The image of masses of people marching through Manhattan to protest climate change and urge diplomats from around the world to finally “do something” about it, calls to mind the counter image of masses of people fleeing from the destruction and wreckage wrought on the world by the financiers of Wall Street. In New York, people marched last weekend along a pre-established course from Central Park to the Javitz Center: to the opposite side of the Island, that is, from the UN and easily miles north of Wall Street. They marched under the watchful eyes of the media and the still more watchful eyes of the police. In the rest of the world, and on a daily basis, masses of people march too under watchful eyes, but not in order to protest climate change or urge politicians to finally do something about it: they march simply in an attempt to flee for their lives.
There are more displaced people in the world today than at any point since the end of WWII: more than 50 million, according to recent estimates. This number includes both refugees (that is to say, people who have had to flee from their country seeking asylum in another) and internally displaced peoples (or people who live as though they were refugees in their own land).
What is behind this violent displacement of millions of people in the world today? According to one activist who was present at the march in New York last weekend, the culprit is Climate Change:
Speaking of Syria and the waves of people who are fleeing from ISIS, this activist said: "There was the worst drought in its modern history. It caused a major upheaval when all the farmers came into the cities. There was a tyrant, who then oppressed his people, a civil war broke out, destabilizing the entire region, and a group like ISIS has come to the forefront. I mean that's the embodiment of what America is not about, and that's what collapse of civilization would look like."
This kind-a-sort-a gets at the issue. But it is remarkably naïve. Climate change is not what causes civil wars such as the war that is currently raging in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Nigeria, Ukraine, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Rather, climate change is caused by the same force that fuels these wars and keeps them burning indefinitely. That force, for lack of a better term, is empire. Imperial states have the world’s energy resources under military and industrial siege. These festering, slow-burning wars are what account for the millions of displaced people in the world today, to say nothing of the millions of mortal victims of these imperial wars.
Where do refugees flee? Mostly to concentration camps, otherwise known as urban slums, where they mingle with the millions of internally displaced. Here, the misery of the fleeing, shocked and awed refugees combines with the misery of all those who have become superfluous in the labor market that is the global economy. This misery generates violent opposition against this oppressive and destructive system. This violent resistance in turn legitimizes the much more powerful strategies and lethal weapons of empire, in a circular rhythm that seems to know no end.
Marching on New York to protest Climate Change and impress upon world leaders the urgent need to do something about it is all well enough. But the discussion of such a march should by no means be limited to celebrations of the sort that figured as headlines in major newspapers: “Largest ever protest against climate change”. The largest ever crowd that we should really be talking about is the crowd of over 50 million displaced people. This crowd and not the crowd of activists gathered in Manhattan last weekend is the true measure of the destructive force of an imperialism that is behind so much human suffering, so much destruction of human life.