California Governor Warns of Coming Climate Refugee Crisis

September 16, 2015

Governor Brown of California states the obvious. A climate refugee crisis is waiting to happen in North America.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress:

The Syria conflict has triggered the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” explains the European Commission. As Climate Progress has been reporting for years, and as a major 2015 study confirmed, “human-caused climate change was a major trigger of Syria’s brutal civil war.”

But the unprecedented multi-year drought that preceded the Syrian civil war is mild compared to the multi-decade megadroughts that unrestricted carbon pollution will make commonplace in the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, and Central America, according to many recent studies.

Given the current political debate over immigration policy, it’s worth asking two questions. First: if the United States, through our role as the greatest cumulative carbon polluter in history, plays a central role in rendering large parts of Mexico and Central America virtually uninhabitable, where will the refugees go? And second: will we have some moral obligation to change our immigration policy?

If we don’t take far stronger action on climate change, then here is what a 2015 NASA study projected the normal climate of North America will look like. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to that seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Just the last 12 months have seen headlines like these: “Worst drought in 40 years puts more than 2 million people in Central America at risk” and “Drought Reduces Mexico’s Agricultural Production by 40%.” Of course you probably haven’t seen those stories, since most major U.S. media outlets have been too busy covering brutal droughts right here at home.

For a similar reason, there had been little reporting at the time on what one expert called perhaps “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent,” from 2006 to 2010. The 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made that Syrian drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”

The study identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought, retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley told Slate. Titley, also a meteorologist, said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”


The Center for Climate and Security has been writing on the Syria-climate connection for over three years. Co-founder & Director Francesco Femia explained recently:

That drought, in addition to its mismanagement by the Assad regime, contributed to the displacement of two million in Syria. That internal displacement may have contributed to the social unrest that precipitated the civil war. Which generated the refugee flows into Europe.

And no, he’s not saying climate change “caused” the refugee crisis, nor am I. Major refugee crises are generally driven by multiple contributing factors. In this case, one of the factors appears to be climate change. In the coming years and decades, climate change will become a bigger and bigger factor.

During the U.S. Dust-Bowl era, some 3.5 million people fled the region. As I noted in “The Next Dust Bowl,” a 2011 Nature article reviewing the literature, “Human adaptation to prolonged, extreme drought is difficult or impossible. Historically, the primary adaptation to dust-bowlification has been abandonment; the very word ‘desert’ comes from the Latin desertum for ‘an abandoned place’.”


6 Responses to “California Governor Warns of Coming Climate Refugee Crisis”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    At least Governor Brown and CA won’t have to worry about dealing with another wave of “Okies”. They will have to head north and east to have any hope of escaping the coming dust bowl, which, looking at the maps, will be 10 or 20 times bigger than the 30’s event.

    And his “California Okies”—-who will probably be heading for Oregon, Washington, and B.C.—–will be replaced by Mexicans (unless Trump gets elected and builds the impenetrable border wall).

    It looks like the Canadians should be rooting for Scott Walker, since he wants to build a near 4,000 mile long wall along that border—that might help the Canadians stem the flood of climate refugees from the U.S. (if they can move the mine fields and concertina wire quickly enough to the south side of the wall).

    Claymores and machine guns will be helpful, and it will only take about 1/10 of the Canadian population to man the wall. I have it from a good right wing-nut source that the Canadians have sent delegations to Hungary and India to learn how things should be done with border fences. They ARE, however, a bit worried that unlike the Syrian refugees, the typical American climate refugee is likely to be armed to the teeth and a bit more difficult to deal with than the kid on the beach (one of the saddest pictures ever taken and due to become iconic in future discussions of the impact of AGW).

  2. Reblogged this on Move for Change and the Brooklyn Culture Jam and commented:
    Governor Moonbeam says what no one else in the US political arena will say regarding US climate warming producing its own stream of refugees. One year of decent ‘normal’ rain and snow will not begin fix California or the rest of the drought stricken areas west of the Mississippi. There’s no fixing this absent some means to suck billions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, a task more technically daunting (and expensive) than the first Apollo mission.

  3. Reblogged on my site. Jerry Brown has gone where no other politician in the US dares to go.

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