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Climate Change Is Creating New Dictators

As the current cohort of dictators begin to increasingly deal with climate disasters, new ones are popping up in the wake of the fallout. As search and rescue teams hunt for bodies trapped under rubble in the aftermath of Libya's hurricane last month, the warlord Khalifa Haftar is using the crisis to expand their umbrella of control. Many are dead and many more mourning in Libya. The number of deceased is estimated to be around 11,300 with 10,000 currently missing. The flooding destroyed 900 buildings and many have been displaced. First responders are currently being "supervised" by a military coalition loyal to Haftar.

The military isn't present to aid first responders, quite the opposite, they're present to stop civilians from leaving the city. The head of Libya's parliament in the east has stated that authorities want to stop the spread of water borne diseases and the best way to do that is a citywide quarantine. The military is there to create bottlenecks and stop free flowing movement. They are appearing to be in control and allowing volunteers, medical teams, boy scouts, foreign search and rescue teams, and Red Crescent to provide aide. In the meantime, their using their channels to spread propaganda and give Haftar the appearance of a competent leader.

On the same day the hurricane hit, Haftar's eldest son Elseddik declared interest in running for president in Libya. The younger son, who is often seen as the likely heir, used his role as the head of Libya's disaster response committee to legitimize his international standing while keeping a tight grip on aid. The entire response is coordinated by the Haftar family. In order to build a powerbase for dictatorship, they are first expanding their control and scoring points with the citizenry.

This isn't the first time a natural disaster has been leveraged into a dictatorship by a prospective authoritarian. The Dominican Republic's dictator in the 1930s was a man named Rafael Trujillo, formerly a member of the National police force who profited off using government contracts to make industrial monopolies. He consolidated power using Hurricane San Zenon in September 1930. The hurricane destroyed the city of Santo Domingo and Rafael provided aid using groups like the Red Cross alongside foreign aid from the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Simultaneously he used the hurricane as a smokescreen to enact new policy. He ordered the torture and deaths of political prisoners who were thrown into malaria infested swamps, he forcibly relocated slum dwellers to areas outside of the city, and he burned the bodies of hurricane victims (as well as any remaining political opponents) in order to "prevent public health problems." After that, he was unopposed. He won his support through the perception of kindness and rebuilding the city and he later used that to build a national identity. He would go on to be a supporter of Hitler during the Second World War.

The unfortunate reality is that people look for leadership in times of crisis. Strongmen know that the best time to garner peoples support is when they are in their most desperate hour. Commonly, this is done through appealing to economic woes during recessions or high unemployment mixed with racial scapegoating. In the evolving world this will increasingly be done through natural disaster relief.

There will be no shortage of natural disasters. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) released a synthesis report stating the same outcome. By the end of the century we will experience a 2.7 Degrees Celsius average rise in temperature at our current rate of cutting back. At 2 degrees warming, 37% of earth's population will be exposed to severe heat waves. About 61 million more people in Earth’s urban areas would be exposed to severe drought in a 2-degree Celsius warmer world than at 1.5 degrees warming. If warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius, more than 70 percent of Earth’s coastlines will see sea-level rise greater than 0.66 feet (0.2 meters), resulting in increased coastal flooding, beach erosion, salinization of water supplies and other impacts on humans and ecological systems. Risks of forest fires, extreme weather events and invasive species are higher at 2 degrees warming than at 1.5 degrees warming. Food security is expected to be reduced at 2 degrees Celsius warming compared to 1.5 degrees with the largest risks emerging in the African Sahel, the Mediterranean, Central Europe, the Amazon, and Western and Southern Africa. Yields for such crops as maize, rice, wheat and other cereal crops will be smaller at 2 degrees warming than at 1.5 degrees, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia (50% of land in Asia is used for exportable agriculture) and Central and South America.

Cities will experience the worst impacts of heatwaves due to the urban heat island effect, which keeps them warmer than surrounding rural areas. Impacts will vary by region due to many factors such as the ability of populations to adjust to changes in their environment, vulnerability of populations, their human-made surroundings and access to air conditioning. The elderly, children, women, those with chronic diseases and people taking certain medications will be at highest risk. More people will die from vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, with risks increasing more at 2 degrees warming, according to the report. Of course, 2.7 degrees Celsius is closer to 3 degrees than 2. Ultimately, as trends continue, authoritarian strategies for gaining power will increasingly to utilize these disasters at a great detriment to us all.


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