From the remote tropical Marshall Islands to indigenous Arctic villages, there are already many small communities that are faced with the troubling reality that climate change is making their lands uninhabitable. Much closer to home, the first U.S. community in the lower 48 states is now being forced to move because of climate change–with the help of the federal government.
The Guardian profiles the Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, a Gulf island in Southern Louisiana, which has already lost 98% of its land to erosion and rising sea levels. The population, once 400 people, is now down to 85. Now a new $52 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban development will help resettle the remainder on a new plot of land, likely around the nearby city of Houma.
According to The Guardian:
The project will be watched closely as a testing ground for the resettlement of whole communities–culturally sensitive ones, in particular–as the effects of climate change begin to be felt more acutely along the coasts of North America and indigenous communities in Alaska face similar prospects of disappearing land.
Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe members on the island have mixed feelings about the move. In 2002 and 2009, they voted against relocation. But now many are resigned and are likely to relocate (they are not required to). Still, they reject being cast as “climate refugees.”
In the future, these stories may become more common. A new study in Nature Climate Change projects that 13 million Americans will be at risk from flooding by the end of the century, and relocation costs could add up to $14 trillion. The authors of the study compare the resulting population movements to the “Great Migration” of southern African Americans after the Civil War.