Climate Refugees: A Global Concern for Land and People

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Planet painted on faceA climate refugee is someone who has been displaced geographically as a result of climate change. In other words, they were unable to stay in their homes due to an impending change in the surrounding climate – be that from fire, storm, flooding, earthquake, etc. that caused them to move from their homes.

Mass Global Migrations and Border Conflicts

As a result of this forced movement of people from their homelands due to natural disasters, mass global migrations ensue, which result in border conflicts and political instability. How real is the problem of climate refugees? Consider this – the Pentagon now considers climate change a national security risk.

Aren’t Climate Refugees a Problem of the Future?

No, millions of climate refugees exist today. In fact, the United Nations estimates that more people are currently displaced as a result of climate change than as a result of war. If that doesn’t give you a chilling idea of the impacts climate refugees will have on the planet’s stability, I don’t know will.

How Many Climate Refugees Exist Today?

The United Nations estimates that 25 million climate refugees exist today. That number is expected to double to 50 million within the next five years. That’s less time than it takes your kid to get through elementary school! It gets worse – estimates from the Red Cross, IPCC, The Christian Monitor and other organizations estimate that up to 1 billion people will be displaced due to climate change within the next 4 decades. For many of us, that’s within our lifetimes.

Climate Refugees – The Film

If you haven’t already, check out the movie Climate Refugees. It will give you the lowdown on climate refugees in a format that brings home the seriousness of this issue.

To me, this is the first “climate” movie that brought full circle the direct impact climate change is having, and will have, on our lives. It documents not only the millions that have been displaced as a result of climate change, but the effect this will have on the lives of each and every one of us if we don’t step in and make changes – fast.

You might think you’re safe in the middle of the U.S. on top of a mountain. You’re thinking “floods can’t reach me here,” and “I’ve got plenty of food.” That may be true now, but the fact of the matter is that climate change will impact most of us indirectly – by way of climate refugees. Floods in the South Pacific on rice and grain fields will impact our food supplies directly; clean water supplies will become scarce, etc.

The mass migration of refugees in and out of the country will not only cause political instability but will threaten our nation’s national security. And the threat comes not only from outside the Untied States, but from within as well. Just look at the impact Hurricane Katrina has had on our nation to this day.

Hurricane Katrina : A Climate Refugee Case Study

The impacts of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans are felt to this day. In the aftermath directly following the flooding of 80% of New Orleans in 2005, looting, violence, and other criminal activities became serious problems. The robberies covered everything from retail outlets and small businesses to basic food and grocery stores. To this day, people are suffering from health effects (particularly mental health), and are unable to return to their homes in many cases. Why? Insurance companies will no longer insure the houses, so real estate options have become limited.

More Natural Disasters on the Way

The fact is, there will be more natural disasters, a lot more devastating than Katrina. Just this past week, we had the New Mexico Oil Spill, with an offshore BP drilling outfit exploding and leaking millions of gallons of oil into the water. The oil is spreading, and this will potentially be the largest and most devastating oil spill of all time. This comes just around a time when climate legislation was hanging in the balance.

Whether or Not You Believe in Climate Change…

There’s always two sides of an argument. In the case of climate change, or global warming, there’s the prevalent argument that the climate changes are cyclical, or that the globe is cooling just as much as it is warming. That’s fine – believe what you will. Whatever the cause of climate change, be it natural cycles or man-made effects, the fact is that climate change is creating climate refugees. And it’s doing so on a scale that will endanger not only future generations well-being, but our own well-being, and that of all of humanity, in the very near future.

About The Author:

Alex loves nature and does his best to take care of the planet. He doesn't take for granted the serenity that can be found in the stillness of an ancient forest, or the majestic power of the ocean's large waves as they crash on an isolated island shoreline. He wants to raise awareness for how simple it can be to make a couple changes in your everyday life that can make a huge difference for the environment in the long term.

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Anonymous
I like the weather where I live now. I now I needed a place that had all four seasons. That is another reason why I stayed, I wanted to be close to my family. If we were ever to have to leave because of climate change I would be super bummed. So we’re doing our best – recycling, composting, and doing what we can to help planet Earth.

I really don’t understand why people don’t make more of an effort. Even if you don’t believe in global warming, I don’t see how it can hurt to at least do a couple things that will benefit you anyways – make your house less smelly, keep your garden growing better, etc.

Wake up and smell the fresh air people.

Anonymous
So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as ― those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life.

The fundamental distinction between environmental migrants and environmental refugees is a standpoint of contemporary studies in EDPs. According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant. Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

Much of the literature produced on ‘environmental migration’ assumes the nexus to be self-evident. The category is both emotive and commonsensical, and therefore has widespread currency in the media and among policy makers, non-social scientists and neo-Malthusianist social scientists. However, there is no evidence that the concept can be used to achieve generalisable truths. In brief, this is because the degree to which any given environmental factor is meaningful at the societal level – let alone to any specific aspect of human activity, such as migration – is entirely conditional on socio-economic and political contingencies.

In other words, it is impossible to isolate a single environmental factor as an independent variable from which to deduce its impact on a particular (or general) form of social outcome in any way that will be generalisably useful; the relationship will be different depending on circumstance. There has been little work that has bolstered the conceptual integrity of the concept. The concept lacks an agreed definition, and as a consequence, also lacks clear-cut evidence. Predictive models have therefore proved elusive, despite high-profile ‘scoping studies’, leading to a wide range of estimates, such as that conducted by the European Commission funded EACH-FOR project.

