So;President Trump launches 59 Tomahawk missiles(each costing over $1 million) to obliteratea Syrian air base because, we’re informed, he was moved by footage of chemically impacted children.As it turns out, it was, according to Fairfax’s Paul McGeogh, one of the Trump family members, Ivanka, who was so moved. Still, thes hocking images apparently drove the President to the final moral frontier;he simply had to act – this, after much policy flip-flopping in the previous week, and notwithstanding his public displays pf breathtaking insensitivity toward Syrian refugees during the election campaign. Suddenly, Trump was castas the steely yet compassionate man of action. Not for him the red-lines without consequence. No; America’s Putin-cum-Dirty Harry was set to act. As he huddled alongside his national security advisers and defence chiefs in a tiny room in his Florida holiday complex, with Steve Bannon watching fromthe sidelines, Trump was all grim determination, bottom lip protruding in Ill Ducefashion.
Despite the likely geopolitical fall-out, Trump insisted that something had to be done to counter a demonstrable evil. Brave men rarely shy away from such challenges. God-given exceptionalism along with an opportunity to extricate himself from the Russian knot, also proved irresistible to the President, whose high stakes decision was warmly greeted by Britain, European allies and our very own prime minister, who – hilariously – described Trump’s decision as “proportionate” and “calibrated”, which is some senses it was, but not quite in the way Turnbull meant.
Few if any of us, I hope, buy the Trump line about the chemical attacks, or anything else for that matter. After all, his caring credentials have long been the subject of derision, as have his claimed affinities with the poor and marginalised. Indeed, as Noam Chomsky recently pointed out on Democracy Now, while the Democrats and sections of the media have been glued to the Russian-inspired soap opera, the extremists in the Republican Party – and there are a lot of them – have set about dismantling the “administrative state”, which is code for a full-scale assault on public services (as demonstrated in the proposed federal budget). This included cuts to meals-on-wheels services, the cost of which over two years is equivalent to that spent on the missiles launched against Syria. Not much sign of caring there, or for the millions impacted by cuts to foreign aid and overseas ‘development;’ programs.
Despite Trump’s choreographed concern over children dying in Syria, many of his policies will cause great harm to millions of children in his own country, as well asto countless sothers across the globe. Particularly harmful will be his administration’s multi-pronged attack on the environment. In rolling back environmental protections and regulations and in seeking to discredit the climate science, Trump has provided a major fillip to the fossil fuel industry who will no doubt pump out even more carbon dioxide into an already saturated atmosphere. In short, Trump’s actions will add significantly to global warming, with all its damaging consequences.
As we know, thosemost impacted by global warming are the world’s poor. Last week, as Trump sat alongside Chinese leader Xi Jinping, tucking into his New York strip steak in a private dining room at Mar-a-Lago, conditions in east and southern Africa were getting grimmer by the minute.
Tens of millions of people face starvation in that part of the world, thanks to prolonged drought caused in large part by global warming. While much of the western media seem obsessed with Russian influence on the US election, the crisis in Africa has largely escaped public notice. Yet, as UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien informed the UN Security Council in early March, tens of millions of people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria face chronic food insecurity, and “without collective and coordinated global efforts”, O’Brien said, “people will simply starve to death”, adding that, “many more will suffer and die from disease”.O’Brien further noted: “Already, at the beginning of the year, we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations…Now, more than 20 million people across four countries] in east Africa] face starvation and famine.” In Yemen, two-thirds of the population need aid and millions more are hungry.
Statistics belie the lived reality of chronic food shortage. As O’Brien told Al Jazeera: “What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing – women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up and they have nothing left to survive on…With everything lost, women, boys, girls and men now move to urban centres.”In South Sudan,O’Brien observes, “more than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance”.In Somalia,the majority of the population -over 6million people (including over a million children) require urgent humanitarian assistance.
These counties have had their fair share of violent conflict with various insurgent groups in Sudan and Yemen vying for control. In the case of Yemen,Saudi Arabian weapons purchased from the United States have turned parts of that impoverished nation into rubble. Such destruction has disrupted already strained food supply networks, but anthropogenic climate change has deepened what the US military likes to refer to as the “threat multiplier”. As the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development noted of east and southern Africa, droughts are getting longer and their effects more pronounced, with the current drought leaving over 12million people in east Africa at death’s door, a situation only destined to get worse in coming months given lower than usual rainfall. The increased flow of refugees, and a spike in communicable diseases have further exacerbated an already dire situation.
The “new norm” includes more extreme weather events. As recently noted by NASA: “Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves”.Future effects will include: rising temperatures, significant changes to precipitation patterns (leading to more floods and inundation), more droughts and heatwaves, more intense storm systems, and significant sea level rises. Many countries have already been severely impacted. Over recent years the Canadian south eastern prairies were flooded, destroying millions of hectares of crops, major heatwaves, water shortages and floods have impacted South America, and global temperatures have broken all global records. Parts of Asia too have experienced extreme heat waves and floods, with a devastating flood in Jakarta in 2014.Despite the fact that countries across Africa emit much less carbon dioxide than richer western nations, including the US, they experience the most drastic effects of global warming. Writing in The Guardian,Lucy Lamblenotes that according to the UN, over 36 million people face chronic food insecurity across southern and eastern Africa, “with the worst drought in decades at a time of record high temperatures”.Facedwiththe double whammy ofa prolonged El Nino and climate change, Ethiopia, Kenya and the former “bread basket of Africa”, Zimbabwe, have been severely impacted. In Ethiopia four-fifths of the nation’s crops have failed. With terampratures rising, there are fears that “the long-term impacts of climate change are also undermining the region’s ability to endure extremes in weather, leaving huge numbers of people vulnerable to hunger and disease”.Africa director of World Vision,Beatrice Mwangi,observes that: “In the past it was one big drought every 10 years, then it came to one drought every five years, and now the trends are showing that it will be one every three to five years…But it’s going to be the new norm”.
Australia has also been severely impacted by climate change, with major and prolonged heatwaves, destruction to the Great Barrier Reef, and more flooding. People living in low lying atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, millions living in southern Europe and across Africa and major parts of Asia are more than familiar with these effects, resulting in destruction to agricultural systems, more climate refugees, and conflict over resources. In 2009, the Global Forum, under the leadership of former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, noted that climate change was directly responsible for 300,000 per year, while the World Health Origination puts the figure at around 250,000, with most fatalities resulting from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
In short, when President Trump trumpets a new-found concern over the plight of children in Syria, we might remind ourselves of the violence he is already inflicting upon the world’s poor – the unpeople; those without a voice; out of sight, out of mind.The first stages of Trump’s global violence emerged last week when he signed an executive order aimed at rolling back Obama’s global warming policies.
Among other things, this will do away with limits to power plant carbon and methane emissions, as well as erase the moratorium on federal coal leasing.
And there are more executive orders to come.
Richard Hil is Associate Professor, Griffith University, School of Human Services and Social Work, Gold Coast, Australia