Common Dreams - September 22, 2021
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.
The headlines in recent weeks read like signs of an impending apocalypse. Sixteen years to the day since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, the Louisiana coast was again battered by Hurricane Ida, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the state. Wildfires in California have blanketed the western U.S. with smoke, prompting mass evacuations. In New York, floodwaters poured into the subway and through the windows of basement apartments.
While scientists and journalists are quick to point out that no single disaster can be traced directly to climate change, one thing is clear: storms, wildfires, floods, and related hazards are all becoming more frequent and severe as the planet warms. The worse these climate impacts become, the more people will be forced to move between borders, destabilizing fragile countries and contributing to the rise of xenophobic politicians who undermine the tenets of an inclusive society. Widespread drought and crop failure in Central America, for instance, continue to force people to pull up stakes and make the dangerous journey north to the United States, and far-right politicians have been quick to exploit their suffering to capitalize on misguided fears of immigration.
But 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 U.S. 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. ...
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