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Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’

Stashed in: Climate Change!

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I thought the people who left New Orleans after Katrina were the first American climate refugees?

Good point.

So who are these new refugees?

The Isle de Jean Charles resettlement plan is one of the first programs of its kind in the world, a test of how to respond to climate change in the most dramatic circumstances without tearing communities apart. Under the terms of the federal grant, the island’s residents are to be resettled to drier land and a community that as of now does not exist. All funds have to be spent by 2022.

“We see this as setting a precedent for the rest of the country, the rest of the world,” said Marion McFadden, who is running the program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


But even a plan like this — which would move only about 60 people — has been hard to pull off. Three previous resettlement efforts dating back to 2002 failed after they became mired in logistical and political complications. The current plan faces all the same challenges, illustrating the limitations of resettlement on any larger scale.

For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.

What little remains will eventually be inundated as burning fossil fuels melt polar ice sheets and drive up sea levels, projected the National Climate Assessment, a report of 13 federal agencies that highlighted the Isle de Jean Charles and its tribal residents as among the nation’s most vulnerable.

Already, the homes and trailers bear the mildewed, rusting scars of increasing floods. The fruit trees are mostly gone or dying thanks to saltwater in the soil. Few animals are left to hunt or trap.

Geez, if it's hard to move 60 people, imagine how bad it will be when coastal cities need to move. 

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