Trump’s border wall – if it ever gets built – will not stop the next mass migration of people from swamping the USA according to a special report by Matt Zdun for CNBC:
“Increasingly, the phenomenon of rising sea levels has amplified fears over climate refugees — individuals forced to leave their homes due to changing environmental conditions in their respective homelands. Climate watchers estimate that at least 26 million people around the world have already been displaced, and that figure could balloon to 150 million by 2050, according to the Worldwatch Institute.”
Whatever the Trump administration may or may not believe about climate change, it is no longer something that will happen in the future; it is here now. Nor is its impact limited to impoverished brown-skinned people in the global south. As Zdun points out – “The impact is being felt as far away as Panama, and as close as Louisiana.”
Just a few weeks ago Miami Beach was under water because its now below sea level storm drains were unable to cope with flash flooding. This is despite a multi-million dollar investment in upgraded drainage to prevent so-called “sunny day flooding” when the high tide bubbles up through the drains and into the streets.
The bigger problem in Florida, however, is that the giant aquifer that provides the state with most of its drinking water is becoming increasingly saline as the rising seas seep into the porous rock formations. Nor is Florida the only state that may be unsustainable as climate change continues. The grounding of flights in Arizona during the heat wave earlier this year gives an indication of what the desert states of America’s southwest can look forward to in the not too distant future. Then there is the Gulf coast, where another Katrina-type storm could finish New Orleans for good.
Those millions of people will be on the USA side of Trump’s wall. Nevertheless, they are going to be on the move. And that raises questions about government preparedness and the price people are prepared to pay. As Zdun reports:
“In the U.S., the cost of climate change is expected to be steep. A Science study estimates that every one degree Celsius increase in global mean temperature will cost the U.S. 1.2 percent of its economic growth. Separately, a recent assessment by Lloyds estimated that flooding ranked high among the top five risks to global economic growth, and could cost upwards of $430 billion.”
Worse still, the longer governments take to decide whether to stay and mitigate the threat or relocate the population, the costlier it is going to get:
“Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, said he does not expect to see financial assistance from the federal government anytime soon — even though one in eight homes in Florida could be underwater by 2100…
“Stoddard believes flood insurance rates — which have been subsidized for years by governments — will be the so-called tipping point for homeowners in the U.S.”
Stoddard argues that when insurance premiums reflect the true risk from flooding, the public will demand action from government. In the meantime – and in the face of a Florida governor who has banned state officials from using the words ‘climate change’ and ‘sea level rise’ – Stoddard believes that local government should work with local communities to develop their own regional plans for the coming emergency.
The broader problem, however, is that climate change and sea level rise will not stop in 2050 or 2100; even if the Trump administration has a Damascene conversion. Continue with business as usual and millions of people from Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and a hundred places you never heard of are going to be on the move seeking a home somewhere on the remaining temperate high ground.