When people talk about the consequences of climate change, most often they will bring up the environmental impacts or the economic costs. It is not often that the political consequences get a lot of attention. Specifically, the potential for human displacement once the situation gets bad enough is rarely discussed.
As a student at Temple University, I study Global Security and organize with the climate advocacy group Defend Our Future. Both national security and the environment are issues I care deeply about, and these two concepts overlap quite a bit more than you might think. The reason I vote is because I care about climate refugees.
What are climate refugees, you may ask? The term is a new one and does not get much attention in today’s media coverage. Climate refugees, while not recognized under international law, are refugees who have been displaced from their homes by the impacts of climate change, such as intense storms, flooding, or drought. As of today, there are estimated to be tens of millions of people worldwide who have been displaced by the effects of climate change, and that number is growing. The World Bank has estimated that 143 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be climate refugees by 2050. This is already happening across the globe right now.
In Bangladesh, severe coastal flooding is forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes and into the slums of the capital city of Dhaka. The same is happening in the neighboring country Myanmar. Desertification across West Africa has sparked widespread conflict over natural resources, especially access to water, forcing millions into camps. Even the civil war raging in Syria, experts believe, was exacerbated by severe drought in the years and months leading up to the initial breakout of conflict, which has now displaced more than 10 million individuals.
This is an issue here at home, as well. Last year Hurricane Maria caused the displacement of thousands of Puerto Rican families across the territory, and the consequences of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas is still playing out. We must not underestimate the impact of climate change on our own displaced persons and families.
This is why I vote. Millions are losing their homes and their lives to the effects of climate change now and the problem is only growing worse. Catastrophic storms, coastal flooding, severe drought – all of these factors will only continue to intensify unless something is done now, and if we do nothing we will be to blame for the millions who become refugees across the globe. The time to act – to vote climate – is now.
Justin Brown is a Temple University junior and Defend Our Future Pennsylvania Deputy Campus Organizer.
Photo: Brendan Bannon, Getty Images