10 November 2008

climate refugees

Writing from Sydney, Australia.

This post is part of Bloggers Unite for Refugees, BlogCatalog's blog action event, November 10.
(Though for me, in Australia, it's already November 11.)

What comes to mind when you hear the word "refugee"? Political exiles? People escaping war, genocide? What about ecological exiles?

Ideology is not the only thing that tears people away from their land, their family, their culture. Climate change, and the calamities it brings, is already forcing people to migrate en masse.

sea change
This isn't something that only affects those in developing nations. Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating storms in US history, rendered thousands homeless in our own nation. Both man and nature contributed to this catastrophe. Poor planning and plain ignorance -- mixed with warmed gulf temperatures -- fueled what might have been a weaker storm. Currently, thousands of people are still displaced from their homes. They are scattered across the country, some never to return home.

You can help
Contact representatives to bring Katrina refugees home.

water alters life for many
Intensified storms due to warming sea surface temps are just one reason for human relocation. Other changes in our relationship with water will create a massive population of climate refugees.

According to a 2007 article from Scientific American (citing the Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change),

These shifts may include rising sea levels, stronger tropical cyclones, the loss of soil moisture under higher temperatures, more intense precipitation and flooding, more frequent droughts, the melting of glaciers and the changing seasonality of snowmelt. Combined with the human-induced depletion of groundwater sources by pumping, and the extensive pollution of rivers and lakes, mass migrations may be unavoidable.
[Scientific American]

We see these changes happening already. Those who are fortunate can adapt. Droughts in the West are compelling cities to implement toilet to tap water treatment or consider desalination in order to supply people with water. In Australia, plans are under way to build a controversial desalination plant. But in other parts of the world, where there is a lack of infrastructure and resources, millions will be forced to move.

In Africa, all signs suggest that currently subhumid and arid areas will dry further, deepening the food crisis for many of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. The severe decline in precipitation in the African Sahel during the past 30 years seems to be related to both anthropogenic warming and aerosol pollutants. The violence in Darfur and Somalia is fundamentally related to food and water insecurity. Cote d'Ivoire's civil war stems, at least in part, from ethnic clashes after masses of people fled the northern dry lands of Burkina Faso for the coast. Worse chaos could easily arise.
[Scientific American]

More articles about environmental refugees

The Wikipedia definition of environmental refugee.