Monday, June 18, 2007

The Coming Climate Exodus

It's already begun. Thousands have been fleeing the drought parched sub-Saharan regions in a desperate attempt to find refuge in Europe. But that's just a sneak peek at what's to come.

Reuters reports that another group has concluded that the earth could see a billion climate-displaced refugees by 2050. Think about that. One billion people looking for a new place to live, not to mention water and food and other resources from the places they migrate to.

Logic holds that the first places they will reach won't be much better off than the places they left. These migrants will arrive and look to survive off lands and people already under climate stress. Who is going to get the food and who is going to get the water? How do you think those questions will be decided? A lottery perhaps or a gun?

A lot of the migrants will probably die or be killed off before they get more than a few hundred miles but plenty will get through. From Reuters:

"'All around the world, predictable patterns are going to result in very long-term and very immediate changes in the ability of people to earn their livelihoods,' said Michele Klein Solomon of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

"'It's pretty overwhelming to see what we might be facing in the next 50 years,' she said. 'And it's starting now.'

"People forced to move by climate change, salination, rising sea levels, deforestation or desertification do not fit the classic definition of refugees -- those who leave their homeland to escape persecution or conflict and who need protection.

"But the world's welcome even for these people is wearing thin, just as United Nations figures show that an exodus from Iraq has reversed a five-year decline in overall refugee numbers.
Governments and aid agencies are straining to cope with the 10 million whose plight risks being obscured by debates over a far larger tide of economic migrants -- and perhaps future waves of fugitives from environmental mayhem."

"'They used to be welcomed as people fleeing persecution, but this has been changing -- certainly since 9/11, but even before then,' said William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva.

"'Growing xenophobia, intolerance, political manipulation by populist politicians who mix up the issues -- the whole debate on asylum and migration has been confused,' he said.

"Whatever their motives, migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and as human beings, he added. 'We have seen people in the Mediterranean in boats or hanging onto fishing nets for days while states discuss who should rescue them.'

So while we debate the niceties of just how little GHG Canada produces and why we should have to accept even the modest Kyoto targets until China does, remember that we're not going to be immune from this exodus. In fact, given our advantaged position, we'll probably be a prime target.

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