Category Archives: Refugees

BBC Story on Invasive Species–More to Come with Climate Migration?

BBC Newshour ran a story today on the Brown Tree Snake, an invasive species that is causing quite a problem for the ecosystem in Guam. Dr. Haldre Rogers, Assistant Professor in the
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University, calls the snake the “poster child” for invasive species and their impact. Believed to be brought over in the 1940s, the snake has since wiped out much of the local bird populations. The birds were essential to spreading the seeds of certain local trees and many of these trees are dying out. One invasive species can have a huge ripple effect on entire ecosystems.


Humans are not the only forced climate migrants. Animals are quickly losing their habitat and moving to new areas newly hospitable to them. The migration changes are altering ecosystems in ways we cannot predict–and we can assume will continue to do so as the global climate changes.


BBC Newshour 3/8/17 jump to minutes 18-23 for referenced interview.

Mexican Migration and Climate Change

Theme : 

– Mexico is a country that is vulnerable to the many effects of climate change including things like prolonged droughts, soil degradation, devastating rainstorms, lack of water and rising sea levels. These changes eventually cause for an increase in Mexican migration.

– Understanding that not all immigrants are the same, but instead each of their stories is different and unique. Learning to empathize by listening to other’s stories and life experiences, even if you’ve never lived through them before.

General storyline :

-The stories of three Mexican immigrants will follow this main story line: Their former lives in Mexico-> What changed? What lead them to make the decision to migrate?-> What the process of migrating was like? -> What their lives in the United States now look like?

Main characters : 

-My grandfather Jose Luis Castellanos from Michoacan, my friends father Luis Cervantes from Chiapas, and Lourdes Gutierrez the daughter of a farmer from Guanajuato.

Interviews : 

  • Jose Luis Castellanos, immigrant and former fisherman from Michoacan.
  • Luis Cervantes, immigrant and former corn farmer from Chiapas.
  • Lourdes Gutierrez, immigrant and daughter of a farmer from Guanajuato.

Arts Medium : 

-Their different interviews will be turned into vignettes. Each of these vignettes will be read out loud by three different actors. The audience will not know where these immigrants are from until the end of the presentation where it will be announced that all of them are Mexican immigrants. This will be to illustrate that we can’t generalize an entire group of people, instead we have toeach of their stories is different.

Nazira’s Project: Mexican Immigrants and Climate Change

amexicanfarm*I want to give Jeffery a shout out for helping me with this amazing idea. Thank you!
Theme: Climate change and its effects on Mexican migration.
General storyline: My plan is to have 3-4 people sitting behind a curtain facing away from the crowd. They will each be sitting separately holding a piece of paper. Each will read out loud the short story or poem about their lives and the reasons why they migrated, and once they’ve told their different stories the curtain will drop. What I envision is that they will be sharing their stories and that these will tell the different experiences that Mexican immigrants can have. My hope is that when the curtain drops and they reveal that they all come from the same country, the audience will take away that all immigrants aren’t a “one size fits all” and that instead they all come from different walks of life. This will also allow for the audience to learn more about the effects of climate change and what they do to the migration flows. 
Main characters:  3-4 Mexican immigrants from different parts of Mexico. 

Interviews / Research: Currently I have only interviewed my grandfather and my mother, but I have scheduled an interview for this weekend with the father of one of my high school friends, his name is Luis Cervantes. He came to the United States in the early 1990’s and has been here ever since but he was willing to share his experience about losing his family’s small farm in Chiapas, Mexico.
I am also trying to find at least one or two other Mexican immigrants to interview in order to be able to tell the story of 3 or 4 of them. 
Arts Medium: With the information gathered from these interviews my plan is to work on turning them into either short stories/vignettes or poems.

What Does The Future Hold?

desert-china-map This article, Living in China’s Expanding Desert illustrates in an interactive way how climate change is affecting not just those who live in coastal areas, but also those inland. It may be hard to understand why warming and increased water content in the atmosphere would cause desertification, but it is quite simple if you think about it. When water is heated, it evaporates and lifts up into the atmosphere where it condenses and falls again. However, in a desert or arid region, any moisture that lifts up, does not fall down in the same place. This is a natural process that is the result of wind cells on the planet stemming from equatorial heating. Unfortunately, the earth is heating more rapidly and water is spread further and further from areas that need it, like Chinese deserts or the Sahal in Africa. The input of energy into any system will cause a reaction and the more energy, the higher the magnitude of such a reaction.

