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Where Are the Climate Refugees?

by Marlo Lewis on April 21, 2011

in Blog, Features

♫ You don’t have to live like a refugee

You’ve probably heard the dreary narrative many times. By increasing the frequency and severity of floods, storms, droughts, and famines, and by accelerating sea-level rise, anthropogenic global warming will drive millions of people from their homelands. Wave after wave of “environmental refugees” will inundate poor countries barely able to feed their own populations. Fragile governments will tumble. Regional conflicts will intensify. Moral of story: “Global warming is a national security threat — even the generals are worried.”

Google “climate change” and “environmental refugees,” and about 5 million sites  pop up. So you might be inclined to think, where there’s so much smoke, there’s bound to be some fire.

Many of these sites — for example, National Geographic News — reference a November 2005 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report predicting there would be as many as 50 million climate refugees in 2010. What actually happened?

Today’s (pre-Earth Day) edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that the 50 million climate refugees did not materialize. In fact, many of the places UNEP supposed would be hardest hit by global warming are rapidly gaining population!

From the article:

In 2005, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) published a color-coded map under the headline “Fifty million climate refugees by 2010.” The primary source for the prediction was a 2005 paper by environmental scientist Norman Myers.

Six years later, this flood of refugees is nowhere to be found, global average temperatures are about where they were when the prediction was made—and the U.N. has done a vanishing act of its own, wiping the inconvenient map from its servers.

The map, which can still be found elsewhere on the Web, disappeared from the program’s site sometime after April 11, when Gavin Atkins asked on “What happened to the climate refugees?” It’s now 2011 and, as Mr. Atkins points out, many of the locales that the map identified as likely sources of climate refugees are “not only not losing people, they are actually among the fastest growing regions in the world.”

Some specifics. Atkins observes that “far from being places where people are fleeing, no fewer than six of the very fastest growing cities in China, Shenzzen, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhuhai, Puning and Jinjiang, are absolutely smack bang within the shaded areas identified as being likely sources of climate refugees.” He further notes that “many of the fastest growing cities in the United States also appear within or close to the areas identified by the UNEP as at risk of having climate refugees.”

Climatologist Patrick Michaels offers some relevant numbers:

Folks were supposed to be streaming away from low-lying tropical islands because of worse and more frequent hurricanes.  The population of the Bahamas, which catches about as many tropical cyclones as any place on earth, is up 14% since 2000.  The Solomons, up 20%.  Seychelles: 9%.

So enjoy Earth Day because “you don’t have to live like a refugee” — or at least you don’t because of global warming.

Henri Suyderhoud April 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm

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