1. The relationship between climate change and migration is one of the topics I'm most fascinated by these days. Last week there was call to action from two top ranking officials from the UN's Environment Programme and Migration Agency, respectively (Making Migration Safe for Climate Nexus).
Climate change is fundamentally redrawing the map of where people can live. Food supplies are being disrupted in North Africa’s Sahel region and Central America; and water stress and scarcity are growing worse in North Africa and the Middle East. Somalia, for example, is experiencing more frequent droughts. Iraq is battling more frequent heat waves. Unprecedented storms and floods have battered the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. As the abnormal becomes the new normal, scarcities, zero-sum competition, and mass displacements will become more common.
And this will absolutely have an impact on Europe. As this op-ed in Handelsblatt summarises it (Refugees are fleeing war and violence today, climate change tomorrow), people who believe climate change won’t impact us here in Europe are lying to themselves:
Anyone who thinks climate change will affect those of us living in Europe, at best, in the distant future, is fooling themselves. Climate change is already affecting our countries, and that includes the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who have fled its impact. However, helping people in their homeland requires an effective, long-term climate policy. Our industrialized world created these problems; we cannot just duck out now that it is time to cope with them.
It seems the US Department of Defense is funding a five year project that aims to build a new model to predict where and how people will move in response to future crises (Where will future migrants come from?). Something to keep an eye out for.
The team plans to model these environmental effects by comparing them to variables that are included in traditional models. Sudden shocks like earthquakes and hurricanes, for example, likely cause similar migration patterns to disruptions such as war and civil unrest, where people don't have much time to plan where they're going or how they'll get there. With migration from gradual changes like prolonged drought, on the other hand, people have more time to consider different destinations. These scenarios may resemble migration patterns where people come and go for economic reasons.
The relationship between migration and the environment has additional nuances, though. Droughts can lead to social conflicts, for example, while a large influx of migrants can overwhelm the natural resources in an area. As one destination becomes tapped out, later migrants may need to find other destinations, giving rise to new movement patterns.
Climate change, and the shifting temperature and rainfall patterns that come with it, add to the complexity. "As the climate changes, maybe we're going to see movements from regions we haven't seen in the past," says Puma. "This model will give us some way of identifying the regions we should be paying attention to."
2. One of the texts from last week that stuck with me long after I had finished it was this extremely disturbing story of how China is using its massive surveillance capabilities to harass ethnic minority citizens (like the Uighurs, a Muslim group of some 15.000.000 people in China) who have moved abroad (They Thought They’d Left The Surveillance State Behind. They Were Wrong)
That China spies on and pressures its exiles — particularly ethnic minorities and those involved in activities deemed political — is not new. China has used such tactics since at least the 1990s to put pressure on those it believes are seeking to undermine the state. But Uighur exiles, Western academics, and advocacy groups say this pressure campaign has gotten far more aggressive over the past two years and has been bolstered by digital surveillance tactics.
China has ramped up repression of Uighurs because of fears of separatism and extremism in Xinjiang, and Uighur militants were responsible for a series of knife and bomb attacks in public places in 2014 and have fought alongside extremists in Iraq and Syria. But rights groups say the government’s crackdown amounts to the collective punishment of millions of people over the actions of a handful.
Every person interviewed for this article said state security operatives told them their families could be sent to, or would remain in, internment camps for “reeducation” if they did not comply with their demands. It was a campaign, they said, that aimed not only to gather details about Uighurs’ activities abroad, but also to sow discord within exile communities in the West and intimidate people in hopes of preventing them from speaking out against the Chinese state.
“China’s now got the capacity and willingness to reach out across sovereign borders to influence the behavior of others,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University in Australia. “With Chinese citizens of Chinese heritage, they may want to win them over, but with Uighurs they want to squash them. Their willingness to do this is not only in a covert way, but now increasingly in an overt way.”
3. Finally, something fun and light-hearted. A long, long story about the people who collect artefacts relating to nuclear weapons. Sample below, but I urge you to read the entire thing because it's quite something (Meet the nuclear weapons nerds):
John Coster-Mullen was driving his truck to a warehouse in Oshkosh, Wisconsin when he told me that he owns uranium. He’d been talking on the phone for about hour, and I hadn’t been able to ask a single question about the project that has consumed a quarter century of his life—the reverse-engineering of America’s first nuclear bomb. I was too engrossed to interrupt. The news of uranium, though, made me stutter.
The kind of uranium Coster-Mullen owns isn’t used in nuclear weapons. Not all uranium can blow up the better part of Manhattan—just one of many facts I learned while digging into the community of people who collect images, scholarship, and artifacts relating to nuclear weapons, and yes, even uranium. Stepping into their world of compulsive collecting and dedicated communicating, you begin to understand that this terrible, powerful, almost supernatural deadly force is very much a human creation.
“The discovery of how to unleash the energy locked up in a nuclei of atoms was... as momentous as the discovery of fire,” Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, told the Atomic Heritage Foundation in 2013. It was a turning point in human cultural evolution, fundamentally altering international relations. If these bombs were detonated in major cities, millions would die if not from the explosion and fires, then by the release of radioactive materials. If countries with nuclear weapons were to engage in nuclear warfare, mutually assured destruction would guarantee the annihilation of both. It is not surprising that many have become avid collectors and students of nuclear history. Some are just more obsessive than others.
According to Alex Wellerstein, a nuclear historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology, they can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of people who are very informal about their interest and are sometimes quite enthusiastic about nuclear technology in general. The second group are those who he considers more than just random people on the internet, and is made of people who are more dedicated, and are often activists of some sort—either anti-nuclear or anti-secrecy. “They are both interesting groups but have somewhat different agendas,” he concludes. Of those in the second group, I encountered a diverse set of backgrounds—scientists, special effects gurus, miners, collectors, academics, truck drivers, artists, writers and students to name a few. Whatever their personal motivations, they often share personality traits similar to that of outsider artists in that they are detail-oriented and almost frighteningly driven.
They live all over the world. But we start in Moscow. (...)
Bonus: Graphika does good work on data visualisation, and the recent piece on the polarisation of politics worldwide is no exception (This is what filter bubbles actually look like). The chart below illustrates how "the center of the political universe is far quieter than the polarized wings. This plot of average daily tweets (...) shows that the extreme partisans on both sides are screaming while the center whispers. It also shows divisions being amplified by bots on both sides: we see clearly automated activity, with accounts churning out a hundred tweets a day or more on a common schedule."