Media outlets are already suggesting the thousands of people predicted to leave Puerto Rico over the next year could be America’s first massive wave of “climate refugees.”
Experts say hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans could flee their devastated island in the next 12 months. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned “thousands if not millions” could leave the island without massive federal assistance.
The media was quick to suggest Puerto Ricans could be classified as “climate refugees” in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which left most of the island’s residents without power or clean water.
E&E News reported the potential migrants “might be among the nation’s newest ‘climate refugees,’ a demographic that includes former residents of southernmost Louisiana and the shrinking islands of Alaska’s Bering Strait.”
Bloomberg warned Wednesday a mass migration from Puerto Rico could “offer a preview for Americans of one of the most jarring potential consequences of global warming: the movement of large numbers of people pushed out of their homes by the effects of climate change.”
Even meteorologist Marshall Shepherd asked if Puerto Ricans could be called “climate refugees.” He said he didn’t know the answer, but then wrote a lengthy post opening on the meaning of the word “climate refugee.”
The idea isn’t new. The United Nations has been predicting a huge increase in the number of “climate refugees” do to human emissions of carbon dioxide. These are people forced from their homes by natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods or droughts.
Scientists predict global warming will exacerbate extreme weather events in the coming decades, though there’s little evidence to support claims today’s natural disasters have gotten measurably worse.
Bloomberg reported “climate change forced an estimated 1 million people to leave their homes in 2015” in Africa, and that “the World Bank has urged Australia and New Zealand to open their doors to residents forced off small island nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati.”
“Even in Syria, internal migration sparked by a historic drought contributed to the civil war, which has added to the wave of people trying to enter Europe in recent years,” Bloomberg reported.
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