The violent environmental changes and the humanity: from the Sea Peoples to the modern environmental migrants

One of the concepts that is often mentioned in recent years is that of environmental security. Its violation causes many problems. Of course, this fact does not seem to worry and concern the strong leaders of the Earth. It worries and affects the rest of the people globally, though.

Migration and refugee flows have increased. Wars and poverty are some of
the reasons. Another important reason associated with those mentioned above is the alteration of the natural environment. The deterioration affects people’s lives and urges them to wars, it causes the deterioration of their economic situation, it pushes them to travel to other places and provokes famines. Of course, because of the above, the states are also affected, while the security system – regional and global – is being destroyed.

History can only be the main source of interpreting what is happening now and what will happen in the future. The Late Bronze Age (1200-900 BC) can be considered as the starting point for this article. At that era there were some disruptions that were mainly due to environmental factors. An extended period of drought, volcanic eruptions in various parts of the world and violent changes in the temperature of the environment led to famine and to the deterioration in the living conditions of peoples near the Mediterranean. At the same time, they accelerated the decline of the state system of the era by weakening the palatial centers in the Aegean Sea and the Middle East. The combination of these events was to be disastrous.

From Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity

Indeed, during the period mentioned, a mass movement of peoples took place. The pursuit of finding a suitable living environment  resulted in the appearance of the Sea Peoples, a mixture of people from different places. Lycians, Danaoi, Achaeans, Philistines, Sardinians, Sicilians and others carried out an extensive raid campaign with disastrous results. Major cities in Asia Minor (Troy, Miletus, Hattusa), Cyprus (Kition, Eknomi), and the Middle East widely (Byblos, Askalon, Qadesh, Aleppo, Ugarit) were destroyed, while many areas were deserted. The movement of the Sea Peoples was disrupted in Egypt. The country under Ramses III had experienced difficulties because of the general environmental change but it had retained its structures. It was natural, therefore, to be the last target of the invaders given that they had ravaged the surrounding area. The pharaoh was prepared for war and in 1178 BC the Battle of the Nile Delta between the Sea Peoples and the Egyptians took place. The latter achieved a great victory by halting the assault and saving their country. Egypt did not have the fate of other Near East powers that were exhausted.

These movements and battles were of historic importance. Most of the Late Bronze Age system collapsed. From 1000 to 800 BC the eastern Mediterranean region is going through a period of “darkness” until it  reappears as an important “workshop” of human history. It is a fact, however, that the collapse of the environmental security system along with other factors contributed to damaging the security system of various state entities, to exterminating a multitude of people and changing the  history.

Environmental factors would contribute with others to the fall of another powerful empire, Rome. In the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire numbered tens of millions of population and occupied a vast area for the time. However, this strength would also be one of the reasons for it to fall. The environmental factor is evident in the phenomenon of deforestation. Throughout the Roman territory, a massive gathering of timber began. The reasons were shipbuilding, housing construction due to urbanization and the acquisition of heat sources. Naturally, the soil became drier, its quality was deteriorated, the crops could not thrive and some species of animals were disappeared. In the middle of the 3rd century AD a large part of the empire was affected by long-term drought and even the Nile did not manage to irrigate the required land in order the required food to be produced. If in the above context we add the economic crisis, various illnesses that plagued the population and political controversies, the first negative signs were visible for the Romans.

Within this frame, various peoples in Rome’s near territories began to move within the boundaries of the empire. This was the beginning of the Immigration Period. The protagonists were the German peoples who were forced to migrate south due to their overcrowding and the difficult environmental conditions that occurred in the form of heavy cold. This immigration evolved into a series of raids and wars that led to the general decay of the Roman imperial system, in the break-up of the Western Roman Empire and the occupation of Rome by Odoacer and his men in 476 AD.

However, the Eastern Roman Empire would also experience the negative consequences of a breach of environmental security. In the middle of the 6th century AD due to a volcanic eruption somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, climatic conditions changed violently. The climate was cooled sharply and food production was reduced irreparably. Also, one year there was no summer because of the cold. In Northern Europe, as a result, the living conditions became intolerable. Thus, new migratory flows began to descend to the south. This time, the protagonists were the Slavs. The descent of the Slavs and their confrontation would be a major issue for many Byzantine emperors and would cause turbulence in the Byzantine lands. Furthermore, it transformed the ethnic map of the Balkans. Still, another peoples who moved to the Italian peninsula were the Lombards who established their presence there. Once again, changes in the natural environment together with other causes contributed to the reformulation of the historical map.

