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Who's Responsible for Climate Refugees?
Alex Steffen, 28 Mar 05

If the climate models hold true (and things don't get worse than expected), by the 2080s upwards of 200 million people are expected to have been made refugees by climate instability and rising seas. Who is to care for these people? Who should take them in?

Sujatha Byravan and Sudhir Chella Rajan (of the Council for Responsible Genetics and the Tellus Institute, respectively) have a modest proposal (PDF) unveiled in the last Nature: find them homes in those countries most responsible for climate change, in proportions related to the proportion of climate-change gasses those countries have emitted. X% to the US, Y% to China, and so on:

The number of vulnerable ‘climate change exiles’ received by a host country would be in approximate proportion to that country’s cumulative greenhouse-gas emissions. Estimates suggest that roughly 50 million to 200 million people will be displaced by the 2080s, owing to the direct impacts of climate change... [N]ew annual immigrants would range from a few thousand for the Czech Republic to about three-quarters of a million for the United States.

(via SciDevNet)

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Intriguing idea, but self-defeating. Anecdotally-speaking, don't new immigrants tend to take on many of the same energy-consumption patterns as their hosts? Assuming the hosts countries continue to output more pollutants per capita than other nations, new immigrants increase population sprawl (even if they move to city centers, the total population will keep pushing out), thereby increasing transportation-related pollution. Furthermore, they would use other technologies in similar proportions to the rest of the population, technologies that further increase the need for energy.

As northern climates warm, newly habitable parts of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia are likely to be big draws for immigration. These countries may have a major opportunity for economic development in warming regions. Will this be enough of a "silver lining" to turn global warming into a Good Thing? I suspect that those who think so don't understand the importance of biodiversity and the difficulty non-human life will have in quickly adjusting. The adjustment period may necessarily slow the pace of new economic development that relies on natural resources. But in the long-term, the more open of these northern countries will surely experience and encourage tremendous population growth.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 30 Mar 05



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