Climate Migration: Perspectives from May in Washington DC

2019-06-26T10:24:19-06:00 June 2nd, 2019|Travel, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Starting mid-May my sabbatical increased from half-time to full-time.  My co-workers at Brendle Group sent me off in style with a “Sabbatical 2019” t-shirt, card, toast and ceremonial ringing of the gong.  That same week I booked a trip to Uganda and the next week I was off to Washington DC to shadow long-time customer and friends at the National Ski Areas Association to advocate for a price on carbon.  While lobbying was new to me, it was fun to talk with law makers about a topic I’ve spent the last 25 years on – helping to provide specific examples and stories from their jurisdictions.  I also got to tour the electricity archives at the National Smithsonian Museum and complete more informational interviews in our nation’s capital.  With that backdrop and building on first findings from April (see blog), here are some top things I learned this month:

  1. How refugee resettlement works in the U.S. Less than 1% of refugees are resettled into the U.S. and are handled through the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). In coordination with 8 non-profit agencies, PRM assigns refugees to one of 200 resettlement cities in the U.S., usually related to family ties, special medical needs, job placement and capacity of host cities.  From there refugees can migrate to other cities, usually driven by jobs or family (El-Deiry, 2019) and (Cooper, 2019).
  2. The scale of climate migration is estimated at 200 million people by mid-century(Behrman, 2018), twice the rate of current migration.
  3. What could be worse than being a climate refugee? Trapped Populations.  The people most vulnerable to climate change have the fewest resources and legal rights to move (Behrman, 2018) and (The Worldwatch Institute, 2015).
  4. An upside to welcoming climate refugees – workforce development and attraction. Refugees provide a potential for a skilled labor force in U.S. cities struggling with economic growth(Goldbaum, 2019) and (Cooper, 2019).
  5. Not just scientific consensus anymore. We’ve had scientific consensus on climate change for some time, now we can also point to growing consensus among U.S. economists that there would be no negative impact on the economy from emissions reduction policies (Stanford University, 2014-2017). On the other hand, the cost of inaction is growing.  For example, extreme heat is predicted to reduce global GDP by 1-4% or $2 Trillion (Lalit, 2019).
  6. Louisiana agrees climate migration is real. Half the coastal population of Louisiana has moved inland since 2010. According to a recent resiliency plan, the state will offer incentives for relocation of coastal residents to inland communities and stop permanent residential construction in high risk zones in the future.  For those stranded populations unable to move (see point 2 above), the solution – floating schools and hospitals (Rojanasakul, 2019).
  7. Uganda is unique in its approach to refugee camps, with progressive policies that allow refugees to live and farm freely. Uganda’s goal is to build livable cities out of refugee camps that endure and support local host communities even after refugees return home safely(Strohlic, 2019).

Works Cited

Behrman, A. K. (2018). Facilitating the Resettlement and Rights of Climate Refugees. New York: Routledge.

Cooper, L. (2019, April 19). President, Figure 8 Investment and Co-Founder, Global Talent Idaho. (J. Dorsey, Interviewer)

El-Deiry, N. (2019, May 10). Deputy Director, Development & Strategic Initiatives, The International Rescue Committee (IRC), Salt Lake City. (J. Dorsey, Interviewer)

Goldbaum, C. (2019, May 14). Luring Refugee: N.Y. Cities Desperate for People Try a New Strategy. The New York Times.

Lalit, R. (2019, May 24). Manager, Global Cooling Prize, Rocky Mountain Institute. (J. Dorsey, Interviewer)

Rojanasakul, C. F. (2019, May 15). Louisiana Unveils Ambitious Plan to Help People Get Out of the Way of Climate Change. Retrieved from Bloomberg LP US: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-louisiana-strategic-plan/?srnd=premium

Stanford University. (2014-2017). Energy Modeling Forum. Retrieved from EMF Project 32: US GHG and Revenue Recycling Scenarios: https://emf.stanford.edu/projects/emf-32-us-ghg-and-revenue-recycling-scenarios

Strohlic, N. (2019, April). In Uganda, a Unique Urban Experiment is Underway: the world’s second largest refugee camp is slowly but surely transforming into a permanent city. Retrieved from National Geographic Magazine: The Cities Issue: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/04/how-bidibidi-uganda-refugee-camp-became-city/

The Worldwatch Institute. (2015). State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability. Washington: Island Press.

Judy Dorsey
Judy is founding principal engineer at Brendle Group, offering 23 years of leadership in sustainability innovation. Her specialties include community-scale planning in climate resilience and clean energy. She has led the completion of more than 350 sustainability projects across 35 U.S. states. She is currently on sabbatical studying climate migration and sustainable resettlement.