World Refugee Day: Talking about climate and migration

This World Refugee Day, we acknowledge the struggle of forcibly displaced people who are on the frontlines of communities that have been impacted by climate change. We’ve put together an explainer on how we talk about climate migration and some helpful resources to get involved and stay sharp on the options and collective solutions we can take. We’ll also delve into framing migration as part of the solution and a form of adaptation to climate change.
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Data from the recent heat wave reveal troubling trends

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Peter Dykstra: Ready for a little good environmental news?​

What we do at EHN and The Daily Climate is write and aggregate on issues that are generally pretty depressing.


The Arctic ice pack and Amazon rainforest are disappearing; but wait!! The Sahara, the Pacific Garbage Patch, and the Gulf of Mexico dead zone are growing.

Some of the toxic chemicals in our bodies can skip a generation and impact our grandchildren. The world’s most wildly popular home pesticide of all time, glyphosate, may be nowhere near as safe as its makers claim.

Rhinos. Tigers. Poachers. Deniers But let’s save all that for now and focus on some of the literally millions of ways that we – and nature – are battling back.

Marine protected areas

Documentarian Ken Burns called national parks “America’s Best Idea.” So creation of marine protected areas by the U.S., U.K., New Zealand, Australia and others just might be the Best Idea of the 21st Century.

MPA’s vary widely in size and level of protection. Some ban all commercial activity, some restrict only the most intrusive. The website protectedplanet.net estimates that over 7% of the world’s salt water is under some level of protection.

Tech to the rescue

Palau’s sprawling mid-Pacific archipelago is home to a Texas-sized MPA. Satellites now patrol the area for illegal fishing across the vast sea.

Sky-eyes also watch for illegal logging in forests and water theft on megafarms and ranches; drones help keep an eye on polluted sites; mobile monitors sleuth methane releases from refineries and fracking sites, and methane leaks from aging urban sewer and energy systems.

Clean air and water

When the U.S. Clean Air and Clean Water Acts passed in the early 1970’s, they did so against a backdrop of blackened skies and flaming rivers. No more. And fetid, raw sewage-gorged rivers became a relative rarity.

When scientists revealed a new threat in acid rain, a stronger Clean Air Act helped neutralize that major threat to our forests.

Success on solar, oil, whaling

Whaling is very nearly ended, as have most existential threats to whales and dolphin species.

After decades of false starts, wind and solar are pulling market share, and giving clean energy nightmares to the world’s traditional energy powers.

As for activists, every once in a while, what may seem like a deathscape of never-ending futility occasionally produces a rainbow. We saw joy aplenty (here and here, e.g) from those who faced hardship and arrest to stop the Keystone XL pipeline when, last week, the Keystone XL pipeline stopped.

Science travesty & success

When 20th Century science gave us miracle products like tetraethyl lead to improve car engines; chlorofluorocarbons to chill our homes and our food; and DDT to clear Pacific jungle battlefields of malaria-bearing mosquitos, scientists became rock stars. Then we learned the lead was harming kids’ brains, CFC’s were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer and DDT was causing bird species to drop like flies.

We, for the most part, took care of those three. Leaded fuel is now outlawed worldwide, with few exceptions. The 1986 Montreal Protocol brought a worldwide ban on CFC’s and other ozone depleters. And a 1972 ban on DDT in the U.S. gave new life to bird species we were fully prepared to write to write off, from brown pelicans to ruby-throated hummingbirds and even the national symbol, the bald eagle.

Hope amid hopelessness

The Endangered Species Act in the U. S., parallel laws elsewhere and global pacts like the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) provide a far-from-perfect defense.

But they’re a good guarantee that we’ll have gators and grizzlies in our future. And hope, even when it seems a little hopeless.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Top photo of a 2017 protest against Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines courtesy Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons

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World Refugee Day: Talking about climate and migration

Every day, people living on the frontlines of climate chaos witness the worsening consequences of the climate crisis: Crops failing due to extreme drought, food shortages, devastating storms, floods and fires engulfing towns and villages, and heatwaves. Many of us around the world are facing an uncertain future, especially those of us who are poor, people of color, women, migrants, and Indigenous peoples. 

What do we mean by climate linked mobility?

Anyone that has had to move because of a climatic event. It’s important to note here that there are different types of climate linked mobility: typically called sudden or slow onset events.

