Confronting a Rising Tide – House Commitee Forum

Today, the House Natural Resource Committee held a forum titled ‘Confronting a Rising Tide’ where community leaders from the frontlines of the climate migration crisis were asked to share their stories. The voices of those who are experiencing the first and worst impacts of rising sea levels needs to be at the center of policy discussions on how to address the crisis. The panelists explained how their communities are being displaced. From Marshall Islands in the South Pacific to Alaska tribal communities to lose living in the Gulf South, forced displacement because of climate and energy impacts are happening today.

Panelists included:

Honorable John M. Silk, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Marshall Islands
Deme Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw
Esau Sinnok, Arctic Youth Ambassador, U.S Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
Colette Pichon Battle, Director/Attorney, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy

with closing remarks from, House Natural Resources Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva


Climate Refugees in the USA

I found this Huffington Post article rather compelling and fitting for this site, especially the title. The short entry reads as follows:

“This is a chilling video of a voicemail from a Hurricane Sandy victim in the Long Island neighborhood of Rockaway Peninsula. With scientists telling us that climate change is raising sea levels — storm surges and the intensity of hurricanes — there is only one way to describe these folks: they are among the first North American climate refugees”

It is so important that we tell the stories of those people who are currently being impacted by climate change. There already are thousands of climate migrants from Mexico (also a part of North America) that have been leaving their homelands as farmlands dry up since water once flowing from the Colorado River now is at a trickle to supply cities like Las Vegas with their ever growing thirst. Thousands also lost their homes with Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005, many of whom have not been able to return. So yes, the people without shelter in Rockaway are now part of the thousands and will soon be a part of the millions of people struggling to survive the impacts of global climate change. That is unless we do something about it.

Día de los Muertos and Our Deadly US Immigration Policy

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one is worth thousands of lives. At the US-Mexico border in the past 10 years thousands of immigrants, many of whom are climate migrants, have lost their lives.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead in English, is a Mexican holiday where family members and friends gather to remember those who have passed. While many gather today donning their altars with calaveras (sugar skulls) and the favorite food and drinks of their loves ones, this artist /activist calls on us to remember those who may be outside of our family and have lost their lives.

The Huffington Post and New York Times reported this summer that while the total number of immigrants crossing into the United States through the Mexican border have decreased, the number of deaths annually has not. Despite the U.S. Border and Customs Patrol officials intentions of increasing security in part to prevent these deaths, many human rights groups explain that this is part of the root cause of the crisis. As quoted in HuffPo: “We never thought that we’d be in the business of helping to identify remains like in a war zone, and here we are,” said Isabel Garcia, co-chair and founder of the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos.

Since the economic collapse in 2005, the number of immigrants crossing over to the United States has dropped significantly. In the five year span between 2007 and 2011 there was a drop of about 62%. But the number of migrants losing their lives remains about the same, 398 people reported dead in 2007 compared to 368 in 2011. In the past decade, thousands of men, women and children migrating for better lives have died at the US border.

“The more we have militarized the border,” Garcia explains, “the more walls we put, [the] more technology, [the] more agents we put, people who find that they’ve got to cross — whether because they’re starving and, more and more right now, because they’ve got to come back and reunite with their families — they’re going further and further out into the more dangerous areas. That’s why we continue to see, at least ratio wise, an increase in the deaths.” As Garcia explains, there are intersecting factors that account for the increase in percentage of deaths, including a more militarized presence at the border, a President deporting record number of undocumented immigrants from the US, and the ever increasing devastation of climate change on local environments and economies across Latin America.

But it is important that we understand not only the statistics, but also the stories of these brave and desperate individuals. The NYT shared some of the stories of those who have lost their lives in the dangerous trip to the United States:

“Consider the all-too-typical story of Josue Ernesto Oliva-Serrano. A Honduran illegal [undocumented] immigrant living in Oklahoma with his American wife and their two children, Mr. Serrano was deported last year following his involvement in a minor traffic accident. (An illegal [undocumented] immigrant does not automatically become a United States citizen when he marries an American.) In September, he perished in Arizona in a desperate attempt to be reunited with his family. He had paid a coyote, or smuggler, to take him from Honduras to the United States-Mexico border, where he joined up with a group of roughly 20 other migrants to enter the United States through the desolate and searing terrain of the Tohono O’odham American Indian reservation in southern Arizona.

