US refugees flee global warming

Signal of change / US refugees flee global warming

By Callum Watts / 24 May 2016

Immigration is the hot topic in the US presidential circus, but another migrant crisis is unfolding in its own back yard. For the first time ever, the US government is having to prepare to resettle US citizens who have been irreversibly displaced by global warming, within its own borders. Over the past 60 years the inhabitants of Isle de Jean Charles, on the Louisiana coast, have seen 90% of their land washed away. The federal government has allocated $48 million dollars to help rehome the whole island's population between now and 2022- the year when what little remains of the land will become uninhabitable. The funds set aside are supposed to help the inhabitants of the spit move to a new location, preserving the integrity of the community as well as individual livelihoods.

So what?

To pick a salient metaphor, the situation in Louisiana is the tip of an iceberg as many hundreds of millions of people will be affected in the same way in years to come. And whilst the effects of global warming are likely to affect developing countries disproportionately, rising sea levels ignore borders and wealth and will hit all countries. Of globalized, populous, and economically vital cities; Miami (100%), New Orleans (98%), Amsterdam (99%), Rotterdam (100%), Shanghai (79%) and Guangzhou (63%) all have a majority of their populations living at or below 10 meters elevation. These cities might be protected with a massive investment in flood defences, but in America alone 15 million people live in vulnerable flood plains. And estimates put the global population under imminent threat from rising sea levels at at least half a billion.

And the above figures include only the individuals directly affected. As relocation becomes more necessary, the social and economic disruption will be felt not just by those whose homes are washed away, but also by the communities who have to play host to these climate migrants. Dealing with this relocation is likely to become an increasingly urgent policy issue, and so what happens in this small village in Louisiana is vitally important in learning how to cope with an ever growing global crisis.

Image credit: News Muse

Sources

Bloomberg (March 20th, 2016) The First U.S. Climate Refugees

New York Times (March 3rd, 2016) Resetloing the First American Climate Refugees

UBS (January 11th, 2016) Climate Change: A Risk to the Global Middle Class

Climate Central (Novermber 8th, 2015) Rising Sea Levels Threaten Land Home of Half a Billion

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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