The Refugee Crisis: Let’s look at Energy, Economy and Ecology

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Refugees hurry to get into line awaiting crossing of border at Jamena, on Serbian side of Croatia. September 26, 2015

The unfolding and increasingly tragic refugee crisis is creating a profound awareness around the war in Syria. Not to be forgotten are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Eritrea, also risking their lives to reach Europe. What do these refugees have in common? The narrative is that these peoples have lost their homes and livelihood after a wave of conflicts originating from a desire to introduce democracy in repressive totalitarian governments and dictatorships. This allows us to see these refugees as fleeing from something of their own making, something they are responsible for and that we, in the developed European countries, must now pay for. In this narrative, it’s them wanting something from us, and us taking the role of savior, helping them in their time of need, while making us heroes of the downtrodden, the poor, and needy. This fits well in the Judeo-Christian narrative of the superior culture helping an inferior culture, the good versus the bad, the enlightened versus those who live in darkness.

Is it that simple? Well simple is good, after all, it’s a simple story, simple to write, to tell, and most of all, makes us in the west feel good about ourselves. Well, at least some of us.

There is a less pleasant consequence of this narrative. It’s the growing popularity of the far right ideologies, the right-wing political parties who tell their supporters how this influx of refugees will take away their freedom, their jobs, even take over their culture. Emboldened by the rhetoric, some are taking matters into their own hands; refugee camps in Germany and Sweden are being set on fire, daily protests and hate speeches are fuelling the fear and inciting more violence against the newcomers. Meanwhile, there is no statistical evidence or studies that support these fears. More to the contrary, studies show the opposite. Numerous historical statistics show that refugees actually increase economical activity and enrich host countries through new business, more taxes being paid into the national coffers, and more importantly, increasing the cultural diversity which leads to new approaches and innovative solutions in business. A famous example is the late founder of Apple computers – the worlds largest company – and billionaire Steve Jobs, who was adopted from Syrian immigrant parents.

These facts by themselves provide plenty of material to debate the pros and cons of refugees, effects on the national economy, and the threats we face, or opportunities created by the arriving refugees. All of this is still based on the assumption that the initial narrative is correct, that “these peoples have lost their homes and livelihood after a wave of conflicts originating from a desire to introduce democracy in repressive totalitarian governments and dictatorships.”

But what if the narrative is incomplete? What if there are other factors involved? What if we were to question this narrative and look for other factors that could be influencing this tragedy that is causing the greatest mass migration since World War 2?

Energy would be on the top of my list. Interesting thing is, Iraq is in the middle of the Middle East, and very much a producer of the black gold, petroleum. It’s been 25 years since the Gulf War involving Iraq and Kuwait started, and then came operation Desert Fox in 1998, and then the Iraq War started in 2003, lasted until 2011 when it turned into an insurgency… The first wave of refugees came from Iraq and went to Syria and numbered more than one million (diffucult to say how many Syrian refugees are Iraqi). Syria and Afghanistan are important gateways for the oil, so they have had their share of war, interestingly both heavily involved with Soviet and today Russian interests, most recently in the case of Syria. Why all these wars? Well it wasn’t because of any “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (there weren’t any). The wars have certainly been, however, and continue to be a “Weapon of Mass Distraction”. I don’t see much talk in the main stream media about the connection between oil and the refugees. Why? Western nations have been involved in the Middle East since World War One and the then secret Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), which drew lines across the desert regardless of differences in language, culture, religion or politics. It almost seems that instability in the region was the main goal, and it succeeded.

Divide and Conquer. With more than 30% of the world’s oil coming from the Middle East, and most of that fuelling our modern western economies, it might be fair to ask whether we share some responsibility in the refugee crisis now facing Europe and the world.

Ecology, and how we depend on the environment is another question that is very much relevant to the refugee crisis. And it’s not only the fact that burning fossil fuels, including the oil from the Middle East, is the main cause of Climate Change. It’s the fossil fuels, the oil and the coal, which has made it possible for us in the west to develop our booming industry and affluent economy to provide us with all the comforts we enjoy. Thank you people of the Middle East! The downside is Climate Change, which has lead to more than sixty million refugees and displaced persons worldwide, to date. Among these are the four million refugees and eight million displaced persons from Syria – more than half that country’s population. It is becoming increasingly clear that the drought which afflicted Syria between 2006 and 2009, the worst in that country’s history, caused between one million and one-and-a-half million farmers and their families to move to the cities, where there was already a water crisis. In addition to the refugees from Iraq, this didn’t help the social and economical stability of Iraq.

Which brings us to the Economy. It’s no news that the world’s economies are in trouble, and that it’s been ongoing (yes, it’s still the same crisis) since before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. This was just the drop that made the cup run over, and the world banks and governments have been trying to bring the economy back on track ever since. The latest crisis in Greece has shown us that the problems are systemic, that is, it’s the system that’s broken, and any quick fixes in a broken system won’t, and can’t last. The present pressure on governments created by the refugee crisis, as a result of failed global energy management (i.e. fossil fuels), which in turn is responsible for much of our Climate Crisis, and putting additional strains on the world financial systems, is in short, a tremendous challenge. It has come up in the 2009 (Putin’s address) and 2013 Davos World Economic Forum (Global Risks 2013 Report): it might just be a “Perfect Storm”.

But crisis are also opportunities.

Yes, if we are willing to put the dots together, and reflect on these facts, maybe we start to see the refugee crisis as an opportunity to question our lifestyles and look at the core issues affecting our planet. How we choose to do this work, from what level of consciousness, may determine the future of the human species on the planet. Let’s change the narrative, let’s take a collective responsibility and work with compassion and respect. And don’t be surprised if the next Steve Jobs is waiting in one of those refugee camps between Syria and Sweden.

I invite you to do some research of your own on these subjects (there is plenty material if you ask the right questions), and I would love to hear from you!

A few sources:

Putin at Davos in 2009:

Wars in Iraq:

Drought and Conflict in Syria:

Davos World Economic Forum – Global Risks Report 2013:

Qatar Turkey Gas Pipeline (illustration):


About christersoderberg

Living and growing up in nine countries has left strong impressions on the background of Christer Söderberg, helping to create an awareness of the impermanence in life and the uncertain value of knowledge; illustrating the paradox between knowing and what we may do well to “unlearn”. Christer has worked with companies in six countries on four continents, most recently in Brazil where between 1998 and 2002 he started a subsidiary for a Swedish Multinational. Studies in business and a lifetime of social entrepreneurship have further cemented his belief that the only thing we can change is ourselves. This lifelong endeavor expresses itself in creating the conditions for change through places, physical and virtual spaces where the individual can feel safe in him/herself; at least enough to stop, reflect and listen to the world we live in. We exist in our relationship to each other, our environment, and ourselves. Through observation and silence, preferably in close communion with nature, a “zero perspective” can help stimulate the questions surrounding our purpose and a meaningful contribution while on earth. Increased awareness of individual potential plants seeds for long-term success; Open World initiatives help awaken the hidden potential in individuals, creating new perspectives on cooperation and personal development. Increased focus and balance help provide a strong base for individual and business growth, with a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility, respect and awe for the power in nature.
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