According to accounts from the other migrants, the coyote told Mr. Serrano that Phoenix was only a day’s walk away (when in fact it was four days under the best of conditions) and that the two gallons of water he was carrying would suffice. The temperatures soared to triple digits the day the group set out. They ran out of water within hours and resorted to drinking water from cattle ponds. Mr. Serrano soon fell ill. He succumbed to the heat, a victim of hyperthermia and dehydration, the most common causes of migrant death. His mummified remains were found many days later by Tohono O’odham tribal members whom Mr. Serrano’s wife had contacted to help locate her husband.”

So this Día de los Muertos please remember not only the 100+ people who have lost their lives because of Hurricane Sandy, but also the hundreds that die every year leaving their dried up farmland and devastated communities for a better future. One more clear reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation here in the United States.

Hurricane Sandy aka Frankenstorm in Images


and least we forget that Hurricane Sandy has touched down in more places than the USA.

Here are some photos and a video from Cuba.

Hurricane Sandy in Cuba / source:
Hurricane Sandy in Cuba / source:

Click here for Guardian video of damages in Cuba

Photo and Video from Haiti

Hurricane Sandy in Haiti / source:

Photos and Video from Dominican Republic

Hurricane Sandy in the Dominican Republic / source:

Hurricane Sandy in the Dominican Republic / source:

Hurricane Sandy in the Dominican Republic / source:

These images tell some of the stories of those impacted by this Frakenstorm. In the Caribbean over 65 people lost their lives (with 51 of those people from Haiti.) In the United States, the death toll has reached 48. On the night before Halloween, Hurricane Sandy as the new normal is something that seems too scary to be true. But this is the reality that millions of people are facing and it’s only going to get worse. Devastating droughts, wildfires, snow storms and yes, hurricanes. Extreme and unusual weather directly linked to climate change. The reality that we are currently facing the impacts of climate change is now undeniable. The question remains, however, if we will take the steps necessary to curb our (by which I mean the US’s) greenhouse gas emissions so that the world and humanity can be saved. Will we act for climate justice?

A friend of mine from college wrote a compelling post about her re-found commitment to taking action to stop the worst impacts of climate change. Now is the time for “a little less TV, but a little more tuning in.” Check out what she’s got to say here:

“I’m a little concerned at the particular way in which we’ve all been watching the news, trolling every weather site for new photos and videos of sensational storm coverage. Though initially it comes from a place of concern and awareness, it can also border on selfish– as if we’re using serious damage and danger for entertainment.

But when I step back and check myself, I realize that to continue watching dramatic mass-media news from a place of fascinated pornographic greed seems excessive, wrong, and unjust. As if we’re doing “our part” by gluing our eyes to the weather channel and marveling the destruction. Why did nobody (including me) pay this level of attention– or even know– when Sandy hit Cuba (see photo below)? And where are the practical articles telling us what we can do to help with the relief efforts, or how we can raise awareness about climate change and extreme weather for the upcoming elections?

I am now focusing on praying for the safety of those most vulnerable: the homeless, the sick, the old, the displaced. A little less TV, but a little more tuning in.”

Read the entire post here:,0,2029431.story

The Principles of Environmental Justice

Yes these are important enough to get their own post. Yes you should read these, and reflect on them often. This document is alive, and needs to be kept that way.

Principles of Environmental Justice

Delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held on October 24-27, 1991, in Washington DC, drafted and adopted 17 principles of Environmental Justice. Since then, The Principles have served as a defining document for the growing grassroots movement for environmental justice.


WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to ensure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:

1) Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.

2) Environmental Justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.

3) Environmental Justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.

4) Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.

5) Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.

6) Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.

7) Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.

8) Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.

9) Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.

10) Environmental Justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

11) Environmental Justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.

12) Environmental Justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and provided fair access for all to the full range of resources.

13) Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.

14) Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multinational corporations.

15) Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.

16) Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.

17) Environmental Justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth’s resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and re-prioritize our lifestyles to ensure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.

The Proceedings to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit are available from the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 475 Riverside Dr. Suite 1950, New York, NY 10115.

(Printable PDF version)

Posted in 101.

Frankenstorm, Climate Change and the Ability to Adapt

Pictures show empty shelves that were full of water bottles and NYC subways stations that are shut down for the next couple of days. Hurricane Sandy could well turn into ‘Frakenstorm’. Just days before Halloween this year, much of the east coast and its approximately 60 million residents are coming face to face with what may be the worst storm in a century. “We’re not trying to hype it,” explains National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin. Spreading across over 800 miles, there are predictions in some areas of 12 inches of rain, 2 feet of snow and sustained 40 to 50 mph winds. And most of the media is also reporting that Frakenstorm is worse than the sum of its parts.

