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

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 and 100,000 climate migrants

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean and currently home to 100,000 people. It is part of a division of Pacific islands known as Micronesia and has 33 coral island divided up into three groups: Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands. Several people from Kiribati have been in the news recently, because of the direct impact that climate change is going to have on the existence of these islands and their people.

As the arctic melts and sea levels begin to rise, the islands themselves will be washed away. The threats the communities face include access to land, water and food. The President is currently working to develop opportunities for people to migrate and find new homes. But as David Lambourne, Kiribati Attorney General, explains the existence of a people is at stake. “No culture wants to basically abandon ship and be spread to the four winds. Because I think everybody accepts that there is no way we could as a community retain our sense of identity. No country is going to accept 100,000 Kiribatis to come and set up a new country somewhere else.”

Watch this 5 minute documentary, where both President Anote Tong and Attorney General Lambourne in Kiribati explain the challenge that they and their people are facing today:

Climate change might meant the end of the Kiribati people. We need to accelerate the adaptation efforts for communities like those in Kiribati who are already facing the impacts of climate change.

What is Climate Justice?

The climate movement is perhaps of the youngest mass movements today. Some claim it was born in September 2006, while having a long history and deep roots in the struggle for environmental justice. Those in the climate movement are working to stop the most devastating impacts of climate change and re-balance the world in an ecologically sustainable way. Climate justice provides a framework that many in the climate movement have embraced as the best ways to organize and build a mass movement–one that considers both the social and environmental impacts of our work. As opposed to crafting my own definition of climate justice, I am going to borrow from a compilation of definitions beautifully woven together by Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell in Organizing Cools the Planet.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative

Roots in Environmental Justice: “Climate Justice is a vision to dissolve and alleviate the unequal burdens created by climate change. As a form of environmental justice, climate justice is the fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination with the creation of policies and projects that address climate change and the systems that create climate change and perpetuate discrimination.

Demanding Climate Justice section of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse (published by Rising Tide North America)

Climate Justice as Evaluative Model: “Climate Justice is a struggle over land, forest, water, culture, food sovereignty, collective and social rights; it is a struggle that considers “justice” at the basis of any solution; a struggle that supports climate solutions found in the practices and knowledge of those already fighting to protect and defend their livelihoods and the environment; a struggle that insists on a genuine systematic transformation in order to tackle the real causes of climate change… Climate Justice addresses four key themes: root causes, rights, reparations and participatory democracy.”

Global Justice Ecology Project

Climate Justice as Global Justice: “The historical responsibility for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions lies with the industrialized countries of the Global North. Even though the primary responsibility of the North to reduce emissions has been recognized in the UN Climate Convention, the production and consumption habits of industrialized countries like the United States continue to threaten the survival of humanity and biodiversity globally. It is imperative that the North urgently shifts to a low carbon economy. At the same time, in order to avoid the damaging carbon intensive model of industrialization, countries of the Global South are entitled to resources and technology to make a transition to a low-carbon economy that does not continue to subject them to crushing poverty. Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisherfolk, and especially women in these communities, have been able to live harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are now not only the most affected by climate change, but also the most affected by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon offset schemes.

Indigenous Environmental Network

Four Principles for Climate Justice: “Industrialized society must redefine its relationship with the sacredness of Mother Earth

  1. Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground
  2. Demand Real and Effective Solutions
  3. Industrialized – Developed Countries Take Responsibility
  4. Living in a Good Way on Mother Earth

Movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) is by far the best movie I’ve seen this year. While much credit should be given to the director for the piecing together this incredible story, the 6 year old protagonist blows this film out of the water. Now 8-years-old, Quvenzhané Wallis got some attention for telling off Jay Leno earlier this year. This powerhouse actress does an incredible job pulling in viewers to life in the Bathtub and taking them along for the full ride in a post-Katrina Louisiana.

The movie dances an incredible line of telling the human impacts of climate change without ever becoming didactic or impersonal or ever saying the words climate change. Hushpuppy you are my hero for negotiating fluid and challenging gender roles, surviving a hostile environment, fighting for your home, and not for a second losing an ounce of your humanity.

This movie is a must see, and brilliantly lays out a story of climate migrants. There have been some critiques by Black feminist authors about relegating Black folks to a master narrative of primitive or even savage, but I agree with New Orleanian Jarvis DeBerry’s analysis. Spoiler alert: read it here from I will write a disclaimer that this film has a fair amount of emotional violence, so if that is a trigger for you this might not be the best one to view.

“Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.” Welcome to the Bathtub.