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Climate Change

Published on September 29th, 2015 | by James Ayre


Tesla CEO Elon Musk: Current Refugee Crisis Just Small Taste Of What Climate Change Could Bring

September 29th, 2015 by  

The nearly always quote-worthy CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, recently made some interesting comments on the ongoing “refugee crisis” in Europe, the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, and other topics in a speech at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin.

Perhaps the most noteworthy comment was the remark that the current refugee crisis is just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s to come without effective actions taken to avert catastrophic climate change.

“Today’s refugee problem is perhaps a small indication of what the future will be like if we do not take action with respect to climate change,” stated Musk during the recent speech. “Today, the challenge is in terms of millions of people, but in the future, based on what the scientific consensus is, the problem will be in the hundreds of millions and much more severe.”

Not a new sentiment, of course — this reality has been well acknowledged in many circles for decades now. That said, I think that it’s worth making a note here that regardless of the actions taken to attempt to limit the scale of future anthropogenic climate change in the Middle East, North Africa, and many other regions, these places are all heavily overpopulated compared to their carrying capacity.

Even now, many of these regions are greatly dependent upon extensive food imports — with desertification via the over-exploitation of dry-land ecosystems (via overgrazing, poor irrigation practices, etc) now picking up, this problem is only set to grow in the future. Other significant issues in these regions, which are set to spur a repeat of the Völkerwanderung of the Late Roman Period (which saw the various “Germanic” tribes, amongst others, mass emigrate into Europe from West Asia) include: the widespread depletion of groundwater and fossil aquifers; economic troubles and growing levels of social turmoil + war; and diminishing agricultural yields/famine. (It should probably be noted here that many of the groups that invaded the decaying Empire first were actually erstwhile allies which had previously been propped up by the Romans as a buffer against outside groups. Something to think about.)

Anyways… back to Elon’s speech. He also commented a bit on the recent scandal concerning Volkswagen’s diesel emissions fraud. Interestingly, he noted that, while the news was “troubling,” it was really a small detail amongst a much broader problem.


“If you go 20, 30, 50 years in the future, what do you say to your kids or your grandkids?” Elon Musk stated. He then mentioned the fact that ~97% of climate scientists have accepted the conclusion that humans are causing global warming and climate change. “So, to say to your kids or grandkids, ‘Did nobody tell you?’ No, everyone was telling us. ‘So why didn’t you do anything?’ What’s the answer? I think it’s very important that we do something.”

I’ll comment here that what history tends to show, though, is that large groups of people possess a great deal of inertia with regard to ingrained habits and cultural beliefs. To put it simply, people don’t change willingly and quickly. That’s not to say that change won’t come, but I’m very skeptical that it’ll come without a great deal of hardship first. The future will be “interesting,” I suppose.

For those with the time, I recommend watching the whole video. It’s quite an interesting speech. (Musk begins speaking about 9 minutes in.)

As a final side note, while many of the immigrants of the recent refugee crisis are in fact war refugees from Syria, a great many others (from neighboring countries) are also taking advantage of the turmoil to try and enter the European Union for reasons that are primarily monetary in origin. Referring to many of these people as “economic migrants” seems fair to me. The issues are of course related, though — war and economic problems go hand in hand.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Bubba Nicholson

    Two pistol shots were the only needed excuses for WWI. Leadership moves people where they already need to go, oftentimes. Excuses vary, the essential motive remains cryptic. We have damped down the conquest incentive by freezing borders and condemning aggression. The stockpiling of weapons diminishes greenhouse gases, while shooting them off releases that pent up heat. Increasing efficiency and broader distributions of wealth may only delay conflict. We must lose the inevitability of strife, but first we must understand it, and I do not, yet.

  • Marion Meads

    The Syrian Refugee Crisis is not a result of climate change. It is a result of crazy people thinking that their religion should be the only one that should exist, and if you don’t convert, you should die, in the name of their god.

    The greatest crime against humanity was committed by people who believed that they’re doing it for God… paraphrased from Pope Francis.

    • Defendor

      Nobody is claiming it has anything to do with climate change.

      The point is that the Climate Refugee Crisis of the future is going to be MUCH worse unless we start doing the right things today.

    • t1oracle

      Have you ever heard of a con artist? Do con artists believe their own lies? Do you know what a false prophet is? A false profit is a con artist. Now, consider what enables con artists to con people. Con artists prey on the desperate. So now ask yourself, what is creating desperation in the Middle East? How do people behave when they are well fed compared to when they are starving to death?

