I wanted to pick this post up with where I left off in the last post, speaking about those displaced by climate change or extreme weather events. There is no actual defined name or definition for a “climate change refugee” or “environmental migrant”. Migration due to the impacts of climate change has been happening for quite some time now, so why is it that we have no defined title and official status for these displaced people? For so long heads have been in the sand and denial has been the battle shield against the changes that we are causing to this planet. Even today we have people in leadership positions, politicians, and people in your communities, your neighbors denying this very obvious truth.
These migrations and extreme events are very public and impacting huge numbers of people.
- Lake Chad (Surrounded by Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) shrank by roughly 90-95% between 1963 and 1968. The water scarcity has empowered the Boko Haram insurgency.
- Eastern Syria, Turkey, Northern Iraq, and Western Iran in 2007 saw the beginning of the worst drought in their history. Water scarcity drove nearly 1.5 million people out of rural areas and into the cities. This not only started overcrowding but drove the prices of food astronomically high and increased social and economic tensions.
- China has seen their deserts expand by 21,000 square miles since 1975. The government has been relocating hundreds of thousands of people due to the loss of cropland and sandstorms.
Closer to home:
- Shishmaref, Alaska is situated on a barrier island just south of the Arctic Circle approximately 100 miles from Russia. They are losing shoreline to sea-level rise. The ice does not get as thick as it once did during winters making ice-fishing (a source of food for the village) dangerous and unpredictable.
- Isle de Jean Charles, Lousiana is located in the wetlands and marshes. Since 1955 they have lost more than 90% of their land to erosion and sea-level rise. Each tropical storm or hurricane threatens their remaining existence.
Isle de Jean Charles is a unique place. Not only are the people living there losing their land they also stand to lose their culture. The small village houses members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and the United Houma Nation. They have a unique opportunity to be the first community relocated with funds from the Federal government. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted $1 billion to thirteen states to help communities adapt to climate change. $48 million of those funds were set aside to help the residents of Isle de Jean Charles relocate.
As we move forward into this unknown journey of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme weather, we will see more and more towns and villages become desolate and abandoned as the residents move to safer locations. At this time we cannot define what those “safer” locations are or what they will be like. Once thing we can be sure of is that new migration patterns are developing. Those living in deserts are migrating to cities and urban areas. Those living on the coast are migrating to higher ground. Those living off the sea in Alaska are moving inland to thicker ice. The United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security estimate that between 50-200 million people could be displaced by 2050.
So what are we going to do about it? We open our towns and our minds to the migrants coming in. We find a way to make our urban areas green and sustainable on clean energy. We use that energy to house and care for our neighbors. There is no good way to sleep at night by abandoning people just like us. They have hopes, dreams, kids, and families. They deserve to live and enjoy life just as we do. Preparation is the key. We know the world is heating up, we know the sea is rising, we know that populations are displaced. We have to find a way to prepare for the migration and then welcome them in. Building walls and turning people away from our privilege is nothing short of genocide disguised as “protection”.