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Simple Acts: Addressing Environmental Displacement & Climate Migration

1 Mar 2023 12:32 PM | Megan Shellman-Rickard (Administrator)

Environmentally displaced people are those who are forced to leave their homes and communities due to irreversible degradation of their environmental resources caused by sudden-onset events such as floods, wildfires, landslides, droughts, heat waves, or by slow-onset impacts such as desertification or sea level rise.  Secondary displacement occurs when people such as refugees, who are already displaced and typically reside in “hotspots”, must migrate again due to climate disasters.  Losing all of their assets and ability to produce food and unable to plan any future, these climate migrants are extremely vulnerable and suffer trauma.  Many women & girls are at high risk of gender-based violence.  The 1951 Refugee Convention “does not recognize the environment as a persecuting agent,” therefore people forced to leave their country for reasons related to climate stressors (over 145 million people in the past 6 years) cannot be considered refugees and do not receive refugee protections.   
Environmental Inequity- air pollution, climate disasters, unsafe drinking water, poor housing- is directly related to social inequality.  “Environmental racism is a problem where racism exposes minority groups to worse effects of environmental issues.” (EPA report 2023).  The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is an example: low-income, minority residents.  A new analysis by the EPA finds that “oil refineries release billions of pounds of pollution annually into waterways, and that pollution disproportionately affects people of color.”

Heavy metals, nitrogen and other toxic compounds make these waterways dangerous for people to swim in, fish in and even touch.   Concentrated along the Gulf Coast, in California, and Chicago area, low-income communities all over the country are affected.  A recent headline in our local newspaper states, “EPA eyes Colorado for discriminatory pollution” and is investigating if Colorado’s air pollution regulations from industrial facilities is prejudicial against Hispanic and racial minority residents.  Another recent study of federal housing discrimination (Redlining) found that 45 million Americans are exposed to dirtier air, lower house values, lower job opportunities & poverty because race deemed their communities as “undesirable”.
NFBPWC members can explore Environmental Law Institute ( which provides legal tools for environmentally displaced persons & effective livelihoods for climate migrants.

Encourage your congressional representative to expand Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for climate migrants affected by slow-onset climate change (desertification and rising sea levels).  With expansion of TPS, citizens from these regions or countries could not be deported & could obtain a worker’s permit allowing them to establish a secure livelihood.
New York City’s WE ACT for Environmental Justice strives to provide people of color and low-income residents environmental protection.  WE ACT led efforts to clean up air pollution from diesel city busses and pushed for mandates of statewide testing of school’s drinking water and forced upgrades at a noxious sewage treatment plant.  Notably all of these pollutants were most common in communities of color.
Louisiana Bucket Bridge has been fighting against petroleum industry’s oil & chemical pollution impacting Black communities, “fence-line communities” describing people who live right next door to polluting facilities.
We can no longer ignore the unfair price being asked of our world’s poor and minority communities.  We must prioritize sustainable development and poverty eradication by financing environmental justice and join local and community-led fights.

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