Climate change now means migration on a massive scale

The Youngest One read about the horror facing Syria families trying to flee their worn-torn nation. Her eyes glistened in compassion. We talked about it through dinner. We talked about how hard it is to help. An hour later she set up her first crowdsource campaign, giving her Christmas to help others.

This campaign remained on my mind last week when I listened to a presentation by a global environmental expert, Konrad Steffen. I could go on and on about the stunning news I learned during just a 30-minute presentation, but let’s jump to the real headline.

In the aftermath of COP21 and political rhetoric that insists there is still a question about the widespread impact of climate change, consider this little separation of the wheat and the chaff:

Regardless of what we do now to change the course of global warming, ocean levels will rise about 3 1/2 yards on average over the next fifty years. In places like the northern coast of California, seas will rise more than six yards.

“Don’t invest in sea level property on the coast,” Steffen said. “You’ll be under water… Right now in San Francisco buildings are being built that will be under water before the next century.”

This is going to happen.

It may be far worse–like the-whole-Earth-underwater worse–but Steffen’s presentation focused on what is assured. Fact. Beyond a doubt and can’t be changed. There is no release valve on oceans. The water now melting in Greenland is filling the oceans and make them rise.

As significant as this news is, it’s still not THE headline. The real headline came in a comment Steffen made next when he said Europe and America are better off because they will simply lose shoreline. Nations that have no elevation will simply disappear. My mind first went to where Gilligan and The Skipper hung out. But that’s not what he meant. He wasn’t concerned about little-deserted islands, he was talking about the homelands to hundreds of millions of people all underwater within 50 years. A specific example he offered: “Bangladesh.”

I sat next to a coworker who hailed from Bangladesh. As my gut clenched, I heard him shift in his seat. At the first opportunity, he asked for clarification. “Did you say Bangladesh will be underwater?”

Yes. Can’t be helped. Sure, maybe if we get our shit together we will construct significant sea walls that keep the home to 8th most populous country in the world dry, but that’s a stretch. Steffen pulled no punches about the impact and the issue that this single environmental reality meant:

“A very large migration is coming that will start in the next forty to fifty years,” he said. “A wave of immigrants 50 to 100 times larger than what we see today. It will happen, unfortunately, no matter what. This sea level rise is on the books.”

Which brings me back to The Youngest One and her gripping sadness over Syrian refugees. We simply can’t imagine the widescale disruption that is coming our way.

Countries like Greece and Italy are already overrun with desperate refugees. Yet, xenophobic American leaders call for closing our borders. These are the same leaders who deny the impact and urgency of climate change. They mocked COP 21 compared to the threat of terrorism.

Really? When hundreds of millions lose their country, except some anger toward developed nations that did nothing despite knowing all along it was coming.

Steffen made one other point, almost as an aside that hit me like a right cross to the jaw. The American military, he said, is already building its coastal bases in preparation of 1-2-meter rise in sea level. Nothing shows what we believe more than how our military reacts. Since the political party most in opposition to climate change is also the most ardent supporters of the American military, it’s safe to say they don’t believe their rhetoric, not when they approve such a landmark shift in military policy. I wonder if we can track every pro vote for the Keystone pipeline to every pro vote for a military budget that is planning for sea level rise?I don’t know if such a trail exists, but such leadership is unconscionable.

Bangladesh has nearly 160 million residents. Will we welcome them even as our shorelines are displacing coastal residents everywhere? Think about that.

Sometimes, I think America has become the parody of “The Capital” during The Hunger Games. Then I remember The Youngest One and her Syrian campaign and so many other bright lights of hope just like her.

We can do better. But we have run out of time for talk. It’s time to do shit. And shut up with all the nonsense debate while we do. Humanity depends on it.





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