If you’ve heard doom-and-gloom stories about climate change refugees, you’ve probably thought of the problem as something that only affects people living in far-flung places — countries that are not the United States.
Well, you’d be wrong. Climate change — particularly sea level rise — is already creating refugees right here in the US, according to a story from The New York Times.
Take the Isle de Jean Charles, a low-lying island on the Gulf coast of Louisiana, for example. It is sinking.
While only a few dozen people call the island home, their way of life stretches back generations. And it’s proving extremely difficult, and expensive, to resettle them.
The island, which was once 22,000 acres, has been reduced to only 320 acres, according to The Huffington Post.
Following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which ravaged the coast of Louisiana in 2005 (much of which lies below sea-level), state officials devised a master plan of flood walls and levees to cope with the rising tide — costing taxpayers billions of dollars, according to The New York Times.
But Isle de Jean Charles lies outside the planned walls. With the unstoppable onslaught of climate change, the island’s residents will have no choice but to relocate, as saltwater floods their homes and destroys their soil.
Out of the $1 billion dollars set aside by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to build climate-resilient infrastructure, $52 million is planned to help Isle de Jean Charles residents resettle, per The Huffington Post.
However, many islanders — who have deep ancestral ties to the island — don’t want to relocate, and would rather take their chances.
“I’ve lived my whole life here, and I’m going to die here,” says Hilton Chaisson, a long-time island resident told The New York Times. “We always find a way.”
“This is not just a simple matter of writing a check and moving happily to a place where they are embraced by their new neighbours,” Mark Davis, the director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, told The New York Times.
And if it’s proving difficult to move a few dozen people from an island in Louisiana, what’s going to happen when more populous low-lying regions, say, New York City or South Florida, face getting drowned with saltwater?
“If you have a hard time moving dozens of people, it becomes impossible in any kind of organised or fair way to move thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or, if you look at the forecast for South Florida, maybe even millions,” Davis told The New York Times.
Either way, it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.
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