The US Is Finally Talking About Climate Change Displacement
Major stories in the New York Times and Rolling Stone are turning attention toward the crisis.
Over the course of 2017, the US was hit by a series of devastating climate events — hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, and heatwaves — that displaced more than 1 million people, according to Rolling Stone.
In other parts of the country, a gradually changing environment is forcing citizens and governments to debate whether to invest in relocation plans or hunker down and build new infrastructure to delay displacement.
Now, the consequences of climate change on US communities seem to finally be getting the media attention they deserve. Two large-scale pieces exploring the ramifications of climate change displacement ran in The New York Times and Rolling Stone over the past week.
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Global Citizen has also been calling for increased attention to and action on behalf of communities threatened by climate change. Last year, Global Citizen traveled to the remote Alaskan village of Kivalina to report on a community on the frontlines of this new and frightening future.
The questions facing communities under threat — and the US at large — come with financial and logistical demands out of reach of many local decision makers, according to both pieces, which explored both specific towns and cities and the broad parameters of the issue.
Climate relocation is an emerging field that covers everything from building new healthcare and education systems to maintaining community ties as people are moved from one place to another to avoid the risks of climate change. It calls for input from scores of experts and millions in expenses. The Isle of Jean Charles in Louisiana, for instance, received $48 million from the federal government in 2015 to relocate around 60 people after spending years drafting a holistic framework.
By comparison, the greater Houston-area, which was battered by Hurricane Harvey, has more than 6 million people.
Building levees or raising roads, on the other hand, is often very expensive and generally fails to offer a long-term solution. Miami has spent billions on raised roads and drainage systems, yet the problem of sea level rise is only getting worse.
In many other towns and cities, climate change adaptation is receiving less attention.
The New York Times profiled another town in Louisiana, Jean Lafitte, which has been all but abandoned by state legislators, as sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, sinking land, and devastating storms, threaten to remove the town from the map.
The federal government, meanwhile, has withdrawn from many climate change adaptation programs.
Globally, the scale of climate-related displacement is much larger. More than 13 million US citizens are expected to be displaced by climate change by 2050, while more than 2 billion people could become climate change refugees by 2100 around the world.
When Global Citizen traveled to Kivalina, we heard from locals how their homes and ways of life were being increasingly undermined year after year by warming temperatures, subsiding land, and extreme storms.
We learned how the people of Kivalina have become their own champions in their effort to relocate and we also explored the broader issue of climate change displacement and how governments are dealing with the problem.
You can read this long-form piece here.
Global Citizen campaigns to mitigate climate change and support climate change refugees. You can take action on this issue here.