This really interesting piece in The Guardian documents the story of the people of Newtok, Alaska, a community seen as America’s first climate refugees. Climate refugees are defined as “people displaced from their homes by the impact of a changing climate”. Interestingly, the current definition of a refugee in international law is narrower and includes people displaced by war, violence or persecution, but not environmental changes. This may soon have to change.
This interactive series highlights the very real, lived effects of global climate change on a community intricately inked to their environment, both in terms of their everyday livelihood and surroundings but increasingly in a global context though climate change. The piece reminds us that this is not just a concern for developing countries (though certainly developing countries feel the effects of shifting climates heavily and tend to be much more vulnerable to it) but these changes can and will be felt everywhere.
It also reminds us of how global changes, that can often seem abstract when talked about in terms of carbon emissions and so on, have very on-the-ground consequences. In turn small shifts in our everyday lives link into much wider impacts, so switching to low energy light-bulbs, or remembering to switch appliances off, and not keep them on standby, are small but certainly not trivial actions. Of course there also need to be much bigger shifts, within politics, economics and policy, but every small step counts too…
Photograph: Richard Sprenger, in The Guardian.