John R. Wennersten and Denise Robbins' Rising Tides: Climate Refugees in the Twenty-First Century will be available March 6, 2017 and is now available for preorder. In a guest blog post, the authors discuss how climate change affects environmental refugees across the world.
By John R. Wennersten and Denise Robbins
At this writing, Europe is under siege by one of the largest Syrian war-induced migrations in history. The war has dragged on for over four years now, taking more than 200,000 lives and causing untold destruction to the Syrian environment. Well over a million refugees have entered Europe, adding a complex religious mix to the already complicated issue of climate refugees. These streams of migrants may literally change the face of the continent in a generation. Optimists hope that through resettlement and education, the issues can be resolved. Others believe that this might be the time when things begin to fall apart in our global system. At present, while a dangerous situation unfolds, many world leaders have chosen paralysis and mutual recrimination. At this juncture, members of the European Union are discussing ways to keep further immigration limited to “documented” refugees.
In 2009, only 30 percent of Americans believed that the world climate was changing. By 2012, surveys revealed that 70 percent of the American people had come to believe that greenhouse gases have altered the planet. A new age of environmental—and subsequently refugees—had dawned.
Environmental refugees in an age of sectarian violence, civil war, and economic recession are not a flashy public policy project. Most policy makers wish that the subject would go away. But in an age when the world is being forced to bear witness to the fact that millions are fleeing their homes because of rising sea levels, desertification, drought, unprecedented hurricanes, tsunamis and war, the topic is stubbornly resistant to the kinds of public amnesia so often in effect in the world theater of nations.
We do not know how soon reality will trump ideology. At present there are lots of back and forth discussions between national and international leaders that haven’t been very productive. What is certain, however, is that climate change is not just changing the planet, it is changing human lives.