Saturday October 23, 2021

Cool it

September 24, 2021

Here’s the thing: climate-forced displacement isn't just something happening in foreign countries. Instead, it's increasingly occurring here at home, and already forcing hundreds of thousands of Americans to flee their homes, in many cases permanently.

As the Environmental Protection Agency recently reported, climate change will continue to disproportionately impact people of color, a startling fact that illustrates some worrying patterns. Most noticeably, these communities will bear the brunt of environmental racism as they are forced to engage with a federal government that does little to prioritize funding to help these communities adapt, rebuild, and/or relocate.

When US politicians discuss the possibility of ‘climate migration,’ many think of people being forced to abandon their homes in small island nations or desert countries due to rising sea levels or severe droughts. While these problems are real – and call for political action grounded in human rights – an exclusive focus on international migration can be misleading. After all, as the World Bank has noted, the vast majority of climate-related displacement occurs inside – not between – national boundaries.

The United States, in this regard, is no exception. More than 1.2 million Americans are currently displaced from their homes because of climate change impacts – including increasingly severe storms, wildfires, and flooding. Looking at the past decade, the numbers become even more startling. The United States has been hammered by at least 910 ecological disasters in the last 10 years, with nearly 8 million people losing their homes as a result. Recent reporting suggests that some 50 million Americans will be affected by climate migration in the decades ahead.

These impacts are felt by Americans from all walks of life, from inhabitants of beach towns in places like the Outer Banks, North Carolina, to residents of inland California and the Pacific Northwest being forced to flee their homes or change their daily lives because of deadly wildfires and historic heatwaves. As with other natural hazards, these effects fall hardest on people already deprived of resources. No one is truly ‘safe’ from climate change, but the impact will hit some communities harder than others.

Historically, genocide, settler violence, and forced assimilation policies uprooted generations of Indigenous people from their ancestral homes. Many of these communities survived and even flourished in spite of these attacks; now they face a renewed threat in the form of a climate crisis they did so little to cause.

The Alaska Native village of Kivalina, for example, currently sits on land to which the federal government forced them to relocate to in the 1950s. Now, that land is melting beneath their feet. The village has been negotiating with the federal and state governments for years about the need to relocate yet again, but so far policymakers have not provided the resources that would enable them to do so.

The Biden administration can and should take immediate steps to help respond to climate migration that is already happening–both abroad and inside the US.

Excerpted: ‘Climate Change Is Triggering a New Refugee Crisis – Inside the US’