One of the ill effects of climate change is rising sea levels. With sea levels rising, coastal communities are at risk of floods that will make their homes uninhabitable. A study recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that society focuses too much on the people and places that will be displaced, but not enough time is spent figuring out where they will go.
Hurricane Katrina Example
What happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina can shed some light on how to better deal with climate refugees. After the devastating hurricane, 250,000 people emigrated from the Gulf Coast to Houston, Texas. But what the state government did not anticipate was that 100,000 of those emigrants would choose to stay.
With the large influx of people, Houston had difficulties with relocation services and absorbing the population. Because neither the citizens nor the government were prepared for the refugees, a negative attitude began to emerge. Even Dennis Bonnen, the 2014 Texas Representative, was tainted by the experience and went so far as using a slur when referring to the Cajun children that were victims of Hurricane Katrina. To prevent a negative attitude from emerging, like in Houston, it’s important for governments to plan ahead and have relocation services ready for climate refugees from coastal communities.
Predicting Where Climate Refugees Will Go
The study recently published in Nature Climate Change was conducted by Matther Hauer, a geographer from the University of Georgia. He has researched where people might flee from as a result of climate change and where they might go. This study is more expansive than Hauer’s previous study where he discovered that there are approximately 13 million Americans at risk of relocation from sea level rise. He found that most of these climate refugees would be from the south eastern part of the United States.
To conduct his research, Hauer has used sea level rise data and a migration modeling software. He works under the assumption that people will move in consistent ways and that wealthier individuals are more likely to stay where they are and adapt their infrastructure to the changing weather patterns.
According to Hauer’s research, climate refugees in coastal Georgia are more likely to migrate inland towards Atlanta as opposed to moving all the way to Los Angeles. He predicts that Florida will have as many as 2.5 million residents that will relocate. Texas might see a large influx of climate refugees of up to 1.5 million people. Atlanta, Georgia could also receive 250,000 additional residents.
Issues with Flooding and Relocation
Many states may be unprepared for a large influx of climate refugees. One of the biggest concerns is whether inland states have enough resources to take in more residents. Places such as Atlanta, GA, Phoenix, AZ, Riverside, CA, and Las Vegas, NV are struggling with water management. If climate refugees move to places with resource constraints then a toxic attitude and unhealthy environment could be the fate of relocated citizens.
Another issue with sea levels rising is that some citizens may be unable or unwilling to leave their homes. As a result people may be trapped in flood zones. For cities such as New York, people might move away to drier zones in the state, but they will still be in places that are prone to future floods due to sea levels rising. Counter to Hauer’s research, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that low-income residents are more likely to stay in flooding areas. This is because they lack the funds and connections to relocate elsewhere.
We live in a time of uncertainty when it comes to climate change and how coastal regions will deal with relocation. But one thing is for certain: governments and communities need to come together to find solutions to help relocate citizens that live in areas affected by rising sea levels.