The global climate refugee crisis has already begun

When Hurricane Florence struck the shores of North and South Carolina and Virginia, more than a million evacuees fled their homes seeking shelter from the storm. For some, there will be no return home, as their homes are damaged beyond repair or beyond what they can afford to repair. All these displaced people are not simply evacuees fleeing a dangerous hurricane. They are climate refugees.

There are a couple of reasons why climate change is creating a new category of refugee. First, climate change contributes to rising seas. As ocean water warms, it expands. That, along with simultaneous increased melting of the world’s mountain glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, contributes to rising sea levels. Sea level rise is already one factor producing climate refugees around the world.

Second, climate change contributes to stronger hurricanes. The warming atmosphere transfers heat to ocean water, which in turn transfers heat to storms. This strengthens and expands the storms. Because warmer water evaporates more readily, it also results in greater amounts of rainfall.

The global climate refugee crisis has begun. We are already seeing some permanent displacements of people who don’t return home because their home is destroyed or their farmlands are compromised or they’ve learned a lesson. As global climate change progresses, it will eventually lead to ever larger numbers of people being permanently displaced.

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