Research[22] conducted in areas of ‘environmental degradation’ which attempted to demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between migration and environmental degradation (including climate change) have so far lacked falsifiability, and have been marked by an absence of counterfactual evidence that has made it impossible to draw any generalisable conclusions from the findings.

Anonymous
So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees. Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant. Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

Anonymous
I was not familiar with the term before I read the article, but now that I am aware of it, I definitely feel a strong call to take action. It is good to know that the US government is also aware of the potential security risk at stake due to global climate change.

The sheer number of global climate refugees- twenty-five million- is astounding. Most US states, including the one I live in, do not have even remotely this many people living in them. I found it so shocking that within only four years that this number is expected to double that I had to look it up for myself. As it turns out, the problems related to climate that create climate refugees compound each other, displacing more and more people from similar areas. Unfortunately, these areas are generally large cities that are inhabited many times by other climate refugees, and/or are repeatedly plagued by the same climate troubles. For example, there are many large cities on the Pacific Rim that are known to have large earthquakes. Combined with a human population that is rising at out-of-control rates, there are certain to be more and more climate refugees in the future. Floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis all have devastating effects, as well, and the aftermath of each one is not necessarily fully cleared up before the next disaster strikes.

The effect globally will be a human population that is likely to have no choice but to move away from these climate disaster areas, or else fortify themselves solidly against natural disaster and build cities and homes that can withstand disasters when they strike. Sadly, most of these climate disasters occur in areas that are desirable for people to live in, such as Los Angeles or the Mississippi River Plains in the United States, Tokyo, Santiago, Mexico City, and so forth. But again, there are many reasons why these areas, and others that lie at an epicenter for natural disasters, remain populated, in many cases heavily.

Anonymous
An economic impact is sure to be a major contributor to the overall general impact that climate refugees have on an area. This is because many places, such as Haiti, where natural disaster has recently struck, are populated with many people who are also quite poor, and therefore do not have the resources to relocate themselves fully after losing everything in a disaster. This means there will be a lot of people moving into new areas after a climate disaster has struck that will strain the resources of nearby cities or countries through needing shelter, public assistance for food, putting children into local public schools, and potentially bringing crime or civil unrest to the new areas. Plus, the rising number of climate refugees means that there is a larger chance that the US might inadvertently grant access to US soil to a terrorist organization.

There are parts of climate disaster that are created by nature and cannot be specifically controlled by humans, such as hurricanes or flooding. The parts that really get my emotional response are the human-made disasters such as the oil spills. There are so many of these, and they are all incredibly bad for the environment. Why is it, then, that these are not controlled or regulated more tightly if they represent such a terrible security risk? The issue desperately needs more action from the people.

I also was most affected by at the part of the article where the author talks about how no one is immune to the effects of global climate change because of the effects of climate refugees. The case study of Hurricane Katrina is a great example, since although I live in a city far from New Orleans, I remember how we were slated to harbor a group in an abandoned school building near my old elementary school. This was going to potentially be paid for by our state and city dollars, and many people in the area were upset about the prospect. Although I understand the opinion that turning away refugees is a sound economic idea, it lacks general human compassion for people who had lost everything in a climate disaster; one that was furthermore heavily mis-handled by the US government and FEMA.

With that view, it is a tricky path to navigate between harboring refugees who desperately need somewhere to go while they are stressed out and cannot go home, and keeping the country and individual states and cities both safe and in decent economic shape. I am not sure where the middle ground of this road will lie; ideas have been suggested such as screening refugees for known terrorist ties, but then where do the innocent people go who simply have an unfortunate namesake? Unlike flying on airlines, you could not simply be denied boarding. Ultimately, disaster preparedness is going to be key.

Anonymous
This article was very eye-opening to the issue of climate refugees. I was not familiar with the term before I read the article, but now that I am aware of it, I definitely feel a strong call to take action. It is good to know that the US government is also aware of the potential security risk at stake due to global climate change.

What is a climate refugee you may ask? This simply refers to a person who has been displaced from their home due to a climatically induced environmental disaster. There are a number of things that would qualify as such disasters. Some of these are extreme weather events like cyclones, hurricanes, mass flooding and tornadoes.

The sheer number of global climate refugees- twenty-five million- is astounding. Most US states, including the one I live in, do not have even remotely this many people living in them. I found it so shocking that within only four years that this number is expected to double that I had to look it up for myself. As it turns out, the problems related to climate that create climate refugees compound each other, displacing more and more people from similar areas. Unfortunately, these areas are generally large cities that are inhabited many times by other climate refugees, and/or are repeatedly plagued by the same climate troubles. For example, there are many large cities on the Pacific Rim that are known to have large earthquakes. Combined with a human population that is rising at out-of-control rates, there are certain to be more and more climate refugees in the future. Floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis all have devastating effects, as well, and the aftermath of each one is not necessarily fully cleared up before the next disaster strikes.

The effect globally will be a human population that is likely to have no choice but to move away from these climate disaster areas, or else fortify themselves solidly against natural disaster and build cities and homes that can withstand disasters when they strike. Sadly, most of these climate disasters occur in areas that are desirable for people to live in, such as Los Angeles or the Mississippi River Plains in the United States, Tokyo, Santiago, Mexico City, and so forth. But again, there are many reasons why these areas, and others that lie at an epicenter for natural disasters, remain populated, in many cases heavily.

Whether or not you believe global climate change is real or whether it is an issue, climate refugees do exist, and they are real people just like you and me. This issue needs more publicity and more people need to be aware and concerned about it before it becomes a crisis. Even though there are many millions of climate refugees today, taking action will prevent the situation from worsening into something that is out of control.

Yes, I can see evidence of this, but hopefully we can see more positivity on the horizon.