The New Emerging Phenomenon of the Eco Refugee

Climate change, climate denial, global warming, global cooling. Call it what you want the planet is shouting at us. We have ignored the warning signs for decades. The definition of refugee is someone fleeing a life threatening crisis. We humans also attribute the term refugee only to other humans but in reality any living creature that is forced to leave their native home in order to survive is a refugee.

For non human species drastic climate change either means extinction or a necessity to quickly adapt and migrate. Adaptation is not realistic as it can take many generations to happen. Humans living at sea level they too will have to migrate inland or risk losing their home to coastal erosion and rising tides .

What the oceans tell us

Rising tides have already caused erosion for many coastal dwellers. For many small island nations that means many residents will be moving inland. Without enough land to accommodate people moving inland for many islanders leaving altogether has become the only alternative. Property near water, once highly prized, can mean lower value and harder to sell as buyers must weigh the likelihood of being flooded.

Oceans are fast becoming depleted from over fishing. Plastic pollution now covers huge areas of water sucking out all life and causing dead zones. This means less ocean for marine life, many on the brink of extinction, with nowhere to go. If we don’t stop ocean dumping and releasing chemicals into the atmosphere we will effectively kill the oceans. That will also kill off our own species since the oceans provide more oxygen than rainforests. Speaking of rainforests we are logging and grazing them so heavily they will be barren sooner rather than later.

Sea Turtle sex ratios

Sea Turtles have been called living fossils because they haven’t changed much since first appearing more than 100 million years ago. For millions of years nature provided for them and in return they helped balance the marine ecosystem.  Females lay their eggs on land and are seen as an ‘indicator’ species, one whose behavior and population can foretell things to come.

Sand temperature determines the gender of hatchlings. The phrase hot chicks and cool dudes is an easy way to remember the hotter the sand the more females hatch. Sea turtles are already experiencing devastating effects of a warming climate as many beaches are now so hot they only produce females. Once the sex ratio becomes so lopsided, crashing a species is just around the corner. Indoor temperature controlled hatcheries are the only viable solution.

In 2018 a study was done showing that in Boca Raton, Florida nearly all hatchlings were female. This isn’t an isolated event this is happening worldwide. That same year it was reported that in northern Australia only female Green Sea Turtles were born. Another study was conducted in 2014.

A Green Sea Turtle hatching in South Florida

Not just Island nations

On the front lines of rising tides that have eroded many small countries they see what is coming on the horizon. It takes a lot to leave your country. Coastal erosion has always been a part of living on the water. Now there is no ebb and flow but a permanent loss of beach and dune in a growing number of areas.

Coastal development has always been controversial when it means removing dunes and beach vegetation. This destroys both the natural beauty and nature’s way of staving off erosion. Beach re-nourishment has become a common way of replenishing sand that washes away. Without dune vegetation there is nothing to hold the sand. For island nations whose beaches are eroding there is little space for them to move.

A lone survivor of coastal erosion in Vunidogoloa, a village on Fiji’s island of Vanua Levu. In 2014, all 153 villagers needed to relocate several miles inland. Credit: NRDC


Workers out during Miami Beach, Florida king tides,. Credit : NRDC

Bigger stronger longer lasting storms

In 2008 the International Panel on Climate Change predicted an intense increase in storms. Looking at the history of Atlantic hurricanes some new dangerous patterns have emerged. In the last 15 years hurricanes have radically changed. A common pattern was hurricanes formed in the water, made landfall then quickly dissipate. Hurricanes like Sandy, Irma and Dorian were twice the size of previous CAT 5 hurricanes. What used to be the historical hurricane cone of the Caribbean and southeastern US now includes the entire east coast including Canada.

Droughts and wildfires have gotten worse. The western US now has a year round wildfire season. In Australia who could forget the photos of a scorched earth when over 3 million acres burned between 2019 – 2020. An estimated 3 billion animals died in what looked apocalyptic. In 2022 tornados wrecked havoc for several weeks as dozens simultaneously swept across several Midwestern states.  More unusual was how places that had rarely experienced tornados suddenly had dozens.

Kangaroos seek shelter from brushfires. LINDA ROBINSON / SOCIAL MEDIA REUTERS


Comparison on two CAT 5 Hurricanes

Climate as a homeland security issue

As far back as 1990 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States had put together a task for on climate change. They wanted to assess future climate change, weather patterns and water/food shortages on their impact to national security. They also wanted to determine the possible impact of eco refugee’s from island nations seeking a new home away from rising tides and daily floods. Copy and paste this link for a sobering look back 30 years of government research in the MEDEA program – MEDEA Scientists conducted Environmental Intelligence Analysis utilizing National Security Assets

In 2008 the US House of Representatives held a joint hearing for the SELECT COMMITTEE ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND GLOBAL WARMING on the national security implications of climate change. California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo refers to a speech by the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer “In tomorrow’s uncertain world, we cannot wait for threats to mature before deciding how we counter them. The nature of this new environment is already taking shape. It will be an environment that will be marked by the effects of climate change, such as territorial conflicts, rising food prices, and migration. It will be characterized by the scramble for energy resources, by the emergence of new powers, and by nonstate actors trying to gain access to deadly technologies.”

In 2009 the CIA opened The Center on Climate Change and National Security to assess how environmental factors potentially affect political, economic and social stability overseas. The United Kingdom put together their own intelligence task force.  “Climate Change and International Responses Increasing Challenges to US National Security Through 2040” published in 2022. “Climate change is an important factor in the current and future operating environment for the Joint Force, affecting foreign nations’ internal stability and military capabilities.”

Eco refugees are all around. Some migrate from floods others from wildfires or water pollution. The few non human species that can migrate to safer grounds will, most will not be able to adapt in time and go extinct. We can no longer deny or stop what is already in the pipeline. Will political agenda still hold the world captive or will acceptance of reality finally set it? Look at the 2022 heat wave, drought and wildfire crisis in the US and Europe. The UK has infrastructure that is literally melting.  What more proof do you need?