. Which means that global warming will almost certainly pass the next red line of 4C: even, according to approximately one in ten scientists, 6C.
That is an average. In some places, the rise will be 4C: in some it will be zero; and in many areas already hot – around the equator, in Africa – the rise in temperature and accompanying structural economic damage is likely to be significantly greater.
In such circumstance, large chunks of that continent will become uninhabitable and, as with the banking crisis, those most affected will be those least responsible. For global warming is not just a man-made problem: it has its origins absolutely in the West (and now China, too) where a certain standard of living has mandated a level of carbon emissions beyond sustainable. It has been continued by the same culprits – us! – who have first refused to put in place meaningful measures to avert warming, and then haggled over the pitiful amounts of money they will put forward to mitigate the consequences of warming in the developing world.
This is the same developing world whose resources they continue to plunder in the name of free market economics – and to burn, literally, in order to underpin their continuing exaggerated lifestyle.
Tens of millions of individuals will be displaced and these will, in a very narrow sense, be “economic migrants”: though “ecological migrants” might be a more accurate term. After all, if your water supplies have gone due to developed world carelessness, does it really matter much what you call your reason for moving?
Which takes us back to Mr Hammond and his millions of “marauders”. Right now, we are worrying over how to deal with a few thousand allegedly illegal migrants in Calais. What proportion are actually illegal, what not, will soon be moot point. For if we are having a national headache over how to deal with such modest numbers, what will we do when the numbers are multiplied a hundred-fold? A thousand-fold, even?
Judging by the current toxic mix of public selfishness and political rhetoric designed to dehumanise and vilify, the potential for a Fortress Europe, machine guns at the ready to mow down these “marauding hordes”, seems ever more likely.
Because if it’s genuine natural disaster, we, the privileged “civilised” are mostly happy to help. Just so long as the victims agree to play their part and stay put. Though we tend to get a little twitchy when, it is suggested, the disaster can be tracked back to us: twitchier still if the help asked for includes support and shelter.
Stumbling toward genocide? Or planning for compassion?
Still, we are not there yet: not yet prepared to endorse a policy that includes the mass extermination of unarmed civilians. But nor are we ready for the humanitarian disaster that is to come. We have not even begun to work out how to absorb its casualties: how to integrate a dispossessed mass that, legal or otherwise, will be in desperate need and cannot in all humanity be turned away.
It is my profoundest hope that, faced with decisions that could spark a genocide to exceed all previous genocides, we will do the right thing: open our borders and cope, together, with the global consequences of our decades of careless apathy; and faced with the ultimate challenge to our species we will find the courage to act compassionately.
More, that in the end, we will not succumb to what our politicians – Hammond included – seem to be preparing us for right now: the machine gun option.