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Migration as Ecology: How Culture Evolves

8:28 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Bossaso, Somalia (Photo: Celeste Hibbert, via IOM)

Cross-posted from CultureStrike

The immigration debate in the United States often centers narrowly around people who cross a border, and their social impacts on the “destination” country. But what if we viewed migration as a social phenomenon, or as a natural process? An ecological viewpoint can open a new frame for exploring the immigrant experience as a continual cultural and demographic transformation. This month, advocates at the Rio +20 earth summit took up the issue of migration as a form of ecology.

The environmental lens moves the immigration debate beyond the concept of rich countries “receiving” outsiders, or poor countries “sending” workers across borders. Seeing immigration as a zero-sum game ignores the humanity of the people who are driving, and are driven by, constant movement and resettlement. For the U.S. in particular, the focus on border enforcement–sanctifying artificial boundaries as a delimiter of citizenship–ignores the idea that migration is both an inevitable social process, and intimately connected with all other forms of social change, be they political movements, poverty, war, or, perhaps more acutely, environmental disaster.

The International Organization for Migration, which aids refugees and displaced populations, hosted a side event at the Rio +20 summit focused on the ecological implications of migration:

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The Globe’s Not Only Getting Hotter. It’s More Unjust and Unstable, Too

4:23 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Republished from Colorlines.com

climate-refugees

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Over the next few decades, tens of millions of people will be driven from their homes. Braving violence and poverty, they’ll roam desperately across continents and borders in search of work and shelter. Unlike other refugees, though, their plight won’t be blamed simply on the familiar horrors of war or persecution; they’ll blame the weather.

If you haven’t heard about the rising tide of environmental migrants, that’s because throngs of displaced black and brown people don’t evoke the same public sympathy as photos of polar bear cubs. The governments of rich industrialized nations will scramble to shut the gates on the desperate hordes with the same self-serving efficiency with which they’ve long ignored the social, ecological and economic consequences of their prosperity. But both efforts at blissful ignorance will fail, because climate change is forcing society to confront the mounting natural and man-made disasters on the horizon.

In 2010, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “more than 90 percent of all disasters and 65 percent of associated economic damages were weather and climate related (i.e. high winds, flooding, heavy snowfall, heat waves, droughts, wildfires). In all, 874 weather and climate-related disasters resulted in 68,000 deaths and $99 billion in damages worldwide.”

Those numbers look worse on the ground. In rural Bangladesh, where some of South Asia’s major riverways converge, rising waters are threatening to swallow vulnerable coastal communities and leave millions without homes. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the sea level need only rise by a few feet to turn a cultivated area of 1,000 kilometers squared into sopping marsh. The frequency and intensity of floods continues to escalate exponentially, pushing young workers into the cities to earn a living and eroding rural communities and their cultures.

While some places soak, others bake. Read the rest of this entry →