Rising sea levels worldwide are just one of many environmental consequences of climate change, and they’re becoming a significant pressure for low-lying communities. These locales are on the front lines of climate change, experiencing rising sea levels firsthand and making radical changes in their lives, like relocating to a new country, as a result.
Some people refer to those forced out of their homelands as climate refugees or environmental refugees, positioning them as victims of climate change. Relocation of this nature is not without serious ramifications and consequences, including increased population pressures in already crowded nations, marginalization of native people and complex political issues.
1. The Maldives
14 islands in this Indian Ocean country have already been abandoned due to erosion. Scientists predict the Maldives may be the first nation in the world lost to climate change, and the President, along with other personnel, are searching for a new home for the country’s 350,000 residents as they run out of high ground to flee to. These low-lying islands, like MalÚ (above) are likely to be swamped if sea levels get much higher.
Sri Lanka and India are both potential new homes for the residents of the Maldives, because they’re close by and they share a number of cultural similarities. Another possibility is Australia, with large amounts of ground and a potentially better climate.
11,000 people call this Polynesian archipelago “home,” ábut the sea is eating away at its borders, presenting a quandary for islanders who soon may find themselves without an island. The entire nation covers just ten square miles about four inches above sea level, making it tiny on a global scale, but no less important. And Tuvalu’s situation is raising some important questions when it comes to international law, namely: when your country no longer physically exists, what happens to you? Are you stateless? Is your nation virtual? How do you maintain your national identity?
Many Tuvaluans are relocating to New Zealand, thanks to its proximity.
In Alaska, most indigenous communities are on the coast, so residents can access fishing and hunting. That spells bad news when sea levels are rising and taking the coast with them. This small community has become the subject of international headlines as it becomes one of the first places in the U.S. erased by climate change. Most of the 350 residents are Yupik Alaska Natives with deep ties to the land, which makes relocation no simple matter, even if it was affordable — estimates put the cost at around $130 million.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains it’s not possible to conserve Newtok, which means the residents need to make a decision about where, and how, to relocate soon. Members of the community, however, are torn between ties to the land, financial considerations and concerns that any site they choose may come with problems of its own.
Photo credit: Jim Trodel
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