This past weekend a friend from Paris came to visit us in the north of England for an unusual reason. Though we were all happy to spend time together, the main purpose of his stay was to get away from the punishing heat wave that was due to hit Western Europe. We took advantage of the pleasantly warm weather to show him some of the local attractions, including a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, which 2,000 years ago marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire.
I jokingly referred to him as our first “climate refugee,” a nod to the well-established trope of describing events in the West with the language and frameworks often used to depict the Global South. Recent months and years have offered no shortage of opportunities to deploy the gimmick, from the scandals that drove British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from office to the senseless gun violence plaguing the United States.
The flip side of this irony is the demeaning remarks often made by inhabitants of Western countries comparing developments in their own countries to an imagined “Third World” nation. Here, too, there has been no shortage of illustrative examples in recent years, from Texas’ inability to maintain a functioning 21st-century power grid to former President Donald Trump’s refusal to recognize the outcome of a free and fair election that removed him from office.