Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The conflicts that are not

The arab spring and the greek crisis has brought street protest back to the TV screens. But if we don't realize the threat of climate change, democracy won't do us much good.

The Mediterranean spring brought the ancient battle between people and their rulers back to the TV screens. The Arab spring has so far shown meager results. The success stories Tunisia and Egypt look increasingly like stolen revolutions. The West seems incompetent to make change happen in Libya, too scared about any chaos involving Israel to bother with Syria and supportive of the oppressors in Yemen and Bahrain.

May 2010 Greek protests

On the other side of the Mediterranean, that sea that always served as unifier, not an obstacle, similar movements in Spain, Italy and Greece fight their battles for democracy in a very different context. But they don't look any more successful.

Successful or not they remind us that democracy is never to be taken for granted but must be struggled for, and when you are not struggling it doesn't exist.

Do not underestimate my cordial support for anyone fighting for democracy, especially when putting her or his life at stake. But the truly worrying about today's political context is not these conflicts, but how irrelevant they rapidly become. We all know that the world is quickly becoming a very different place, with fuel shortages and ecological disasters. In such a world survival is important. The Greek sovereign debt is not. Not any more than the Byzantine empire's debts - a matter for historians.

Syrians are lacking democracy and economic development. But putting Syria on the right track will require something quite different than introducing elections and market economy. It will need to re-invent a way to live in a desert without the help of fossil fuels. While I am writing the Syrian army is carrying out a "scorched earth" campaign against rebellious cities in the north.

This earth has already been scorched. "The four-year drought in Syria has pushed two million to three million people into extreme poverty" New York Times wrote less than a year ago. Two and a half year ago AFDP reported that 160 Syrian villages have been deserted due to the drought.

This is the real problem, the one that should be on TV every day. It is absolutely global. Million of peoples are turned into beggars and refugees by climate change. And yet we find time to discuss the Greek sovereign debt... As a grim irony - when citizens that have endured four long years of drought now run from the army, they are now greeted by heavy rains. Grim, but predictable. For decades science has predicted that global warming will make weather events more extreme. Drier droughts and heavier storms.

Of course, dictatorships are not fit to meet this challenge, and one could very optimisticly see the current push for democracy as a first step towards governments that dare dealing with the real issues that Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks and all of us face. But in order for that to happen, global elites would have to realize the gravity of the matter and lend such a movement support. At the moment they are not.

Did the Syrian four year drought and the massive displacement of rural citizens play a part in generating the current unrest? Is it a coincidence that conflicts appear in areas severely affected by climate change?

The political impacts of climate change could be a wake up call to politicians and if so, that would be good. Because if we don't address the issues that really matter - climate change, peak oil and food insecurity, democracy will not bring anything good, not matter how heroic the struggle for it may be.

Still. My heart goes out to those risking their lives for a better world. If we all were so brave, maybe we could get out of this mess?

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