This is yet another example of people who do not cause the majority of climate changes being affected the most by climate change. Rural people all over the world are being impacted and not with just hot days, they are losing their way of life and resources to food. This is a positive feedback loop that will accelerate with time and there is probably no going back from something like this. There is development of solar panels that are de-desertifying some places in Africa, but the problem of government intervention is just as bad or worse in China. This is a human rights issue that must be looked at as such; for, we all have the right to life, liberty and happiness… not just Americans.

Climate justice and climate refugees: Where does Iowa fall in all of this?

fullsizerender-1More and more now we seem to come across numerous reports that suggest that large-scale, global migrations in the future resulting from climate change might represent the ‘greatest single impact’ on world security. We see the word refugees used almost daily in the news; we scroll past pictures of children in refugee camps, etc. Documentaries such as “Climate Refugees”  do a great job at shining some light to the real issues that people who have been displaced due to environmental reasons face on a daily basis, as well as give an idea of how in the future the number of refugees will continue to grow as the environment continues to change.

But there is one problem, particularly within the international humanitarian community. This is because the notion of a ‘climate refugee’ is both problematic and controversial. Problematic because this term has no legal standing under existing international refugee and asylum law, and controversial because people don’t really seem to agree on what to do about the problem.

This past month, I came across the title of a dialogue and discussion that was had in a meeting at the UN General Assembly: “Climate Displacement and Dignity: the Needs of the Most Vulnerable Countries”. I went ahead and read some of the objectives and structure of the meeting to see what this would look like and there was something in this document that really stuck with me:

“As the impacts of climate change will be more keenly felt in the decades to come, it is critical that comprehensive, coordinated and targeted solutions are found to address climate displacement…. These solutions will be best where they incorporate a human rights based approach and are couched in the principles of climate justice.

Responding to climate displacement is complex and requires a multifaceted strategy. A climate justice approach which links climate change, development and human rights provides a useful framework to guide this response. While the international community has engaged in developing some responses, these need to be linked, built upon and expanded.”

After reading this I realized that if climate migration is something that experts say is going to happen in the future, why don’t we do something now to begin talking about ways to help. And there was one line in particular from this paragraph that  I found very interesting; “While the international community has engaged in developing some responses, these need to be linked, built upon and expanded.” To me this line made me think about Iowa and what Iowa’s role in climate migration and climate justice could be. With Iowa beginning to see more and more immigrants coming from diverse places around the world, some of them coming from places impacted by climate change, Iowa has a unique role in all of this. So what part can Iowa take in shaping the future for climate refugees who come and live here after losing everything that they had? How can Iowa approach climate change in a similar way to the conversation that was had at this UN meeting?

These are some of the things that I want to begin to explore more as my project focused on climate refugees and climate migration begins to expand.

Projected Plant Hardiness Zones Indicate An Uncertain Future

The USDA updated the Plant Hardiness Zone map in 2012 for the first time since 1990 because there had been such advancements in technology that the map became much more precise. The USDA will need to update again just half a decade later because of the ever changing climate and the impact it is having.

The National Climate Assessment, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have put together projected zone shifts by 2040. The maps indicate a positive feedback response that is accelerating the rate at which the zones are shifting. Some estimates have put Iowa in the zone that northern Louisiana occupied in the updated map.

This shift is currently having a great impact on agriculture and water quality, but may also impact our societal norms by a shifting demography simultaneously. We are in uncharted waters and the future is an unknown. Unfortunately, at this point all one can do is hold on and hope for the best.

Climate Change Adaptations Protect People or Property?

climate change adaptationA recent article from Sci-Tech Today (found here) asks the question: “Are climate-change adaptations tied to protecting property or people?” Below is a paragraph from the article that discusses the stark differences between the physical amount of money put towards addressing climate change between advanced and developing countries.

“The numbers showed a high contrast between cities in more economically advanced countries and those in developing nations. New York spent a whopping $2.26 billion (0.22% of its city GDP) while Addis Ababa spent just $21 million (0.14% of its city GDP). In fact, essentially all the developed-world cities spent in the neighborhood of 0.22% of their city GDP on measures responding to climate change, while the developing-world cities mostly spent around 0.16%. (The standout exception to this trend was Beijing, which spent 0.33% of its city GDP, or $1.19 billion).”

Even with the roughly the same percentage of GDP spent to combat climate change it is clear that the more developed countries have a spending advantage over less developed countries, the ones that likely need it more. Total global spending on addressing climate change between 2014-2015 was roughly $310 billion dollars. To give you an example, for comparison the total U.S. defense spending in FY 2014 was $496 billion. However, the spending trend towards climate change mitigation and adaptation is on an upward trend. The Green Climate Fund is the means of getting money to the countries and nations that desperately need financial support to protect themselves, their homes, and their livelihoods from the negative impacts of climate change. However, getting those funds and appropriating them is proving challenging (see below).

