Trickle of Climate Refugees Could Become Flood

By David L. Brown

Climate refugees? There’s a phrase that is new to the world, but projected effects of ongoing climate change forecast that this category of displaced persons is bound to swell in numbers, possibly into the millions as rising oceans and global warming spreads around the Earth.

The term may not be familiar, but it describes a familiar picture if we simply step back and put things in perspective. We’ve seen footage and still images of these “climate refugees” whenever peoples in an underdeveloped area are stricken by drought and desertification. We know that such things happen only in poor, Third World places. It could never happen here. Right?

And yet…

According to an article in The Australian online edition today, a quarter million Americans — yes, Americans — are “climate refugees” in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Katrina. According to the article (read it here):

Katrina flooded New Orleans and sent an 8.5 metre storm surge into Mississippi and Alabama, forcing about one million people to evacuate to neighbouring states.

In New Orleans parish, only about half of the pre-Katrina population of 437,000 had returned by the beginning of last month, according to Claritas, a private demographic data firm.

The article, crediting the newspaper’s New York staff and a Reuters report, quotes well-known environmental expert Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, DC. According to Brown, “the number of ‘climate refugees’ will grow unless the world cuts the amount of greenhouse gases it releases.” He continued, “What we’re looking at is the potential not of displacing thousands of people, but possibly millions of people as the result of rising seas and more destructive storms in the years and decades ahead….”

True to journalistic form, the news report trots out a counter-argument, this despite the fact that virtually every reputable scientist in the world agrees that climate change is real and that it is taking place because of human generated greenhouse gases [GHG], due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels. In this case the reporter probably had to turn over a few rocks before finding one Bill O’Keefe,

…a board member of Washington DC-based think tank the George C. Marshall Institute and a consultant to the oil industry [who] said last year’s hurricanes were a result of a 20 year to 30 year cycle in storm intensity.

He said Mr Brown was taking “an extremist view, made to make a political point”.

Yes, well, they would say that wouldn’t they? Apparently it will only be when all possible oil has been pumped out of the ground, burned at great profit to the petroleum industry, and untold millions of tons of GHG have already been released into the air that the oil barons and OPEC sheiks will finally drop this ridiculous argument against climate change, a position that flies in the face of a vast and growing body of evidence.

Let them ask of the noble polar bear whether climate change is real.The bears are only one of many species doomed to extinction as their frozen habitat continues to steadily thaw. The polar bears do not have the option to become “climate refugees,” for there is nowhere else for them to go.

Too bad the polar bears don’t have a “think tank” of their own, staffed with spokesbears to give their point of view. But thankfully, human spokespersons such as Brown, Al Gore, and many others are speaking out on their behalf, and the glib pronouncements of the oil industry shills sound more empty and self-serving with each passing day.

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