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Migrations – Looting and Climate
by Nicolas Sersiron
20 October 2016

With its 1.79 children per household, Germany is in demographic decline. The production of its wealth relies on wage earners. It must import a workforce for which it does not have to provide care for the first few years and which it hopes will depart before retirement. The resulting ethnicization of social classes exposes, here as elsewhere, the effective persistence of colonial structures in city centers. [1]

Faced with millions of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East to Europe, some welcome migrants with open arms, while others reject them completely. In the current context of violence hundreds of thousands of Africans who cross the Mediterranean risking death are forgotten or dismissed as economic refugees to be sent back home. Yet are they not only seeking to escape death as well, death through starvation? Does not their extreme poverty to force them migrate to save their families and their own lives?

Is our emotional capacity saturated by the plight of Syrians, Iraqis, etc., by the current morbid and “incomprehensible” wars as well as by the terrorist attacks that relocate and internalize a war once thought of as “foreign”? Do our countries not have to accept liability for the increasing migrations of refugees, be it from Africa or from the Middle East?

Congratulations to Germany for welcoming one million migrants, but is it acceptable that it should distinguish between those fleeing war and those who can no longer live on their ancestral lands? By 2050, the German population will have decreased by 10 million; now its economic superiority was acquired with lower wages than its neighbors thanks to the Hartz IV laws passed after the Reunification. This means that higher productivity has not been transformed into wages. [2] With a single currency, low wages become a key parameter in the competition within the European Union. As she decides to welcome a large number of migrants who are often young, well-trained and most interestingly willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions to rebuild their lives and integrate, Merkel clearly shows Germany’s power and domination over other European countries, by keeping wages lower than the others. The show of generosity mustn’t be pooh-poohed, but is it not selfishness and a desire for power that prompt such decisions somehow dictated by a context of ultra-liberal and globalized capitalism?

The “socialist” government of France, a country which maintains a sufficient birth rate and contribution to migration, only welcomes a few thousands of refugees, thus complying with the National Front’s nationalist and xenophobic views. Changing the Constitution to include a pointless revocation of nationality, maintaining the state of emergency as well as rejecting migrants, are measures primarily intended to weaken traditional right-wing parties where the National Front is becoming more popular in the upcoming 2017 presidential elections. The electoral game dominates everything. Cynicism and strategy prevail over the need to welcome refugees and over France’s image as a human rights defender. Who will be opposed to Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election? Will it be the socialist or the republican candidate? It’s an election campaign with no holds barred.

The fate of those who die of hunger or who are doomed to hopeless poverty only becomes a determining factor in public decisions if polls, which are the true compass of our leaders, register a strong popular response. Yet there is a close connection between countries in the North steadily becoming richer and most countries in the South being left in the grip of poverty, aggravated by chaotic climate change and wars. The real causes of these South-North migrations must remain hidden otherwise we would expose a global injustice based on dispossession and multiple and organized looting by Europeans and industrialized countries for centuries. Beyond the emotions roused, we must return to the sources of international inequalities in order to understand what is at stake.


Extractivism, illegitimate debt and global warming

According to several scientists, the doubling of cereal prices in 2008 was one of the “triggers” of the Arab spring [3], as these countries are major importers. The Syrian drought, which lasted for several years, and the government’s mismanagement of water resources were the main causes of the 2011 revolt.

“According to the UN, 1.3 million Syrians in rural areas have been affected by the extreme drought. In the year 2009 alone, more than 300,000 farmers have deserted the northeast, unable to maintain their activity.” [4]

In 2007 Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) wrote that “The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change [...] Over the past forty years, rainfall is down from 16% to 30% and the desert climate which receives less than 100mm of rainfall per year has shifted 100 km south.” [5] After several catastrophic droughts in the 70s and 80s, approximately 400,000 farmers and nomadic herders have migrated to South Darfur. “The nomad Arabs, in particular from the North, have increasingly settled in the lands of non-Arab farmers in the South.” [6] The war fueled by Khartoum is a probable consequence. Others fled to foreign countries searching for work.

There are multiple explanations to understand major population movements, even if current migrations from the Middle East were mainly caused by global warming and wars. These mass exoduses are probably only the beginning of a new era. The decrease in area and thickness of the great Andean and Himalayan glaciers is particularly worrying. Romshoo, a glacier specialist in Kashmir says that “We found a significant decrease in fresh water from glaciers. At least two major Himalayan glaciers have disappeared over the past 50 years, while others located in critical areas have shrunk by 27%.” [7] These are actually the reservoirs of large rivers that irrigate the lands of hundreds of millions of farmers. Without snowmelt, most of Asian agriculture will become impossible; the consequent famine will cause waves of unprecedented migration.

African and Middle Eastern migrations to Europe are without a doubt the beginning, and they are limited compared to cross-border migration. The world’s population has grown to billions in less than a century. For this we have to thank climate change skeptics like the Koch brothers or major shareholders of Exxon who have funded corrupt scientific studies with millions of dollars obtained by looting fossil fuels. [8] These criminals have made profits while knowing for decades the dangers of global warming by burning oil. Yet they continue to enjoy an ultra luxurious life without a care for justice while many migrations are due to colonial and neocolonial plunder (including oil which has played a major role) and to climate chaos.


