A New Climate Change Topic to Watch in 2017

Between Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt (a climate change denier) as the head of EPA and the expectation that the coming years will be some of the first in which global warming is constantly felt by significant human populations, the discussion surrounding Climate Change is about to become a lot more heated.

In America, we are beginning to see the emergence of our first class of “climate change refugees”– a new term that refers to the populations of people whose homes have no longer become habitable due to the effects of Global Warming.

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The concept was first given a name back in 2013, when residents of Newtok, Alaska voted to vacate their small coastal village, which according to the Army Corps of Engineers may be completely submerged as early as this year. In the lower 48 states, the community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana has begun to plan their move, after being granted $48 million last year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to move and resettle. Tangier, Virginia has similarly become the subject of concerned speculation– with some questioning whether the island can even be saved at all. These US communities join countries worldwide who are similarly are facing the consequences of climate change, whether in the form of rising sea levels (like the Maldives and Marshall Islands) or drought (like Syria).

There is some debate over whether or not the term “climate refugee” is an appropriate one; legally, many of those being forced to evacuate their homes do not meet the official UN definition of a refugee. Instead they are sometimes called “environmental migrants”, a phrase which has been used in the past (for example, to qualify those escaping the Dust Bowl of the 1930s).

Either way, these groups are giving a human face to Climate Change– a shift away from the emphasis on polar bears on ice caps (who have otherwise dominated the public image of global warming for the past decade). In 2017 and the years that follow, climate change refugees will become an increasingly “normal” component of Climate Change discussions– a living reminder of the challenges we all face.

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