US Climate Migrations About to Begin

gc2smOff the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on May 12, 2016

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr) Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

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Does the Congress know about this? The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in January approved grants of about a billion dollars to communities in 13 states to help the deal with climate change — a problem that according to a majority of the leaders of Congress, and a majority of the members of the Senate, does not exist. Among those grants was one for $48 million to help move an entire Louisiana community to higher ground as rising seas obliterate its land. This is a first for America. It is hardly the last.

The community is Isle de Jean Charles in southeast Louisiana, an island community of Native Americans that has lost 90% of its land to the sea already (not only, but increasingly, because of climate change and rising sea levels). There are just 60 people left on the island, whose resettlement will cost taxpayers about $800,000 per person. Wrenching as their experience is bound to be, these folks have a first-class ticket that will not be available when the crowds arrive.

The waves of change are lapping at the feet of Americans all along the East and Gulf Coasts. Just last week, flood waters from one to three feet deep inundated areas (West End, North Wildwood) of Atlantic City, New Jersey. There was no rain, and no storm — just a northeast breeze and a seasonal high tide. The water bubbled up into the city through storm drains that are supposed to carry it the other way. Imagine if you put a storm on top of that.

Even without a major storm, the rate of sea level rise alone may make Atlantic City untenable within 15 years. Will we have $800,000 for each person that needs to relocate then?

Fortunately, the area is represented by the hard driving governor Chris Christie, who given his experience with Superstorm Sandy will no doubt take forceful action…wait, what? [Christie Says Climate Change “Not a Problem.”]

Similar incidents — often referred to as “blue-sky floods” — are occurring with increasing frequency from Boston to Norfolk to South Miami Beach. For a year and more, candidates from Florida, Virginia and New England have been running for President of the World; wouldn’t you think a problem as real and present as this one would have come up? It didn’t.

We will have climate refugees,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ten days ago, but she wasn’t referring to Louisiana or Atlantic City, but to the Arctic. The threat there is not so much from rising seas as warming temperatures, which are melting the sea ice and the permafrost. As the sea ice disappears, the storm waves get bigger and closer to human settlements; as the permafrost melts, the ice highways on which many villages depend for supplies become impassable. Probably the first to go completely under will be Kivalina, Alaska, population 400. President Obama has been there to empathize with the refugees to be; there is no evidence that the Congress believes in Alaska.

Given the tunnel vision and the obtuse denial of American financiers and politicians, the onset of the American Climate Diaspora will not be slow. It will start only when enough tasseled boat shoes are deeply under water, and then it will likely be a stampede.

We are seeing today all of Europe being seriously destabilized by climate refugees out of North Africa and the Middle East. (Yes, climate refugees. Everything that is happening in that beleaguered region has roots in severe, prolonged, famine-inducing drought.) That crisis will no doubt worsen for many years to come, and may well call into question the survival not just of the European Union, but the countries of Europe.

And what will our own, homegrown climate migration call into question? Everything.

Don’t tell Congress, you’ll only upset them.

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