50 Million Environmental Refugees Will Flee Their Homes by 2020

Photo Credit: Takver via Flickr/CC BY-SA

And guess what's gonna be largely responsible for those food shortages? Yup, climate change. According to the UN and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, a warming climate will further exacerbate already rampant food shortages in places like Northern Africa and India, and will drive an estimated 50 million people from their native homes by 2020. That's a population far bigger than California's, and a small step on the way to the 1 billion environmental refugees that we're projected to see by 2050.These environmental refugees will seek shelter in the 'global north', and have already in fact begun doing so for some time now. The AFP notes that migrants from Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria -- all nations that have faced devastating food shortages in recent years -- will continue streaming into Spain and Italy, and make their way throughout Europe.

These refugees are primarily poor people whose homelands have lost the ability to adequately sustain crops or other viable livelihoods. There are a number of ways that climate change is worsening these conditions: it's bringing more droughts, spreading desertification, and bringing warmer winters that fail to kill pests that plague vital crops. All this leads, unsurprisingly, to less food.

And hunger is a powerful driver -- not only of migration, but of revolutions as well. There's a lot of evidence that shows food shortages were a core component of the uprisings now sweeping the Middle East. In fact, one of the major tipping points for the revolutions was the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the impoverished Tunisian street vendor who was driven to desperation by hunger, among other things.

All this is why the US military has taken to referring to climate change as a 'threat multiplier' -- it leads directly to water and food shortages in already unstable regions, and can lead to violence and unrest. And the encouraging democratic inroads made by resilient protesters in Egypt isn't likely to always be the outcome of such volatility.

Climate change is already scattering and reshaping the societies of the world -- we must begin to address it before it does worse than that.

More on Environmental Refugees
Climate Refugees Could Number 1 Billion by 2050
What Is a Climate Refugee ? Filmmaker Michael Nash Explains ...

Tags: Global Climate Change | United States


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