    • omar

      Syrian refugee have nothing to do with religion, the refugees are caused by dictator who doesn’t want to share any thing to anyone and to do so for his sun and sun of his sun and so on…

      • Marion Meads

        Really? It is not only about the dictator and the ISIS and still some various tribal fanatics imposing their own interpretations or ideas of what the religious passages mean. So they want to obliterate whoever they call infidels, plus the problems with their dictator. So you are a supporter of ISIS because you only blame the dictator?

        • Joseph Dubeau

          Marion, the refugees are victims.
          Syria and it’s neighboring countries borders are just
          lines drawn in the sand.
          It started with a prolong drought, combined with unemployment, and a collapsed economy.
          The farmers abandoned their land and moved into the cities.
          Syria is a result failed foreign policies of both Obama and Putin.

        • omar

          i am talking about road cause

      • Benjamin Nead

        What on Earth are you talking about? EVERYTHING in the Middle East has to do with religion! While the roots of the current Syrian conflict date to the Arab Spring of 2011, started as a populist uprising against the government and with the government, in turn, brutally oppressing it, the entire thing is now hopelessly intertwined with ISIS, who are fundamentalist Sunni Muslim, and a host of other rebel factions, who are either rival Sunni factions or Shia (think Iran.)

        Anyone who can get away from the fighting is doing so now and headed to Europe. The resistance to the refugee influx into some of those European countries is largely motivated by an indigenous Christian population who is uncomfortable with a large influx of Muslims . . . more religious conflict. To state that this is now or has been for some time a purely secular conflict with no religious component is hopelessly naive.

        The point of the article is that climate change – droughts, floods, etc, – will cause migrations SIMILAR TO what is going on now (somewhat surprised that so many here haven’t made that connection.) But whenever you have large populations suddenly move from one continent to another for whatever reason, the differences in language, skin color – and yes, religion- are going to appear and manifest themselves in ugly ways.

        • omar

          You dont understand the road cause, yes now everything apear to be religious afair but the road cause doesnt have anything to do with religion.

          • Benjamin Nead

            I think you mean the root cause, Omar (not the “road” cause.) Yes, I realize that the Syrian people we’re wanting change in 2011 for a variety of reasons and attempted to move against the Assad government to obtain it. Much the same was going on in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia at the time. Religion was not the prime motivating factor then. But with the inclusion of ISIS into Syria, religion is now hopelessly intertwined in the fighting there.

            It may be an oversimplification but you can trace most human conflicts to just a few issues: oil and religion are the big ones. You can get a society to move against continued use of oil and embrace clean, renewable energy over time and this is largely what we talk about on this blog. But getting humans to abandon their ridiculous and corrupt monotheistic belief systems and simply get along with each other is going to be far more difficult.

          • omar

            Sorry about my bad spelling, now you get me

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m no expert on the Middle East by any means, but I’ve long suspected that the real cause is a battle between those who used to have all the power (because they were male and stronger) and the people who are now gaining power around the world (both female and male and better educated).

            Religion is just a way to package the desire to hold power.

            We see lots of examples of that with Christianity in the US.

    • Eric Wadge

      The Syrian refugee crisis is a result of a number of complex political and social issues. Yours is a huge and inaccurate oversimplification.

      • Marion Meads

        And your oversimplified discussion about complexity brings nothing into the discussion.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Basically our government, democrats and republicans, profit by causing turmoil in the area. If it wasn’t for us killing millions and displacing tens of millions the place would be relatively peaceful and they’d go back to herding goats.

      Furthermore, Musk is not saying this refugee problem is the result of AGW. Just using it as an example of how bad AGW could get.

      • Marion Meads

        Musk is wrong to use the refugee crisis as an example when talking about chaos precipitated by climate change. The only thing that’s similar is the chaos but not the cause, so it is not credible. I know many of you are fans of Musk, so I will understand.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          Sure I’m a fan of his but Musk but I acknowledge that comparison he uses is dodgy. It’s filled with political crap just waiting to explode in his face. It’s hard to approach it in just the right manner…

          • omar

            I think Musk was very smart to take refugees as an example on the climate change catastrophes

          • Ivor O’Connor

            You may be right. Musk did have the decency to avoid apartheid by illegally fleaing South Africa’s mandatory military inscription. (Like many American’s did by going to Canada during the Vietnam war.) Maybe this is his way of subtly bringing attention to the atrocities in the Middle East without actually commenting on them?

          • I do too, for one obvious reason: he brought an abstract matter many have trouble contemplating into the present day in a way they could, by emphasizing that what we’re seeing now is just one of the things that we will see from climate change (and will even be in a greater degree). I thought it was pretty obvious and well said.

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