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Climate as a “vulnerability multiplier”

October 3, 2022

NPR’s Ari Shapiro has a good article out today about the links between climate change, migration, and the rise of far-right ethno-nationalist politics. (Whenever this comes up I will always re-share my colleague Teresa Anderson’s sketch of this vicious cycle from several years ago.)

Particularly useful in this piece is the differentiation between climate as a “vulnerability multiplier” versus a “threat multiplier”:

As Kayly Ober of Refugees International told me, climate change can be a ‘vulnerability multiplier,’ exacerbating other factors (such as corruption and poverty) that were already making life difficult to sustain.

But where human rights advocates see climate change as a vulnerability multiplier, opponents of migration see a threat multiplier. Some far-right extremists have used worst-case-scenario forecasts of climate migration as excuses to attack immigrants.

The “vulnerability multiplier” language places the emphasis on the well-being and rights of potential climate migrants. On the other hand, the “threat multiplier” phrasing (which is liberally used by the US Department of Defense etc in their analyses of climate change) emphasizes the security of potential recipient countries, feeding into right-wing narratives and the “armed lifeboat” approach.

One approach might actually lead us to a solution to the climate crisis. The other will only lead towards climate catastrophe. I know which language I’ll be using moving forward.