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Columnist Laura Draucker: Refugee crises linked to climate change

  • In this Nov. 17, 2015 photo, Mahmood Ali prepares a fishing net for his next trip to the seas in the new house he constructed after his home was washed away in the island district of Bhola, where the Meghna River spills into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is considered one of the world's most vulnerable countries to climate change. Scientists have projected seas will rise an average of around 1 meter (3 feet) in this century. But just a 65-centimeter (26-inch) rise would swallow some 40 percent of the country's productive land, according to World Bank experts helping Bangladesh devise ways to cope with this change. AP photo/Shahria Sharmin



Thursday, July 05, 2018

Every minute of the day, 31 people are forcibly displaced from their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. That is one of many shocking statistics from the recently released 2017 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Global Trends Report.

The migration and horrific separation of thousands of families along our southern border over the past two months is a mere drop in the bucket of the global refugee population, which is nearing 25.5 million (including Palestine refugees). Additionally, 40 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes but currently remain in their home country.

While the Trump administration claims it wants to “solve” immigration, almost all its actions fly in the face of root-cause solutions to the refugee crisis. This includes undermining diplomatic approaches to conflict resolution, weakening partnerships with our allies, and withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the first (and a long time coming) global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Yes, climate change is contributing to the refugee crisis, and will continue to do so in drastic ways if left unchecked. The science is clear — climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. These include the heat waves, droughts and intense flooding that are impacting food production and water availability around the world.

For countries already struggling with volatility, food and water shortages can quickly lead to large-scale humanitarian crises. A severe drought in Syria from 2007-2010 caused migration from the countryside to the cities and exacerbated social unrest, which some feel contributed to its current civil war.

Food insecurity and famine also factor into the violence and displacement happening in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela. Several Central American countries are at high risk to the impacts of climate change, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the home countries to many of the most recent refugees to our southern border.

In addition to increased food and water insecurity, many will be physically displaced by sea level rise. One study by Cornell University researchers estimates two billion people will be climate change refugees by 2100. I won’t be alive then, but my son and daughter very well might be.

How will our government handle not only refugees from other countries but the hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens who will be displaced from our own coastal regions? Furthermore, when you consider that over our history the United States has admitted more total greenhouse gas emissions than any other country, what should our role be in addressing this growing crisis? Clearly not our current approach of walls, bans and zero tolerance.

Our government should be working with our allies on root-cause solutions to reversing these trends in forcible displacement. This includes addressing climate change.

Climate change is not a “nice to solve” problem that we deal with when our own borders are secure — it’s actively contributing to disruption and devastation around the world.

In addition to pushing for political action, we need to push for media attention. Climate change is still barely mentioned on corporate broadcast networks and rarely connected to extreme weather and global conflict.

Climate change must be part of the discussion so it can be part of the solution, and both are desperately needed.

Laura Draucker is the director of sustainability at Amherst College.