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From refugees to ‘envirogees’?

6 June, 2008

Scott Thill at Alternet has published an article on the social impact of climate change.  The article goes as far as coining a new term: ‘envirogee’.  The implication seems to be that ‘refugee’ has a certain amount of baggage, being intrinsically associated with political persecution.  We are entering an age, mainly due to climate change, but also because of other cheery current/future phenomena such as peak oil, in which the traditional definitions of refugee will need to change to retain relevance.  The article is certainly polemic in tone, but I think it does the job of provoking thought on what the world is going to look like in the not too distant future and how our understandings of human movement, human rights, national boundaries and so on.  Here’s an excerpt:

Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee.

It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven’t been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth’s various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons.

In short, immigration is about to enter a new phase, which resembles an old one with a 21st century twist. For thousands of years, humanity has fled across Earth’s surface fearing instability and in search of sustainability. But that resource war has kicked into overdrive thanks to our current climate crisis — a manufactured war with its own clock.

And the clock is ticking.

From earthquakes in China to cyclones in Myanmar to water rationing in Los Angeles, societies are shifting like their borders. And all the outcry over so-called illegal immigration neglects to answer one time-honored question: If the borders aren’t standing still, why should the people who live in their outlines do so? Especially when they’re under attack from catastrophic floods, fires, droughts and any number of other environmental dangers?

Right now, the 1951 Geneva Convention does not recognize the envirogee phenomenon, instead focusing on immigration as a result of political persecution. But then again, it was established over five decades ago when Earth’s climate was anything but a terrorist. But the Geneva Convention, like everything that must adapt or die, needs to mutate in time with the rest of the world and its hyperconsuming inhabitants in order to remain relevant in our still-new millennium.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 June, 2008 2:31 am

    Thanks for pointing out this article.

    I believe that climate refugees are a real issue, but please… “envirogee?” I don’t know where to begin on the ridiculousness of this so-called word. It has no meaning! The core meaning of the word refugee– that the person is seeking refuge– is completely lost if you remove “refug” from the word and replace it. I won’t go on… you get the idea. It is reminiscent of all the political scandals which came after the Nixon debacle receiving names that end in “-gate”, as though the suffix “gate” conveyed the meaning of “scandal.”

    Let’s stick with real words for real problems.

  2. 12 June, 2008 10:13 am

    Hi Paul,

    I agree that the term is ugly and probably unnecessary. I certainly wasn’t endorsing it in any way. However, what I think the article does ask us to consider is whether the nature of refuge-seeking is changing due to climate-related developments and whether it is necessary to reevaluate the underlying assumptions about what constitutes a ‘refugee’. If the notion of political persecution lies at the core of what it is to be a refugee — and therefore affects the way people who seek refuge are treated — then raising the idea of ‘envirogees’ at least helps us to be aware of that fact.

  3. 20 June, 2008 3:37 am

    Indeed. If the entire globe is being transformed in global climate change, where are people to find refuge?

  4. 20 June, 2008 12:14 pm

    Very true Kate, though of course developing countries (as always) are going to bear the brunt of these changes. Richer nations will be able to cushion their populations against at least some of the negative effects of climate change, meaning that they will still be relatively desirable destinations for ‘envirogees’.

  5. 16 December, 2009 10:34 pm

    What will heppen when climate refugees flood into Alaska in 2424 AD?

  6. 16 December, 2009 10:35 pm

    My turn: Alaska must face scenario of ‘climate change refugees’
    By Dan E. Bloom | Juneau Empire

    In two recent international news articles about climate change (“How much more proof is needed for people to act” and “Ignoring the future – the psychology of denial”), the importance of facing major issues that will confront the future of the human species were emphasized.

    Climate change is indeed an issue that is on everyone’s mind today, and while Juneau seems to be far removed from the experts who recently made their way to Copenhagen to try to hammer our blueprints to prevent global warming from having a doomsday impact on humankind, Alaska will be on the front line of these issues.

    Despite most observers thinking that solutions lie in mitigation ideas, there are a growing number of climatologists and scientists who believe that the A-word – adaptation – must be confronted head-on, too. The fact is, despite the head-in-the-sand protestations of climate denialists such as Marc Morano in Washington, D.C., or former Gov. Sarah Palin, we cannot stop climate change or global warming.

    The Earth’s atmosphere has already passed the tipping point, and in the next 500 years, temperatures will rise considerably, sea levels will rise considerably and millions, even billions, of people from the tropical and temperate zones of the Earth will be forced to migrate north in search of food, fuel and shelter. This is where Alaska, and Alaskans, will play a central role.

    By the year 2500, Alaska could be home to millions of climate refugees from the Lower 48 and Central and South America who will have migrated north, seeking safe harbor from the devastating impact of global warming in those future times.

