Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Growing Climate Refugee Crisis in the US and Around the World

The refugees pouring out of Syria and Iraq have focused global attention on migrants however the unfolding human catastrophe will be dwarfed by the coming climate refugee crisis. The issue of climate refugees is an international problem that is already impacting the US. The refugees are streaming from Syria and Iraq was caused in part by climate impacts in the Levant. However, the refugees that streamed out of Syria and Iraq in 2015 is nothing compared to the number of climate refugees we can expect in the years to come.

Climate refugees are people who are forced to leave their homes and their communities due to global warming. The number of people who fall into this category is destined to get far worse in the coming years. Although climate change is not new, warming attributable to human activities is a recent phenomenon.

The so called age of the Anthropocene started with the dawn of the industrial revolution and specifically the burning of fossil fuels and cutting down forests which serve as carbon sinks. Together these forces have increased the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This in turn has caused global temperatures to rise, which exacerbates drought and causes the ice to melt and the seas to rise.

Flooding, droughts and other forms of extreme weather will force massive migrations in coming years. Climate refugees are a subset of environmental refugees. Environmental refugees include immigrants forced to flee because of natural disasters, the numbers of these types of refugees is on the increase. By some accounts there may be hundreds of millions of such refugees in the coming decades. Climate change is killing people and compromising health, livelihoods from tourism, fishing and agriculture are also in jeopardy.

People have been suffering and dying due to drought in parts of Africa, however parts of China and the state of California has also been suffering from massive droughts in recent years. Under drought conditions agriculture becomes much more difficult and in places without access to irrigation it is impossible. Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya each lose more than 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of productive land every year to desertification. Residents near the Horn of Africa are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. Most rural residents in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Drought is particularly severe and causing mass migrations in Ethiopia's Somali region.

Many coastal cities throughout the world are located in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea level rise. This includes: Manhattan, New York; London, England; Shanghai, China; Hamburg, Germany; Bangkok, Thailand; Jakarta, Indonesia; Mumbai, India; Manila, Philippines; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Flooding is already inundating some island nations like the Maldives. Large populations in countries like Bangladesh could also be directly impacted by flooding. Developed countries are also at risk including Italy and the US. Residents of Chesapeake Bay's Tangier Island are expected to become climate refugees in the few decades.

Scientists estimate that due to climate change, the village of Kivalina, in northwestern Alaska, will be under water by the year 2025. A total of more than 180 villages are already feeling the impacts from rising seas. The Yupik community of Newtok, is expected to be completely under water by 2017.

Rising seas from climate change are already causing the some people to relocate in the US. Climate migration is already underway in the bayous of Louisiana, about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, the Isle de Jean Charles, is disappearing into under the rising waters in the Gulf of Mexico forcing many of its residents to flee.

The tiny island was inhabited by the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native Americans. The climate related problem of rising seas and coastal erosion has swallowed 98 percent of the land and the situation has been compounded by the oil and gas industry which is the root cause of global warming. The island used to be 22,000-acres but only 320-acres are left.

Here is a UN map of areas around the world where we can expect to see climate refugees.

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