Climate Refugees – Links, Notes, Bookmarks And Briefs For October 24, 2017
An open thread and weekly notes on the topic of so-called ‘climate refugees’, also known as ‘environmental migrants’ or ‘climate exiles’, people driven from their communities and homes due to the impacts of climate change. Feel free to eavesdrop, join in or start a conversation, or drop a relevant link in the comments. Summaries published each Tuesday. If your comment hasn’t appeared within 24 hours, a reason why is probably here.
Miami’s sea level is rising quickly, forcing residents out. News.com.au (23 Oct). A piece by Dan Kipnis, a retired fishing boat captain from Miami Beach, who is among those interviewed in the documentary, ‘America’s First Climate Change Refugees’, which airs tonight (24 Oct) on Australia’s SBS Dateline.
Climate change is often discussed as a problem that’s coming, but in reality it’s already here.
Professor Harold Wanless has been tracking the tides and sea levels in Miami for decades – he says current trends indicate the issue could be terminal for the city.
“[Miami] won’t be here in 100 years,” Professor Wanless predicts. “It will either be a few stragglers trying to hang on to a city that has no infrastructure, no fresh water, no sewage facility, or it will be abandoned completely.”
In the final year of the Obama administration, nearly a dozen federal agencies—led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development—began laying the groundwork for a cohesive federal approach to the so-called climate refugee problem. In December 2016, a top HUD official signed a memorandum of understanding, which would have committed these agencies to work together to develop a strategy for relocating homes, infrastructure, and—in some cases—entire municipalities put at risk by rising seas, melting permafrost, and more dangerous storms.
But since then, the group has done nothing, according to current and former officials familiar with the effort. No other agency appears to have signed off on HUD’s plan, and it has never gone into effect.
It might not be surprising that a president who calls global warming a Chinese hoax would be slow to address its impacts. But for those in the most vulnerable parts of the country, there’s no time to wait. With each severe storm comes the prospect of evacuation and destruction. Thousands are left temporarily displaced or stranded. This cycle, made worse with climate change, is becoming too much for some residents; relocation may soon be their only option. But without a clear government plan to address the problem—and pay for a solution—finding a new home will be all but impossible.
In less than 30 years, roughly 1 million Americans living in coastal areas will already be dealing with about 1 foot of sea level rise. Scientists project that by the end of the century, seas could rise by as much as 3 feet. That would leave more than 4 million people at risk of flooding, according to one recent study in Nature Climate Change. There are no official estimates for how much this would cost the country. My back-of-the-envelope math puts the price of relocation for those five villages at $239,000 per head. Multiply that by the number of people at risk nationwide by the end of the century, and the total price tag could surpass $1 trillion. The Nature study suggests it could be even higher: $1 million per person.
Rising sea levels and human activities are fast creating a “worst case scenario” for Native Americans of the Mississippi Delta who stand to lose not just their homes, but their irreplaceable heritage, to climate change.
“This took a long time to evolve,” said Shirell Parfait-Dardar, Chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians in Dulac, Louisiana. Canal construction, oil and gas extraction from the Gulf Coast, climate change and the routing of the Mississippi River and its land-building floods away from other delta areas have made the loss of land inevitable. “It’s gotten so bad there is no way to repair it.”
While Europe is hopelessly grappling with the ongoing waves of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa the solutions outlined by our European leadership signal how we still presume that mass-migration phenomena are mainly driven by civil unrest, dictatorships and violence. Short-term immigration policies are more designed to calm the “tempest in a teapot” and keep the refugee problems outside the European backyard rather than create long-term sustainable solutions.
What this approach overlooks is the scientific evidence that the largest trigger for future mass migration will not be political unrest in the developing world but rather climate change which has the potential to affect migration patterns as a threat multiplier. The most famous projection came from Norman Meyers who proclaimed that by 2050, 200 million people would be displaced due to climate change. This trend would be irrespective of the scaled up action on low carbon discussed at the UN climate negotiations, as the world is already locked into a mean 1.5°C warming scenario. Following this trend it would mean that the associated impacts from extremes and slow onset climate events are likely to translate into a manifold increase in displacement and migration.
Climatic change can influence migration via a variety of drivers, mainly through the consequences of increased drought and desertification, rising sea levels, more intense and frequent storms, and competition for scarce resources. Economically speaking the consequences will be substantial as the Stern Review has predicted that under a likely baseline climate change scenario South East Asia will experience a 9% loss in GDP and Africa and Middle East a 7% loss by 2100. Under the high climate change scenario, the cost of climate change could rise to losses of 13% and 10% in GDP, respectively.