A Human Rights ‘Meltdown’

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Take Action, Uncategorized, Weekly news

Human rights and climate change are inseparable. There are many studies available now that provide evidence that in an unstable climate, conflict and human rights violation will escalate. In a cooler and wetter world cool heads won’t prevail.

At first I could not decipher the link between human rights and climate change. Though the correlation is evident at times convincing many environmental scientists and researchers that there is a dire need to take action. It is essential that the need for action has to come from all stakeholders.

There are many today who will disagree. When researching through it I came across various studies trying to find a direct and indirect links, finding a connection, giving evidence every now and then to prove their point. It has also become a norm these days that if someone doesn’t have a specialization in a certain field most of the time they are not taken seriously.

Do I need to specialize in environmental sciences to know this simple truth? Can’t I make a choice by being rational and looking at the bigger picture? Because the truth is simple no matter how bitter it is or how much we try to run away from it. We have done enough harm to mother earth. She is dying, calling out for help, loud and clear. And in this situation looking away would just be another selfishness which comes naturally to us as human beings.

Fascinating as it is, in 1994 there was a study done in which it was discovered that two groups of police officers undergoing the exact same simulation training were more likely to draw their weapons if the room was uncomfortably warm. This doesn’t mean that there are cool heads in cooler regions. But sometimes heat fuels aggressive behavior in people. It is just to state the fact that in uncomfortable environmental situations there is a likelihood of a rise in violence. Now there are studies proving it but just to share my regular observation during our extremely hot summers in Pakistan, you get to see fights and people arguing more on the streets.

Drawing a connection doesn’t mean that climate change is solely responsible for human rights violations. Various factors interact with climate to produce chaos. Drought and flooding cripple an economy, especially one that is already weak or that is based on agriculture.

In a research done by University of California, Berkeley and University of Princeton the researchers found that personal violence was far more influenced by a leap in temperature. The researchers in the journal called Science stated that an unstable climate aggravates three types of violence namely personal, political or intergroup leading to institutional breakdown. Analysing 60 studies from a number of disciplines including archaeology, criminology, economics and psychology — the researchers have explored the correlation between weather and violence in various parts of the world from about 10,000 BCE to the present day. Reviewing the studies for a period of 18 months they were confident in drawing their conclusion. The researchers predicted in the study that people may face a threat as precarious as extreme weather and that is each other.

Seeing the current state of world affairs where most of the countries in the East and West are having a political turmoil it does sound accurate. We have been witnessing disparity and human rights violations leading to various social outburst across the globe, be it Egypt, Crimea, Turkey, US, Sudan to name a few. Taking an example of Egypt people came out on the streets demanding for their rights, pressing the governments the need for their well-being. They came out furious as if fed up with the current system. People have been protesting in other places too like Brazil and this phenomenon looks global now not confining to any one particular region or affecting any one particular tribe. The study reports that due to extreme climatic conditions violence in all three categories exacerbates regardless of geography or stability. A connection was seen between atypical climate and incidents including ethnic violence in Asia and Europe, spikes in domestic violence in India and Australia; assaults and murders increase in the United States and Tanzania; land invasions in Brazil; use of force in the Netherlands; rise of civil conflicts throughout the tropics; collapsed ancient empires; and in Middle-Ages Europe wars and displacements.

The researchers in their study also stated that they see the same pattern across the world. They stated that it is assumed that our modern society is largely independent of the environment because we are technologically advanced but it is quite the contrary. The climate play a vital role is sustaining peace and well-being across human societies.

In the research Prof Hsiang quoted that environmental conditions do change people’s perception of their own conditions and the use of violence or aggressive behaviour by people to change their situation and accomplish some goal. He also added that this doesn’t mean that climate is the only cause of conflict. There is not a single conflict that can be attributed to some specific climate event.

Well that does make sense being a student of conflict resolution and peacebuilding I also understand that there are various reasons triggering a conflict and have their roots in interpersonal and intergroup relations.  Looking at the dynamics of conflict which is a tricky subject to deal with no sane person can equate violence with climate. The need for this research is to highlight that climate is a critical factor and affect how things escalate even to the point of violence. We need to connect the dots and let our reasoning be based on solid foundations to avoid more damage.

The researchers found that while climate is not the sole or primary cause of violence, it undeniably intensifies existing social and interpersonal tension in all societies, regardless of wealth or geography. It was found out during the research that the amount of change from the local norm — in heat or rainfall boosts the risk of a riot, civil war or ethnic conflict. Things are changing and changing fast. Looking at the climate change models the research proves that by 2050 there will be a change in global climate conditions. The change in global climate conditions will escalate murders, rape, riots etc. Establishing a casual relationship between human conflict and climate through the collection of data the researchers were cautious about drawing a direct link. The individual researches or analysis on the same subject did not garner headlines before, people have been sceptical of an individual study.

