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The First US Climate Change Refugees - A New Reality

EmmamHowe MA, United States 0 Ratings 13 Discussions 8 Group posts

Posted by: EmmamHowe // Marketing/Green Policy Development

To many Americans, the idea of “climate refugees” and displacement due to rising sea levels and changing environmental conditions seems like an impossible fantasy that only happens in far off Island nations. But this no longer solely affects distant Island nations. In fact, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Lisbon, and Portugal, are a few of the major cities that will face the impacts of rising seas before the end of the century. Not only that, but the all too real situation in the United State’s Isle de Jean Charles has now brought climate displacement to American soil. Some of the world’s most vulnerable people are already being displaced from their homes due to anthropogenic climatic effects. In fact, “between 50 million and 200 million people...could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change, according to estimates by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the International Organization for Migration,” making this an international immediate cost that may help combat the collective climate action issue.

Since 1955, the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has lost 98% of its land due to human-caused climatological rises in Gulf water levels. The once 22,400-acre island is now only 320-acres. Not only has the land been slowly eroding away, but tribe’s food sources, homes, and spirit have also been dwindling. On January 21, 2016, in response to this disastrous situation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the tribe $48 million to relocate through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Fortunately, support for the environment and climate action is growing. But for some people, it is already too late.

The Isle De Jean Charles, La., the land where many of the Native American tribes of southeastern Louisiana have lived for generations, “is now dying, drowning in salt and sinking into the sea” and most people are preparing to leave. In order to aid these “climate refugees,” the US government has created “climate resilience” grants totaling $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change. One of those grants, the $48 million for Isle de Jean Charles, will be “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change.”

Yet, even a plan like this — which will move only about 60 people — is proving difficult to to accomplish. A lot of times, resettlement efforts fail once they become bogged down in logistical and political complications, which often arise from deep seated cultural and property rights issues. Thus, even though the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaws are receiving funding from the US federal government, they believe the fight to save their cultural identity is not over. The federal grant will help save the tribe from the rising sea levels, but when it comes to solving the issue of ‘cultural erosion,’ finding a solution is far more complex. Chantel Comardelle, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw deputy chief’s daughter, feels that “once [their] island goes…[they]’ve lost [their] whole culture—that is what is on the line.” Therefore, even though some aspects of this “Climate Refugee Crisis” will be solved as the United States takes broader relocation action, these efforts will likely exacerbate identity-related cultural issues, complicating US efforts to combat the issue.

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