“The GCF Board set the goal of taking funding decisions of $2.5 billion this year (for mitigation and adaptation). Finding the “right” investments seems to be a challenge at the moment. Some weeks ago, the GCF decided that it would not consider funding decisions at its 12th meeting, due to the lack of ripe project proposals which sufficiently meet the paradigm shift requirements set out by the Board.”

Adaptation: Who Will Get Left Behind in Climate Change?

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 12.46.46 PM An interesting post at the French journal, Journal de l’environnement looks at a new study on climate change adaptation and concludes: “The major cities in the Global North are protecting themselves against the risks of climate change, while cities in developing countries continue to suffer from massive under-investment.”

To make matters worse, a report in the Guardian recently noted how poorer countries affected by climate change face severe obstacles in even obtaining promised aid for adaptation projects due to bureaucracy.

As we discussed last week, Slate climate writer Eric Holthaus recently noted that February temperatures already surpassed the 1.1-1.4 degree Celcius benchmark. Holthaus updated his post this week with worse news: Our Hemisphere’s Temperature Just Reached a Terrifying Milestone.

” As of Thursday morning, it appears that average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have breached the 2 degrees Celsius above “normal” mark for the first time in recorded history, and likely the first time since human civilization began thousands of years ago.* That mark has long been held (somewhat arbitrarily) as the point above which climate change may begin to become “dangerous” to humanity. It’s now arrived—though very briefly—much more quickly than anticipated. This is a milestone moment for our species. Climate change deserves our greatest possible attention.”

Here at home, the Little Village Magazine noted: “Precipitation totals for the last three months in Iowa beat a 101-year-old record, making for the wettest winter to date. In December and January, the Iowa and Cedar Rivers set records for streamflow.”

“Global Warring” and Thoughts on Refugees

I recently completed Cleo Paskal’s book Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map. The book included many shocking consequences of climate change that we rarely think of, such as compromised international security due to the Northwest Passage being opened up by melting sea ice, and a realignment of nations and international politics as global economies react to changes in resource availability. It also talked extensively about climate refugees, including:

  • Populations in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia who have to move as melting permafrost destabilizes the ground, making transportation dangerous and impeding the growth of native vegetation
  • Refugees moving into India from Bangladesh, which experiences serious flooding so often that over 50 percent of the country must be flooded for the flood to be considered “heavy”
  • Pacific island nations who are losing their homelands to rising sea levels

One question the book asks, especially in regard to the Pacific islands, is how nations will retain their autonomy if their citizens become dispersed throughout the globe.

“If Tuvalu [a Pacific island nation] and/or other countries have to be abandoned because they become uninhabitable, it could have profound repercussions for the global balance of power. The question would be, if Tuvalu and other states physically disappear, do they cease to exist as a legal country? Do they lose their seat at the UN? Does their territory become international waters? Or do vast swaths of ocean end up being administered by a population that doesn’t live there? If so, do their descendants have a right to return if, eventually, the islands reappear?”

Paskal wonders whether nations dispersed due to environmental catastrophe will be able to continue to exist through some sort of network under a displaced, sovereign government, or if they will simply cease to exist and become assimilated by their host nations. Where the refugees will go is another question entirely. Paskal suggests a possible incentive for nations to accept climate refugees. She says that “the countries that host the refugees from a given swamped territory will then be in the best position to claim a “special relationship” with the patch of ocean where that territory used to be.” In other words, a country could accept refugees in exchange for access to their former territory, allowing the host country to expand its influence and access to fisheries, oil, or even militarily strategic areas. This could certainly persuade some more conservative leaders to become more open to climate refugees. However, I wonder: is this argument worth making, or would it simply open up another Pandora’s box of problems?

Here is a book review on Global Warring if you would like to learn more.


Water and Climate Justice

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.17.17 PM According to a new study in the Science Advances journal, ” two-thirds of the global population (4.0 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year. Nearly half of those people live in India and China. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.”

In an age of climate change, should access to clean water be considered a human right?

And if so, how do we begin to consider water rights as a climate justice issue?

As the Guardian noted recently, agriculture and growing food demands account for the biggest water demand. ““Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is via meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.20.23 PM

The Guardian provided a global overview:

“These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.

“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”

Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.”

Check out this excerpt from the documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously, on the drought in Texas, and a community’s struggle with climate change dynamics: