September 11 is a day when our nation remembers one of the worst foreign attacks on its soil, a day that ushered in a never-ending war against terrorism. But there are other ways to threaten our democracy besides bombing our structures. In fact, one political threat goes unnoticed: climate change. As writer Samuel McDonald points out, if unchecked, the effects of climate change will give rise “to a new generation of authoritarian rulers, not just in poorer countries or those with weak democratic institutions but in wealthy industrialized nations, too.” (“Climate Kings,” by Samuel Miller McDonald, The New Republic, July August, 2018, pg. 9)
Famine, drought and other natural disasters demand quick action. People who are suffering don’t want debate. They want solutions. Impatience becomes the fertile ground from which strong men grow into tyrants. Kenya’s current unrest stems from such a progression. Turkey is another example.
The second response to climate change is as disruptive as internal unrest. People vote with their feet. Mass migration to better climes begin, as it did during the ice age. Wealthier nations may be unable to escape the consequences of drought in Africa because refugees will spill across their borders in search of respite. Cultural clashes are likely, particularly as wealthier nations see their economic and natural resources dwindle.
A 2017 study in The Lancet predicts “extreme weather could displace up to a billion people around the world by the middle of the 21st century.” (Ibid, pg. 10) If that occurs, the report concludes wealthier nations will shift to the political right as they attempt to protect their way of life. A predication like this should raise no eyebrows. We see evidence of a shift already.
Food and water insecurity threatens to upend stable democracies with a force greater than a politician’s tweets. Nature’s message is clear. Accept the reality of climate change or watch democracy die.