Climate Change Displacement Is Not Hypothetical

Klobuchar wasn’t alone in her sidestepping of the relocation issue. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders-who in his first remarks during the debate went out of his way to critique the updated North American trade deal passed by the House for not staking out a position on climate change as it is affected by international trade-also offered a subpar response to Alberta’s question. Sanders attempted to turn the tables on the moderators, which given the droll level of questioning in these affairs is typically an easy task. But he fell into the same trap as Klobuchar, claiming that Alberta’s question “misses the mark,” because climate change ” is not an issue of relocating people in towns. The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and grandchildren.”

Again, that is true-the problem is absolutely existential and will determine whether the human race gets to continue doing things like having three-hour debates. But it is also here, right now, at our gates. As Andrew Yang pointed out, relocation efforts are not a hypothetical issue-which also speaks to an issue with Alberta’s framing of the worthwhile inquiry-they are already underway.

In Louisiana, the state-recognized Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe was forced to leave behind their lands on the Isle de Jean Charles. The lands were not the ancestral home of the tribe, but rather a spot in the Louisiana wetlands in which they were forced to seek refuge in the 19th century, during the harshest years of America’s Manifest Destiny era. Relocation proved an arduous process given the state’s initial refusal to involve them in discussions of where, exactly, they would be relocated. It was further compounded by the ironic reality that the flooding of their lands was not some unfortunate situation of happenstance, but the result-in part-of rising Gulf-area water levels caused by the destruction of the natural waterways and state-sanctioned drilling in the Gulf and elsewhere.

As Alberta referenced, the future looks grim for a great many communities, Native and otherwise. The entirety of Miami and other coastal Florida locales are desperately in need of new flood prevention infrastructure, and entire sections of that city will almost assuredly have to be relocated within the century. A report from the Center for Climate Integrity released in June outlined the multi-billion dollar effort that will be required to relocate the communities most at-risk; a terrifying Popula feature from reporter Sarah Miller proved that those with a vested stake in squeezing every last dollar out of wealthy residents hoping to enjoy the skyline while it lasts outlined that such efforts will not be undertaken by private industry.

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