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Ukrainian Refugees: Canaries In a Coal Mine?

Photo by Artūras Kokorevas

Last updated on April 13, 2022

Unbearable pictures and devastation Russia has left through Ukrainian towns have plagued the news these past few weeks. However, the series of shocking events also serve as a strong reminder to the United States; we have to remove our country’s heavily engraved policies and attitudes towards how we handle refugees. In truth, we face an ever more existential crisis than Putin’s cruelty: climate change. Undoubtedly, it will entail an unimaginable wave of refugees rushing toward us as the planet continues to warm. So, the Ukrainian War happens to give us the chance to renew our resolve as we prepare to take on refugees in the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, the Ukrainian War and global warming both connect back to energy. Putin’s war machine, at its core, is powered by fossil fuel, so the fact that he has a monopoly on the energy market, has given him the upper hand to intimidate Western Europe. His control has encouraged Europe and the rest of the world to start reforming how they think about energy. For example, Germany has been working on having conversations about how to convert the country to purely clean energy. Experts have also noticed the connection between energy and power. For example, last week in the Times, Thomas Friedman, an esteemed foreign affairs columnist, noted that “instead of doubling down on fossil fuels, we should “double the pace of our transition” off them, because “nothing would threaten Putin more than that,” and “because the temperature in the Antarctic last month was seventy degrees above normal.” He continued, “ Our civilization simply cannot afford this anymore,” in his comprehensive yet dire analysis of the current climate change rate.” 

It seems that even if we seize the opportunity to rethink how we use energy by largely transitioning to wind and solar and reach the increasingly idealistic goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030, we unfortunately will still have to deal with the wrath of the warmth we’ve already unleashed. The consequences will be undeniable and unavoidable, among the most formidable is refugees. The area of the planet that is inhibitable is declining, and with that decline will come an unprecedented amount of migrants and refugees. In a recent report from the United Nations, an estimated two billion climate refugees will be created within the next seventy to eighty years. On the flip side, Putin’s war has created over four million refugees in a matter of weeks, it’s been a test to our system but it’s also the push we need to prepare.

The Biden Administration has agreed to take in a hundred thousand refugees. However, the U.S. is a country of three hundred thirty million with a growth per capita nearly four times that of Ukraine, making the gesture slightly less than generous, but it is still a politically brave move on Biden’s part. The current situation presents Biden with a unique opportunity to shift the U.S. towards an easier immigration and asylum process. But to do so he’ll need to prove the principles outway the practicalities. Elderly Americans are seeing a shortage of home health care workers, rural Americans are seeing a shortage of doctors, whilst as a whole many Americans are seeing a job shortage, and so on. The fact is, America’s population is barely growing compared to the past; as pointed out by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic less than two months ago. 2021 has had the lowest population growth in our nation’s history, partly because of Covid, partly because of fewer babies, but mainly because our immigration flow has completely collapsed. Previous to Donald Trump’s time in office we had nearly a million coming in every year, whereas now less than a quarter-million is predicted for 2022.

The road to a stronger immigration system and cleaner energy will without doubt be a turbulent uphill battle, but the impact of Putin’s War has the potential to give the administration a much-needed push and message that we need to prepare for our future.

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