Home Adaptation Climate Refugees and Emergency Management (Revisited)

Climate Refugees and Emergency Management (Revisited)


Since the Paris Climate Accords were completed and signed, there has been much discussion about what actually defines a "Climate Refugee."

Our first take: Climate Refugees and Emergency Management

Revisited: Climate Refugees and Emergency Management

In the post, we discuss how climate change refugees are not a new concept. Incan civilization may have been enhanced, and then collapsed due to climate change. Mayan civilization may have collapsed due to climate change. Greenland civilization may have also been enhanced and then collapsed due to climate change. And in our own backyard, the Anasazi civilization may have collapsed due to climate change.

So it is with some amusement that this article appeared recently. Yes, these folks are indeed climate refugees. Yes, the fact that they need to be resettled at all is an American tragedy. But they're not the 'first' by nearly 1000 years. Or maybe more than 1000 years, depending on where you draw the line around 'America'. They're not even the first in past 100 years, if you consider folks like my own mother that fled the Dust Bowl.

They're just the most recent to grab our attention. And they won't be the last.

So what's the point? The point is that we have climate refugees on the road right now because of the Fort McMurray wildland fire. We have climate refugees on the road right now because of rising sea levels in South Florida. We have climate refugees on the road right now because of droughts throughout the American SouthWest. These are not isolated incidents. These are trends.

As the trends continue, look for these features:

  • People will continue to move northward across the Mexican border into the US--not necessarily for reasons of economics, or because they're rapists and drug dealers, but because there isn't enough water back home for them to survive. This situation is being mirrored right now as the Middle East migrates northward into Europe.
  • US residents will continue--and the rate will accelerate--the migration from the dry heartland to the more promising coasts. Overall migration will reverse from southward to the sun belt to northward to the temperate and water belt as climate change impacts take stronger hold.
  • Water access--as exemplified by East Porterville, California and various small towns in Texas and Oklahoma--will begin or continue to inspire residents to pack up their belongings and go elsewhere.
  • There will be political unrest. Voters have already indicated that they're tired and fed up with shortsighted and incompetent politicians that lie to them. Unfortunately, voters are not that capable of picking visionary and competent politicians that don't lie to them. So this will continue to foment unrest and violence.
  • The fact that we don't understand and accept these risks and threats is a hazard to our civilization and way of life. Our way of life will have to change regardless--there are just too many stressors out there for us to keep wearing blinders and live out our lives in the status quo. So people will retreat to extremes--those that resist all change, and those that push resilience and accommodation of change to the maximum extent possible. The unaligned and indifferent soon won't have a choice other than to become involved.

Hopefully, we can leave more behind than cave drawings and architectural sites. Or even more hopefully, we can leave behind thriving children that can tell our stories in person. Our choice.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.