Neither the Guardian nor the NY Times have accurately identified America’s first climate refugees. In 2015 the Guardian described the water rising in Yup’ik Eskimo villages, and villagers planning a move. This month, the NY Times discussed a grant given to Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw peoples in Louisiana to move in advance of sea level rise. The first American climate change refugees I know of are the farmworkers of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, many of whom left in 2014 when drought eliminated the work available to them.
The workers, some in their 20s, some much older, men and women alike all wearing long sleeves, hats, and bandanas to protect them from the brutal sun, tell me this summer they’ve had to drive much longer distances to find work. They have friends and family who’ve already left for better work in Oregon and Washington. It’s hard for them to see their families and communities broken apart. Every last one of them is considering leaving the Central Valley.