Sudden events are the types of things we are witnessing with increased intensity- hurricanes, typhoons and floods for example. They cause people to become displaced very quickly, but often within internal borders and temporarily.

Slow onset events are much harder to quantify, a drought can lead to loss of livelihood that leads to resource scarcity, that fuels existing tensions, leading to conflict and displacement. Migration patterns tend to be external and permanent.

How does climate change affect refugees?

Humans have always migrated for multiple reasons, the climate crisis is yet another reason why people might choose to leave their homes. However across the globe political instability and climate chaos means that their are more people are on the move. The world saw over 30 million new displacements due to floods, storms or wildfires in 2020. Climate disasters also ‘caused more internal displacement than war’ last year as well, according to Norwegian Refugee Council’s IDMC report.

Yet, despite the reality of our heating world and the evidence indicating that the climate crisis will lead to the displacement of peoples, the situation at our borders is one of increasing militarisation that is designed to deter, deport and detain people. Across the globe we are witnessing the growth of the border industrial complex with companies such as G4S, Accenture, Serco, Mitie, British Airways cashing in on the growing business and profiting from the expansion of the climate crisis 

Talking about climate migration

Crisis narratives, if not framed in the right way, can have dangerous implications for how migration as a result of the climate crisis is talked about. There are some great resources out there to dive into this more. 350.org UK developed this climate justice framing project which has some really useful pointers. Standing up 4 migrants has a great tool kit with a seven-step guide to rethink and change how we speak about migration. 350.org was also part of developing this briefing on dangerous narratives and climate migration  where we explore how some of the language that the climate movement uses can actually do more harm than good; here are some of the key findings from those resources.

Numbers: Current narratives around climate and migration, often deployed by the global north climate movement and security think tanks, are feeding into the populist right-wing agenda and are potentially more detrimental than useful in supporting people that have been forcibly displaced.

Inadvertently frames that use crisis language like ‘mass migration’, ‘unprecedented migration’, ‘waves of migration’ feed into this perceived  ‘fear factor’ or ‘threat narrative’ and are being used to justify treating those that have been forcibly displaced by a rapidly warming world with walls, bullets, drones, cops, and cages.”  (Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security’ by Todd Miller).  And they are being picked up by the far-right, the rise of eco-fascism is being tracked across the globe as the far right lean into ovr population and localism narratives, 

There is no conclusive figure of how many people will need to move, no consensual estimate exists, let alone a commonly agreed methodology. As a result, predictions and estimates have become one of the most contentious issues in the debates on climate migration. Depending on the study, numbers oscillate wildly from 50 million to 1 billion by 2050. So we need to frame migration as part of the solution and a form of adaptation to climate change

The future will hold many challenges, of which this is one. Human populations have always been in flux. The challenge (as with other impacts of climate change) is to manage this through forward planning and building resilience. This means proactively creating safe pathways for those whose homes are affected to ensure a world in which all humans can live with dignity. Many impacts of climate change are now unavoidable – but the harm they cause is not inevitable if urgent and effective adaptation is put into place, supported by solidarity between citizens of different nations, who all face a shared challenge.

Telling stories. Migration because of the climate crisis sounds for many like an abstract concept, and so we need to make it real. By telling stories and listening to people forced to move and people in communities that welcome them, we can counter harmful stereotypes and emphasize our common humanity.  Some of the others lessons we have learnt when talkig about climate justice are to give it context – like giving names to the nations people come from and the places or communities we are talking about, 

Climate justice is migrant justice: As climate impacts continue to get stronger, we know that we must work together to create a just world that respects and supports the right for communities to migrate and live free from violence, and poverty. Tackling the climate crisis is about much more than emissions and scientific metrics- it’s about fighting for a just and sustainable world that works for all of us.  Those who have had least to do with creating the climate crisis, are also those that are the most impacted.  

As a global movement working to stop the climate crisis, there can be no climate justice without ensuring human rights for all marginalized communities. 

The climate movement must work with the migrant justice movement to ensure safety for those seeking protection with equity, dignity and humanity at the core of its principles. A future of walls, cages, bullets and surveillance is not what we are fighting for. 

350.org is in the process of reaching out to other organisations to explore how we can work at the climate migration nexus, we would love to hear your thoughts as well. For now here is a list of projects and resources that we are using and some past articles. If you are interested in finding out more and joining our work please reach out to kim,bryan@350.org

Getting informed 

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