The fate of the Mediterranean world in the Late Bronze Age and that of Rome in Late Antiquity are proofs of  how environmental change has a share for violent historical changes. So big a migration accompanied by disasters and conflicts has not taken place since then. As a consequence, changes in the natural environment have resulted in humanitarian crises, but not to the extent of the two above-mentioned historical examples. However, human existence is interwoven with the natural environment in which it lives. That is why in the history, natural phenomena always influence the human lives.A map that depicts the migration of the peoples outside the roman territory. The Western and Eastern Roman Empires faced several problems due to, among othrers, the deterioration of the environmental conditions. The flows of “ancient” migrants were mostly violent and led to the collapse of Rome. It is obvious that the direction of the flows is from the north to the south. (source: Commons.Wikimedia).

The new frame 

The need to protect the environment and to cultivate environmental consciousness was more severe in the first post-Cold War period. The discovery of the ozone hole and the fall of the USSR that shifted the debate from the hard core of security to new forms of it (environmental, energy, social, economic etc) were two of the most important factors for the entry of ecology into public debate. From the dawn of the 21st century AD another concept has been introduced, which is indicative of the crisis underlying our natural environment. This concept refers to the person who is forced to leave his place of residence not because of a war but because of sudden changes in the natural environment that cause natural disasters. The term environmental migrant is mentioned to this person. Of course, this term is new and questionable, but it clearly reflects a new challenge for humanity and sounds the alarm of the negative consequences of the irrational destruction of the Nature.

The figures are relentless. In 2009, 17 million people left their homes worldwide due to natural disasters. In 2010 this figure climbed to 42 million. In 2008 the number of displaced persons amounted to 32 million. In 2009, most displaced people were identified in India, followed by China and the Philippines. Natural disasters have forced people to flee their homes in Indonesia. The characteristic feature is that environmental migrants mostly live within their own countries and do not move to other states. The phenomenon was observed in an upsurge in Asia. In 2010 Asia again held the scepter on the number of displaced people. The first country was China and was followed by Pakistan. Movements have also occurred in Latin America due to earthquakes in Chile and Haiti and the catastrophic floods in Colombia. Although the movements of peoples remained within states, they were challenged those due to the need to aid the victims.The melting of the ice in the South and North Pole will have tremendous consequences for many countries and their citizens. Parts and cities of several countries will be covered by water and the life of their residents will be in danger. Worth mentioning are countries like Nigeria, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Belgium, Indonesia. (Source: Pixabay, Credits: cocoparisienne.)

At the same time, the destruction of the environment and the conflicts that this provokes began to appear in Nigeria. Because multinational energy companies exploit the African country’s mineral wealth and the federal government is indifferent, living conditions in some parts of the Nigerian countryside are becoming intolerable for human needs. Western multinational companies do not take care of the protection of natural resources, resulting in soil and water infection. This forces many locals to arm themselves and commit looting and kidnappings. They ask for ransoms and with those money they buy food and other goods. Still, due to desertification, rural tribes in the central part of the country struggle with each other for the possession of fertile land. Finally, it is not unlikely that the Islamic Boko Haram organization in the north recruits fighters from tribes that face a survival problem as a consequence of environmental pollution. The result? The government is sending military forces to neutralize the enemy armed forces at the same time as ethnic-racial conflicts are taking place. Thus, a small-scale civil war is being carried out, which in the period 2015-2017 almost caused the collapse of the state with the victories of Nigerian Islamic militants. Ultimately, the state was not collapsed but it paid a hefty price to human lives and material disasters. Despite the current recession, Nigeria is a typical example of a country that any massive change in the environmental conditions will affect its survival.

In conclusion

The world is now in a critical situation in terms of maintaining the natural environment. Global warming, ozone hole growth, desertification, soil erosion, aquifer contamination, water retention and the unlimited human intervention in Nature for all kinds of work are issues of human and environmental security. They are good reasons to cause global upheavals with massive peoples’ movements and outbursts of local conflicts. One can assert, without exaggerating, that humanity, if the above problems are not addressed, is in danger of a rapid decline in its size or even in danger of its extinction. Of course, the number of environmental migrants will be increased.

Climate change since ancient times has affected people’s lives. History teaches and the lesson we receive is that sudden changes in the natural environment cause problems and turbulence in many parts of the world. The point of focus is the human who, in his/her endeavor to survive, resorts to all kinds of actions. The two major historical catastrophes prove this claim. It is worthwhile mentioning that environmental conditions do not work on their own, but they support the big changes. Nowadays, states are experiencing great challenges at a global level. The environment is at risk and the current conjuncture begins to resemble the two historical examples mentioned. Gradual consolidation of the concepts of environmental migrant and environmental security demonstrate that the environment is also endangered by humanity. It is up to us to deal successfully with this critical situation, since there is still room for action that did not exist in ancient times.

Proposed Sources

Chukwuma Muanya, Guardian Nigeria, 21 September 2017, How climate change, conflicts could wipe out humans by 2100,  access: 26 March 2019.

The other source from which I found the numbers of environmental migrants due to a problem is not presented. However, I can assure you that they are from an official source.

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