But this collective research is opening a new window for discussion and action. It can be seen that the patterns drawn in the research are extremely general and are no exception. It should be considered as a rule of thumb. It will be an awakening call for the policy makers out there to take actions accordingly. Climate change does destabilise social institutions by testing the amount of stress they can endure. The social institutions mostly fail to deliver to the public when it comes to natural catastrophes, all these typhoons, earthquakes and floods are a clear indication of our misdoings. There is a red flag here, pretty much in the face. Instead of acting like onlookers waiting for our turn we need to collectively put an end to this.

In a state of vengeance and unlimited power while having our nuclear tests, where we are busy feeding the guns instead of the people, we forget what harm they will bring to the nations in the coming years. We still face the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after so many years.  What else do we need to know now? The past has been a good indicator of the turmoil which we can end up in but we don’t want to pay heed right now. In the race to have more there will be a time when we will lose ourselves.

The research also pointed out the fact that after disasters populations tend to suffer permanently. They usually don’t end up being stronger rather are more prone to catastrophes in the future. Populations end up struggling more and it also affects the performance of political organizations they tend to do very badly. There can be a rhetoric which most political organizations are capable of, that after disasters they tend to become stronger as a community or economically but there is hardly any evidence that proves it. After a natural disaster it has been seen that those areas become more vulnerable putting lives of millions in danger.

Copyright AlJazeera English   Photo Source: Aljazeera English

The research pressed the fact that human rights are, and will continue to be, interconnected to climate change. These most basic of human rights include the right to have a home, food and water. The research clearly indicates that whether there is a relationship between climate and conflict is not the question anymore. Now the question should be what is causing it. Moving to a second stage where more facts are known. It is important to investigate the cause of this connection. This study establishing a correlation between violence and climate change can also allow policymakers and researchers to examine what causes it and how to intervene and prevent it or at least make an effort to resist it. By figuring out what is causing the correlation between human rights violation and conflict would be a step forward. It will help is designing effective policies or institutions capable to manage and interrupt the connection between climate and conflict. In the face of greater violence, the research continues to examine how certain social and political institutions may help mitigate some of the impacts that lead to more conflict. It is important to find that out so that the future generations can be saved enabling to create a better planet.

The changes might seem to be moderate when it comes to climate but they have a sizable impact on the societies. There are many other researches that came up with global climate models that projected an increase in global temperatures. This is not a conspiracy theory against any government. It is a simple but an inconvenient truth.  This global warming and the rate by which it is increasing according to the researchers warming at a certain level could increase the risk of civil war in many countries by more than 50 percent.

This indication doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Dr. Kumi Naidoo, executive director at Greenpeace International argues the same point. Naidoo recently said that the struggles between catastrophies caused by climate change and human rights struggle should be seen as two sides of the same coin. This statement further augments the need not to see the two things separately.

In an interview, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Richard Pearshouse also stated that many of the most vulnerable in society will be affected by climate change. That vulnerable stratum includes and will affect the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, women and children. That should be enough for human rights organisations. It is clear with what he said that the marginalised will feel the impacts most deeply. He stated that there are many places where the amount of human suffering is caused by environmental degradation. He quoted the example of Hazaribagh, Bangladesh saying that as someone working in the areas of human rights and health, the climate change overlap is very evident. He added that the human suffering due to environmental degradation is very obvious in Bangladesh. It is indeed true that flooding and drought does affect the agricultural economies that are solely dependent on the crop. When looking at the bigger picture we see that we are draining the natural resources that can jeopardize the future of our planet. Hopefully the exhaustion of natural resources will let us stay at the point where we buy water to drink instead of not having water at all.

From the right to life to health, housing and education, climate change has a massive impact on a vast range of civil and political rights. When it comes to suffering on the ground it is the marginalised who are affected the most. There appears a discrimination which the international organizations and government bodies should keep in mind. The mitigations measures should incorporate the impact of climate change on the most marginalised. There are polar extremes everywhere in the world and the gap between haves and have not’s is ever increasing. Drawing a balance between climate change and the group of people affected most by it is crucial to the study.

Pearshouse said there are many example across the globe where clear links are found between the unofficial exercise of government power and environmental harm around the world whether it’s a government unwilling to enforce basic health and environmental safeguards in Bangladesh or state-sponsored repression of environmental defenders in Russia. This reinforces that climate injustice is not limited to one particular region. Even the most stable of the economies can’t get away with the natural disasters putting millions at risk.

The science can be a building block as it is. It’s time for us to start acting and that is the area where we are struggling to convince people of how real this all stated above is. Let’s challenge the old school always suggesting that the issues of climate justice are baseless. We have a very strong base here if we open our eyes and try to notice it. The message is loud and clear and we have seven billion people to whom we need to convey this message.

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Anam Gill

Believes that empathy and compassion can trigger change. A media professional passionate and committed towards issues of human rights and social justice.