Climate Crisis Digest - March 2024 - What Has Gaza got to Do With the Climate Crisis?

Three News Items and Liberal Western Complicity

It is Saturday the 17th February and in my newspaper I am reading that the first weeks of 2024 have shattered global temperature records, reaching an average 2C° of warming above pre-industrial levels. The Paris commitment to limit increases to 1.5C° already seems like a distant memory. But there are two other news items, equally disturbing. 

The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been murdered by Putin’s henchmen and Egypt is reported to be preparing the ground for a vast displacement of Palestinians from across its border with the Gaza Strip at Rafa.
At first sight this might seem like three unconnected disasters, but are they? 

I find myself increasingly exasperated by the handwringing of the West as it looks on at how the Israeli State has responded to the October 7th massacre but does nothing. Joe Biden seems to be a decent man, he deplores the massive loss of life and the traumatization of the Palestinian population. But three times now the US has vetoed UN Security Council calls for an immediate ceasefire. The West’s compassion lacks conviction. 
It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps this is how we, in the liberal West, do complicity? We half-turn our face away from the predicament confronting us and the suffering attending it, rather than face into it. Shouldn’t we know this by now? Isn’t there a striking parallel here with climate inaction, responses which have also been overwhelmingly rhetorical and performative (all those reassuring targets and commitments). 
Perhaps we in the West are afraid to see what is happening, either to the climate or to the Palestinians. I can’t get close to imagining the horror that many Jewish people must feel regarding the events of October 7th. It must surely have re-evoked historical and intergenerational traumas.[1] But we are afraid to face up to the difficult truth that, despite suffering persecution at the hands of Christians for a millennium, despite the Holocaust, Jewish people are themselves capable of becoming perpetrators. 
Our backgrounds in the psychological professions have prepared us to think relationally. In mediation work we try to help each partner to a conflict understand the way in which their own responses, often unconscious, contribute to the ongoing impasse. But the danger is that this therapeutic approach can blind us to the asymmetry of many conflicts, including the one in Gaza. 
We need to remind ourselves that in the census conducted in 1922, the population of Palestine was 763,550 of which 89 percent were Arabs and 11 percent Jews. For a century Palestinian Arabs have been subjected to displacement, expulsion and repression by another people, the Jews, who had themselves been subject to centuries of persecution. There is no neat separation between victim and persecutor; these two states of mind exist in all of us, as does the bystander. The comforting distinctions we hold to between good and bad, right and wrong, collapse under the rubble of Gaza.

Politics of the Armed Lifeboat

The liberal West needs to face up to another truth, that the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza may be the forerunner of the catastrophic loss of life that the deepening climate crisis will visit upon the Global South in the coming decades. We don’t yet have a word for it – a mass extermination which will affect many different peoples who nevertheless will have one thing in common, they will be overwhelmingly non-white. 

Image credit: Painting by Brian Rogerson

If we turn a blind eye to the Palestinians now, we will surely do the same to the millions in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia as their worlds become increasingly uninhabitable. The great movement of climate refugees has already begun as ecological distress triggers social conflict and collapse across the Sahel and Eastern Africa. We can see the political reaction to this in the lurch to the right across Europe - “these Arabs and Africans are not like ‘us’, we must keep them out".
As the climate crisis deepens, the demand to control borders and keep out refugees becomes part of a wider push for national self-sufficiency, particularly regarding food and energy supplies. This has been called ‘the politics of the armed lifeboat’. The ship of Western civilization has hit an iceberg (the climate and ecological crisis) and is in danger of sinking. As it begins to list heavily passengers and lifeboats are flung into the icy water. Those who are drowning struggle to climb aboard the already full lifeboats but are beaten off by those on board who fear their boat will sink if any more scramble on.  
As the economic and ecological crises become increasingly intractable, ‘strong men’ (and they are mostly men) everywhere promise salvation. Putin, with his utter contempt for truth, offers himself as a role model – might is right. Trump threatens to follow. It is the spectre of the inhuman that is stalking us. Isn’t this the ‘rough beast’ of W. B. Yeats' poem The Second Coming, as it ‘slouches towards Bethlehem’?[2]

This is why it is so important for us to take a stand, against Russian attacks on Ukraine, and against what is happening in Gaza. There is a genocidal dimension to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, one which could prefigure the massive casualties to come in the Global South arising from the climate crisis. If we let this happen in Gaza we have taken a step towards ensuring that our indifference will be visited upon the peoples of the South in the climate deranged future.
My thanks to Wendy Hollway, Chris Robertson, Tree Staunton and Adrian Tait for their valuable assistance in writing this Digest.


[1] A moving and thoughtful exploration of how, post Holocaust, the Jewish people escaped from one nightmare only then to visit another nightmare upon the Palestinian people, can be found in a recent conversation ( between the Canadian Jewish physician Gabor Maté and his two sons.

[2] Yeats, W.B. (1920) The Second Coming. In Michael Robartes and the Dancer (Poems). Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press.

Paul Hoggett

Paul Hoggett, co-founder of Climate Psychology Alliance, has recently published Paradise Lost? The Climate Crisis and the Human Condition (2023), Simplicity Institute. A development of these ideas can be found there and also in a recent interview with Radio Ecoshock.

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