Brexit and the 10th man

I changed my view of Brexit recently. I’m not saying I changed my opinion of Brexit. I’m saying that I am no longer convinced that Brexit is what I thought it was; I worry that it’s something far more troubling.

Have you seen the Brad Pitt movie, World War Z? It’s entertaining enough, though the book is far, far, better.

At a loose end recently, I decided to crack open a beer and re-watch the film, aiming this time to just enjoy it on its own merits rather than as a bad version of the book. However, it reminded me that the book isn’t just a fantasy, it’s grounded very solidly in the principles of disaster management, and as such was given a tip of the hat by the US Government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention with their Zombie Preparedness Plan.

As I was watching the scenes set in Israel, the fictional Mossad character outlines to the protagonist the Israeli doctrine of the Tenth Man*:

And this got me thinking.

I’m as prone as anyone else to Normalcy Bias. I look at a change, especially a big one, such as Brexit, and my analysis will tend to assume that everything else, the context, will remain unchanged.

In this case, that means that the UK will be leaving the European Union in the context of a globalised, integrated economy, ending up isolated, with no trade agreements in place. And that makes no effing sense at all.

So all things being equal, I’m a Remainer, pro-EU, and firmly convinced that Brexit is a bad mistake.

But what if the context is not stable? What if all things are not equal?

Because actually, that’s what I’ve been arguing, on this blog and elsewhere, for at least ten years now. Climate change and resource depletion are going to collapse the global economy. Climate change is going to make large parts of the world uninhabitable, and that is going to cause refugee migration on a scale that will absolutely dwarf what we’ve been seeing in Europe over the last couple of years. Entire nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are going to have to leave their homes and seek sanctuary elsewhere. And that, largely, means Europe.

The thing is, this is inevitable now. It can’t be stopped, it can’t be mitigated. It really doesn’t matter that the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement, because the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is in itself sufficient to destroy the world as we know it.

This was made explicit in a recent article by David Wallace-Wells, which has got a lot of attention: The Uninhabitable World. It’s a long and unsettling read, but it accurately sets out the future we will experience, far soon than we expected. (The article has been the subject of some criticism, but that criticism is largely off-target, as this Vox article demonstrates).

So let’s imagine that behind the shambles of May, Davies and Johnson, there are grown-ups taking a sober, reasoned look at the changing environment, and taking measures to respond to an unavoidable future of collapsing international trade, an epidemic of failing states, and vast migrations towards Europe.

Let’s throw into the mix the fact that island of the British archipelago are actually in a very favourable situation, given that, for us, the warming effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide will be offset by the slowing of the Gulf Stream, leaving Britain with temperatures (if not weather) not far from its long-term norm.

Of course, to try to pre-emptively disconnect the UK from its global trade networks while they still function, in order to build resilience would be a tough sell.

Getting the message out to the Global South that Britain’s doors are closed, before the trickle turns into a flood, would be widely deplored.

Unless you could get a bunch of fanatics to do the selling for you.

Because, wouldn’t a national survival plan to cope with an Uninhabitable World look a lot like Brexit?

* The 10th Man Doctrine is apparently a real thing.

Image credits: TsunamiTsunami by user Martin Abegglen on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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