Extractivism

The real causes of global warming by greenhouse gases (GHG) are linked to the sudden increase in extractivism after the Second World War. The plundering of natural resources and their dispossession by Europeans began five centuries ago powered by the physical strength of African slaves forcibly exiled in America. Since then it has grown because of the military colonization of nearly all continents. The looting of mineral, fossil and plant resources as well as ecosystem has reached a scale comparable to than that of looted human resources with forced labor of colonized peoples. Yet it was the invention of the steam engine (boats, railways, industrial machinery processing raw materials) that led to the conquest of every continent by Europeans and gave birth to the thermo-industrial civilization. [9]

With the triangular trade in past centuries, supplying Europe with looted gold, silver and tropical products, our continent had already heaped up wealth. Yet that was nothing compared to the flow of wealth that surged during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Behind this rapid enrichment of the elite in Europe, the United States and in other industrialized countries, was the impoverishment of the looted continents. This was also the beginning of environmental destruction, monocultures sterilizing soils, mining waste, atmospheric, land and water pollution, deforestation, etc. Yet these are minor disasters compared to those that were produced after the Second World War by the considerable expansion of a thermo-industrial civilization that was oil-doped, with the combustion engine, chemistry, electricity, nuclear power... But how have industrialized countries succeeded in creating a society built on consumerism and waste and thus dramatically increasing their extractive looting of raw materials needed for this “revolution”? And all of this while occupying colonial armies left the property of extremely rich soils and subsoils as well as a virtually free workforce?


Murders and illegitimate debts

There are two essential elements to understand how looting continued and then greatly extended after decolonization. The implementation of the debt system was synchronized with assassinations or forced resignations of decision makers of New and Independent States by Western secret services. This is how in Iran the Shah “succeeded” Mossadegh by force in 1953, after the latter had nationalized oil. In 1961 in Zaire, Mobutu succeeded Lumumba, who wanted an independent country and was thus conveniently murdered. In 1973 in Chile, Pinochet succeeded Allende, who had nationalized copper and was also disposed of. In 1987 in Burkina Compaore succeeded Thomas Sankara, who had refused to pay illegitimate debt and worked towards Burkina’s economic independence and had to be removed. These new decision-makers (always corrupt even in the rare cases where they were elected) misappropriated loans from the World Bank and from creditor countries for themselves and their affiliates. Thus a comprador bourgeoisie took over the ’developing’ countries for decades. Unlike the first rulers of independence, they then managed those nations not in the interest of their people but in the interests of Western and Asian multinationals. Industrialized countries, the IMF and the World Bank at their orders, forced their way as advisors and experts in “good governance”. This only increased extractivist looting and meant more debt towards international creditors. In order to repay the odious and illegitimate debts resulting from misappropriation, tied aid or illegal loans, these institutions imposed a drastic reduction in social spending and an endless increase in natural resource exports. Part of food-producing was transformed into export crop, large public companies were privatized and free trade was everywhere enforced. Subsidized products from Northern agricultures could enter freely, establishing a “free and totally unfair” competition which ruined the small farmers of the South. As for natural resources exploited by multinationals, structural adjustment policies had ensured that they had the right to freely repatriate their profits, leaving nothing but crumbs for the resource-rich country. Capital gains from the transformation, financial benefits, jobs in industry and services from this process, all went to the North. Southern countries were cheated by various hidden strategies such as unfair contracts, transfer pricing through tax havens, lies about the amount extracted and corruption of local leaders, active accomplices of this trafficking.

These exports of natural resources bring no benefit to the people when they do not also rob them of their homeland. Land grabbing, which is actually land recolonization by international finance in the name of a pseudo efficiency of productive agriculture - and a real contribution to global warming - definitely ruined millions of small farmers left without means to a decent life. Some tried to survive in city slums, others migrated to neighbouring countries and others attempted the long journey to Europe or the United States.

Dominating countries have ruined the peoples of the South by centuries of looting. In order for these people to survive, they have no choice but to go where their stolen riches are, it’s there that they have hope of finding a dignified life. The long-term environmental and social externalities of looting (various pollutions, territory loss, deforestation, “sacrifice zones”, droughts) accumulate in the form of an ecological debt which is never repaired or compensated. Part of the fossil fuels burned in industrialized countries was plundered from Africa. Yet global warming will impact this continent more violently even though its people have minimal or no responsibility in the current accumulation of GHGs. As a result, migration will only intensify in coming times. Frontex and other partition walls will only be hypocritical and illusory walls against those who have been looted. To the extent that the extraction continues to impoverish resource-rich countries so a society of waste can continue, a society that destroys our habitat, for the criminal profits of large shareholders. And this will be the case as long as the ecological debt is not compensated/repaired in a sufficiently forceful way to stop the negative externalities of extractivism to the detriment of the southern populations, of all humanity and of its habitat: nature.


This article is published in the CADTM magazine : Les Autres Voix de la Planète


Translated by Trommons and Christine Pagnoulle


Footnotes :

[1Libération, 20/01/2016. Cologne: an ethnic variation of masculine domination. Sylvie Raynal and Yves Raibaud

[2Productivity is the quantity of services or good produced by a person within a given time

[3Limiting the cause of these revolts to the increase in the price of raw materials would be of course too simplistic. The root causes are to be found on the side of the injustice, the inequality and persistent poverty of the population. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that this factor should be taken into account.

[6Ibid.

[9Alain Gras, 2007, Le Choix du feu. Aux origines de la crise climatique, Fayard, 281 p.

Nicolas Sersiron

Président du CADTM France, auteur du livre « Dette et extractivisme »
Après des études de droit et de sciences politiques, il a été agriculteur-éleveur de montagne pendant dix ans. Dans les années 1990, il s’est investi dans l’association Survie aux côtés de François-Xavier Verschave (Françafrique) puis a créé Échanges non marchands avec Madagascar au début des années 2000. Il a écrit pour ’Le Sarkophage, Les Z’indignés, les Amis de la Terre, CQFD.
Il donne régulièrement des conférences sur la dette.