Australia was the first Western country to be hit by climate catastrophe; it won’t be the last.

I live in the Netherlands, one of the safest countries in the world. Hurricanes don’t exist here, and the amount of (very weak) tornadoes that happen in a year can be counted on your fingers. There is one volcano near our country, but it’s been inactive for 150 million years and lies 2 kilometres under the seafloor. There are close to no noticeable natural earthquakes, the only ones that do occur are man-made and mostly confined to a single province with 8% of the land area and less than 4% of the population. This is what our average forest fire looks like:

Newsworthy forest fire in Rozendaal, 2017. The fire was contained in a 200m x 100m area.

The only natural disasters that we have to worry about are floods, but tsunamis are non-existent, so any floods must be caused by tidal surges, which we are protected against. The last big flood happened nearly 70 years ago, and since then we have spent over 10 billion euros constructing one of the biggest structures in the history of mankind to prevent it from ever happening again.

People express worries about climate change, but don’t see it as a personal problem. Climate change is something that kills animals and poor people in the 3rd world. For us, it’s just an inconvenience: we no longer get to ice skate on natural ice and have to install air-conditioning. The chance of us dying is basically 0. We have to do everything we can to minimise climate change, it is a serious problem, but if it doesn’t work out we are still safe in our rich Western country, right? Wrong.

A few months ago, the idea that climate change could seriously hurt or kill you while in a rich 1st world country hadn’t entered the public consciousness yet. Climate change can kill people, but not us. A drought would kill people in Africa, but here we have enough money to install irrigation. A heatwave would kill people in Asia, but we have enough money to install air conditioning. Where we’d get the cheap parts and labour to mass manufacture air conditioning at affordable prices after South-East Asia has collapsed? No one knows.

The Australian bushfires show otherwise. Having money doesn’t protect you when a huge wall of flames consumes your house in minutes. You may have some money, but do you have enough to build an airtight house and filter all the air that goes in or out? Because if you don’t (which is the case for the vast majority of people), you will be affected by air pollution.

But let’s assume that for some reason, you live in a country that is completely unaffected by climate change. That isn’t the case, your country will be affected, but let’s assume that for some reason your country is immune. That doesn’t mean you are safe. Countries are dependant on others for trade. Your safe 1st world country won’t be so wealthy anymore once they can no longer rely on the 3rd world for cheap labour and resources. When people are dehydrated and starving and notice there’s a rich country with more than enough water and food, they may not be so friendly. Will your safe and wealthy 1st world country still be safe and wealthy when a billion starving climate refugees show up at the border, demanding you let them in?

High School Student from the Netherlands--part-time writer, full-time thinker

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