    Many parts of the Alaska coastline will be under water, and Juneau will find itself home to new kinds of visitors from the Lower 48 and beyond. They won’t be coming on cruise ships or airplanes, since there will be no fuel for such services. They will be coming by road, on foot and bicycle. Prepare yourselves.

    Alaska must be prepared for the worst-case scenario. By 2500, millions, billions of people will have been forced to leave their home countries in the tropical and temperate zones and migrate north en masse to faraway northern regions to find shelter in United Nations-funded climate refuges in places such as Alaska, Russia and Canada. People from India, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines will make their way to Juneau and further north to Anchorage and Fairbanks. It won’t be a pretty picture.

    When I asked acclaimed British scientist James Lovelock if such a scenario for Alaska was likely, he said in an e-mail: “It may very well happen, yes.”

    Humans cannot engineer our way out of global warming, although scientists who believe in geo-engineering have offered their theories on how to do it. There are no easy fixes. Humankind has put too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the result of the industrial revolution that gave us trains, plans and automobiles – and much more to live comfortable and trendy lives – and now there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the Earth cannot recover.

    Forget trying to be more “green” in our daily lives. Alaska, like the rest of the world, is now doomed to a very bleak future. There will be millions of climate refugees seeking shelter in Alaska and Canada (and in far south places such as New Zealand, Tasmania and Antarctica as well.)

    Meetings in Copenhagen and Rio de Janiero and at the U.N. building in Manhattan will not stop global warming. What we need to focus on now is preparing future generations for what our world will become in the next 500 years and how best to survive it. The Alaska Legislature needs to start thinking about these issues, too. There is a very strong possibility that the Northern White House will be located in Juneau, perhaps taking over the Governor’s Mansion.

    For the next 100 years or so, life will go on as normal in Juneau, so don’t worry too much. There is nothing to worry about now. For the next 100 years, the local department stores will continue to hawk their trendy items, international computer firms will continue to launch their latest cell phones and tech gadgets, and airline companies will continue to offer passengers quick passage here and there for business and for pleasure.

    But in the next 500 years, according to Lovelock and otther scientists who are not afraid to think outside the box, things are going to get bad. Unspeakably bad.

    Those of us who are alive today won’t suffer, and the next few generations of humans will be fine, too. The big troubles will probably start around 2200 – Lovelock says sooner – and last for some 300 years or so. By 2500, Alaska will be home to the U.S. Congress, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, and the Lower 48 will be uninhabited, as will most of the countries in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.

    We are entering uncharted waters, and as the waters rise and the temperatures go up as well, future generations will have some important choices to make: where to live, how to live, how to grow food, how to power their climate refugee settlements, how to plan and how to pray. Alaska will be on the front lines of this new world. The question is: will Alaska be ready?

    • Dan E. Bloom is a former editor of the Capital City Weekly who has been living in Asia since 1991. He can be reached at

  7. 6 January, 2010 1:02 am

    North to Alaska: Sarah Palin’s Home State to House “Northern White House”

    Climate Refugees Will Flood the 49th State in Next 500 Years as U.S. Government Moves North

    If the predictions of British scientist James Lovelock are any guide to the future, climate change and global warming are unstoppable now, and the next 500 years will bring major changes to life on Earth as we know it now. Billions of people from central and temperate regions will move north, Lovelock says, finding refuge in climate refuges known as polar cities in Alaska and Canada.

    Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin does not believe in Lovelock’s predictions, preferring to base her life and thinking on the baseless predictions of the Bible and the debunked ideas of Intelligent Design. While she believes that global warming is real, she also believes it is caused not by men and their machines but by the natural cycles of the Sun and Moon.

    But with her head in the sand, Palin — widely tipped to be the Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential elections in the USA — cannot fathom the ideas of Dr Lovelock. Nor can she fathom the ideas of a former Alaskan resident named Danny Bloom who bills himself as “a modern-day climate Jeremiah” on blogs and websites worldwide. Bloom, taking his cue from interviews with Lovelock, is predicting that millions, perhaps billions, of climate refugees will flood Alaska in the coming centuries, beginning around 2121 A.D. and continuing until well in what he calls “The Great Interruption” (a 10,000-year period in which all of mankind will migrate north to polar cities in the Arctic regions in order to serve as breeding pairs for the survival of the human species).

    Bloom says that as the Earth heats up in the next 100 to 500 years, temperatures will rise, sea levels will rise, food will become scarce in the Lower 48 due to soaring temperatures in agricultural areas and millions of Americans (and Mexicans) will move “north to Alaska”. The modern-day climate Jeremiah predicts that these events will not signal the end of the world but the beginning of a new chapter in human history, with a lot hanging on the outcome.



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