By John Gormley
It didn’t take the political establishment long to adapt to the outpourings of public sympathy for the refugees. The initial limit of 600 was quickly upped to 1,800 when Fine Gael spokespersons were asked about the numbers of refugees that Ireland would accept. Not to be outdone, Labour leader, Joan Burton, mentioned a figure of 5,000.
Across the water, David Cameron also executed a swift U-turn when he saw that the public mood had switched from hostility to compassion for the distressed migrants. Cameron knows that this is the most sensitive of political issues and one which could figure large in the forthcoming EU referendum. He is keeping a watchful eye on Nigel Farage who set out his stall in typically uncompromising style on Sky News. UKIP is opposed to further immigration because, while it might contribute to increased economic growth, it will register negatively on ‘quality of life’, an argument designed to appeal to all those conservationist Tories with their Range Rovers and Barbour waxed jackets. They certainly don’t want an increase in population to 80 million people – the figure casually thrown out by Farage – in an already densely populated country.
And this is where a curious and uncomfortable alignment occurs between the ideas of these reactionary forces and so‐called deep green thinkers. Consider for a moment the Malthusian ravings of Dr William Stanton from ten years ago: individual citizens, and aliens must expect to be seriously inconvenienced by the single-minded drive to reduce population ahead of resource shortage. The consolation is that the alternative: letting nature take its course, would be so much worse.
The scenario is: immigration is banned. Unauthorised arrivals are treated as criminals. Every woman is entitled to raise one healthy child. No religious or cultural exceptions can be made, but entitlements can be traded. Abortion or infanticide is compulsory if the foetus or baby proves to be handicapped. When, through old age, accident or disease, an individual becomes more of a burden than a benefit to society, his or her life is humanely ended. Voluntary euthanasia is legal and made easy. Imprisonment is rare, replaced by corporal punishment for lesser offences and painless capital punishment for greater.
We shouldn’t distract ourselves for too long with the dystopian vision of Dr Stanton, but there are saner voices who have warned about the influence of resource depletion and climate change on global migration patterns. According to UN estimates, if our current population growth continues with normal ‘demographic drivers’ there could be between 235 and 415 million international migrants in the world by 2050. However, climate change increases the potential for additional mass migration. The Stern Report (2007) put this figure at an additional 200 million, whereas a Christian Aid report of the same year came up with the more alarming figure of an additional one billion migrants as a result of the climate crisis.
The current Syrian refugee crisis is ostensibly the result of a complex civil war, but a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the severe drought between 2007 and 2010 contributed to the conflict. It resulted in the migration of traditional farming families – about 1.5 million people – to urban areas where they found it difficult to find work, leading in turn to civil unrest. Scientists have also suggested that climate change may have played a role in the drought in north Africa that led to increases in food prices, and sparking the discontent of the Arab Spring.
Similarly, another UN Report concluded that climate change had played a role in the Darfur conflict.
The accumulating evidence points in one direction: the current migration crisis is not a temporary phenomenon, but the ‘new normal’, with the potential to become a defining and deeply polarising issue.
Angela Merkel knows that the public mood can change very quickly. So far, the Germans are happy to accept tens of thousands of well-educated Syrians who, no doubt, will contribute meaningfully to the German demography and economy; but would they be as welcoming of poor black Africans with few qualifications?
Pegida and the AfD in Germany and the emergence of far right nationalist parties in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands betoken a racist undercurrent in these liberal countries.
No such parties have succeeded in Ireland. That’s not to say that the Irish are morally superior or that the same disdain for migrants does not exist here. Most TDs will tell you that many Irish voters express concern about the numbers of migrants.
According to one survey, up to 70% of Sinn Féin supporters believed there were ‘too many’ migrants. Sinn Féin, to their credit, have never attempted to make political capital from this disquiet. But now that one in eight people in this state are non-national, well above the Western average and considerably higher than in Britain, migration will rise to the top of the Irish political agenda.
Migration, the concomitant of climate change, is set to challenge our moral certainties in the most unimaginable way. •