Local news here in North Carolina is covering how the devastation spreads from the Outer Banks to upstate New York. Strong waves rip acorss the shore and in most major cities across the East Coast airports, trains and bus services have shut down. President Obama spoke out and said that everyone “across the Eastern seaboard should be taking this very seriously.” At a time when local media, our facebook/twitter friends and even the President of the US are calling on us to take this storm seriously, some climate justice activists are questioning why the issue of climate change and extreme weather weren’t topics in the recently Presidential debates. Neither Presidential candidate mentioned climate change even once during the Presidential debates; the first time since 1984 that has been true.

Some media sources are writing compelling articles questioning the connection. NPR questioned ‘Frakenstorm: Has Climate Change Created a Monster?’ and NY Times Blog explored ‘The #Frankenstorm in Climate Context’. Both articles straddle the balance of pointing out the connections of extreme weather and being true to science, with including the diverse voices in the ‘debate’.

Adam Frank’s NPR article begins: “It was not a good year for people, weather and climate. The winter was strangely warm in many places and the summer ridiculously hot. As a large fraction of the country suffered through extreme or even extraordinary drought many folks naturally wondered, “Is this climate change?” Then along came a presidential election in which the words “climate change” disappeared from the dialogue. Now, just a week or so before voting day, the convergence of westbound Hurricane Sandy with a eastbound cold front is creating a massive storm, a Frankenstorm even, that is threatening millions of Americans. Weird weather is making yet another appearance in our lives and once again we ask, ‘Is this climate change?'”

The question for climate justice advocates isn’t simply is this hurricane caused by climate change, but also what are the impacts that extreme weather like this have on the least capable of dealing with the devastation. What about the East Coasts’ poor, elderly, disabled and incarcerated peoples who are facing the full force of the winds and waves? It is troubling how these stories are not being told as broadly today.

One example of this can be seen in Mayor Bloomberg response to a reporter’s question about the evacuation plan for those incarcerated at Rikers Island. A breaking article about Mayor Bloomberg’s inadequate response explains, “According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.” When a reporter questioned about the safety of these people, Mayor Bloomberg apparently stated in an annoyed tone, “Don’t worry about them getting out.” In this he completely ignored the well being and potential safety of thousands of NY residents. This is not the first time that the well being of these inmates have been ignored during an extreme hurricane. Last year when Hurricane Irene hit New York, there was also no plan for these people to be evacuated.

We must start reporting these extreme weather events as a part of a global crisis. One that acknowledges their connection with climate change and the ways that we collectively have to figure out best adaptation practices that takes into consideration our disenfranchised communities. To everyone on the East Coast, those being forced to move and those being forced to stay, please be safe.

Kiribati Man Denied Climate Refugee Status

There is a serious need for us (the US, UN and the world) to examine our legal definitions and protections for people who are relocating because of the impacts of climate change. This is no longer simply  an academic exercise.

Earlier this month, a man from Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas, learn more about this country at my earlier post here) applied to New Zealand immigration authorities to be considered a “climate refugee”. In his application, he explains that he fears for his children’s future on the coral atolls Kiribati, since the sand island they live on barely sit above sea level. But refugees are strictly defined in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as people who are being prosecuted  on account of their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” The Refugee Convention makes no reference to relocation based on environmental threats. His application was refused. Read more about the man’s story here.

In an article covering this story for the Huffington Post, attorney, activist and author Brook Meakins explains:

“Advocates for the victims of climate change often use the evocative terms “climate change refugee” when referring to individuals who must relocate due to climate change related impacts. Academics and those that know refugee law have appropriately criticized the use of this term, pointing out the fact that well-settled refugee law simply excludes climate change victims from its definition. Still, it is quite frequent in my line of work to hear the term climate change refugee. I have been guilty of this in the past — it is very tempting to use the word “refugee” when advocating for those that have to move from their homes, villages, and countries through no fault of their own. I have stopped using the term, however, because, in addition to the fact that it is simply inaccurate, it also conveys a false sense of legal and international hope for the victims of climate change. If we think an international legal framework has already been carved out for these people, it provides a sense of relief that, in this case, we simply cannot have. It is dangerous to believe that there are answers and protections for these people because that is simply untrue.”

Meakins has me thinking about what terminology does justice to these people. How to create a collective language that explains the threats and political challenges soon millions of people will be facing. Going to write a post on terminology soon and why I choose to title this blog climate migrants as opposed to climate refugees…