California, Oregon, and Washington are on fire.
At least 33 people have died in recent days, and more than 5 million acres have been scorched as out-of-control blazes rage across the American West. The 2020 wildfire season in California is already the most destructive in the state’s history — exceeding the record set in 2018, which in turn beat the record set in 2017. Experts agree that rising temperatures from climate change have turned much of the region into dry kindling, ready to spark in an instant.
“This is a climate damn emergency,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week.
Disasters like these displace people. Tens of thousands of fire survivors have been forced to flee their homes, and more than 500,000 — half a million — Oregonians have been warned they might soon be ordered to leave. In the meantime, many evacuees are sheltering “in an assortment of RVs, cars, and tents.” Many do not know if their homes will still be standing when they try to return, or where they will go if those houses are indeed destroyed. The fires will eventually end, but for many residents of the region, the disaster is just beginning.
The climate refugee crisis has come to America.
We’re not used to thinking of that crisis as an internal American problem. Publicly, at least, officials and experts have often focused on how poorer countries will deal with the migration of people fleeing drought, floods, devastating storms, and other disasters — both fast- and slow-moving — caused by rising temperatures across the globe. In 2018, a World Bank report estimated that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia would spawn more than 143 million “climate migrants” by 2050.
“The developed world is still largely sheltered from climate change effects,” one expert wrote in 2016. “But the world’s poor feel the impacts directly.”
America’s Pacific Northwest surely counts as part of the “developed world.” So does Miami, which earlier this year was identified as “the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world” thanks to rising seas brought on by the changing climate. Same goes for Iowa, where climate-aided flooding devastated much of the state last year.
In fact, climate migration was already well underway in the United States before the latest round of fires. The Urban Institute estimates more than 1.2 million Americans left their homes in 2018 for climate-related reasons — some were escaping long-term problems, but others were fleeing short-term disasters that became permanent displacements. Sea level rise could force millions more coastal residents to move in coming years. People won’t keep living in places where it is impossible to live. Sooner or later they will choose — or be forced — to leave their homes and find somewhere safer.
The response from the Trump administration to international refugees has been to hang a “keep out” sign at the nation’s borders, all but snuffing out the torch on the …read more
Source:: The Week – Science