“America’s first climate change refugees.”

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.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to ““America’s first climate change refugees.”

  1. John

    The article about the Alaska Eskimos clearly states that the warming in Alaska started 60 years ago, long before Global Warming was a gleam
    in Algore’s eye. Similarly, last year’s drought in California is in no way
    unique, with dry periods quite common in world history, some lasting much longer than 4 years.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    Since you have both had your say on this, now is a good time to shut down this line of comment. I have no interest in hosting any sort of climate change denial. We have better avenues for discussion.

    I will delete further climate change denial comments or accusations of censorship on the grounds that they bore the host.

    • Fig

      I’m confused. Is this in reference to the comments from John & I?

    • onthepublicrecord

      Hi Fig. The way I read it, John is proposing that this drought is not related to climate change (hence, the workers who left aren’t climate change refugees) and you gave evidence that it is. That sums up the debate completely, so I don’t want to get more comments on that specific topic.

      Thank you both for reading and commenting here.

    • Curt Sanders

      Excellent, totally agree..

    • Fig

      Thank you for clarifying.

  3. Considering the topic, I am surprised that there has been no mention of AB 1317 on this thread.

  4. Curt Sanders

    Excellent! I fully support that position.! Now on that note Let me say I continue to be baffled as to why the Gov is dragging his feet regarding decisive action to immediately curb the draining of the Central Valleys Aquifer system.? What is going on? How can he and his board of advisors not see this as a looming disaster for the state? We need some serious restrictions on all new well permits in CV now. All private wells in the state not just the CV have got to be metered and regulated now. The Gov has got to put a temporary ban on any new planting of All water intensive crops, especially nut orchards and especially in the CV, now. How much more subsidence is gonna take? How many more wells have to go dry? How many more small farm owners and farm workers are going to have to suffer like some causality of war? Jerry, we need decisive action and we need it now.

  5. Curt Sanders

    Yes sir, 1317, let’s examine it and how we can push it forward..

  6. John

    Does anybody remember the Dustbowl of the 1930’s? I think they were the first climate refugees.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I see that I left the word “change” out of the title, so I can see how I confused you. I should have written “climate change”, so it is clear that we are talking about weather variability that is amplified by global climate change, such as the current drought.

  7. If you haven’t seen it already, you might like this video on a small California farm town with dry canals: https://vimeo.com/165380902

    That said, I went road tripping through California over the last few weeks, and I saw a lot of little half-dead towns. If I had to guess, that’s where a lot of the populist anger is coming from right now.

    • Scott

      That’s a great short film. It is tough–certainty, instead of “if it rains” would make it so much more bearable. Even if the answer is “these farms will never support permanent crops again,” that’d help people understand their options. And help the store owner understand that the people he’s extending credit to are likely to move on, following water and jobs.

  8. John

    Me too! Drove !-5 from LA to Tracy and saw the mighty agricultural engine
    that feeds America. Many fallow fields, but still lots of production. Let’s get the water problem solved before food shortages become a problem like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.