Climate Refugees: Government Policy & How to Help

In our first installment of this series on climate refugees we focused on how the effects of climate change and changing weather patterns are affecting real people around the world and forcing them to leave their homes. Today I want to address government policy concerning climate refugees and how ordinary people can help make a difference.

US Policy

Last year the federal government approved the first grant to help communities that have been affected by climate change. In January 2016 the Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $48 million to help the residents of the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana to relocate to the mainland as rising waters flood their homes. This relocation grant was the first of its kind in the US and more grants like it could help Native American communities in Alaska relocate to safer locations as well.

President Obama's administration warned that instances of climate refugees in the US and elsewhere may increase and they sought to partner with other countries to seek solutions. However, those efforts may be set back or stopped completely as a result of the new administration. President Trump has openly called climate change a hoax, so it would be unlikely for his administration to allocate resources for climate refugees.

International Policy

While efforts have been made by European countries to reach a consensus on climate change and its effects on populations, they have been largely unsuccessful. The EU does not currently have a formal policy in place to address the issue of climate refugees. In 2015 Australia opposed the creation of an international group to coordinate a response to climate displacement during the Paris Summit and it was dropped from the agenda. Since then it has not been brought up again.

Around the world it seems as if governments are in denial of the reality of climate related displacement and the chaos it is causing in certain parts of the world. World leaders need to step up to address this issue before it grows into an international crisis of displacement, food insecurity, and violence.

Practical Ways to Help

It isn't only the responsibility of governments to recognize the challenges of climate change on communities and seek to mitigate them - it is our responsibility too. While there are countless creative ways for ordinary citizens to help address the issue of climate refugees, here are just a few to get you thinking.

Support Social Entrepreneurship

With the help of business and social entrepreneurship communities around the world can develop what is referred to as 'climate resilience.' This can help them plan ahead and put systems in place that will keep climate change from affecting them as quickly. Clean water systems, solar energy, and bio-digesting fermenters that turn animal waste into usable bio-gas are just a few examples. Look for ways to support companies and organizations doing social entrepreneurship in other countries, or get involved yourself.

Speak Up

One of the primary reason that government policy concerning climate change is so difficult to pass and implement is because citizens of Western countries are used to their lifestyles of convenience. We often don't want regulations placed on us concerning the use of plastic bags or water bottles, or requiring us to recycle. In the US these issues are also seen as primarily Democratic ones, so Republicans oppose them as a way to reduce government without thinking carefully about the individuals and communities who are affected by our excess. No matter what your political affiliation, consider letting your elected officials know that convenience for you and your family is not worth the disastrous effects our lifestyle could have on other families around the world. (Note: The jury is still out on whether or not climate change is caused or worsened by humans, but just because we're not 100% sure yet shouldn't mean we're willing to risk the safety and livelihoods of people around the world.)

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Finally, we should realize that our actions speak louder than our words. It's one thing to share this article on Facebook, talk to your friends about climate refugees, or call your elected officials to voice your concern, it is another to quietly change your own harmful habits without fanfare. I believe that the latter may actually make the most difference. You don't have to become a hemp wearing, vegan hippie or anything (but if that's your thing, go for it!). Just pick one habit you would like to change and focus on making it happen. Buy a great, high quality water bottle and use it instead of buying bottled water. Decide to eat meat for dinner only three days a week. These simple changes truly can make a difference and, most importantly, will cause you to be more conscious of the choices you make and how they can affect others.

In the final installment we will specifically address how Christians should respond to the issue of climate refugees, no matter what their position on climate change. Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are or what you learned from this article.