California fires, rising seas: Millions of climate refugees will dwarf Dust Bowl by 2100

An environmental crisis in the early 1900s created ‘Dust Bowl refugees.’ Today’s climate crisis is much bigger and will last for decades, not years.

Yvette D. Clarke and Michael Shank
Opinion contributors
Novemeber 4, 2019

“Climate refugee” is likely a new term for most Americans. Also referred to as environmental migrants, climate refugees are people who are now forced to seek refuge from the life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis.

Californians are the tip of the spear this fall as increasingly destructive wildfires drive people out of their homes — more than 200,000 just in the last couple of weeks. Soon, however, everyone in America will know what a climate refugee is. Given current estimates on sea-level rise and its threat to coastal communities, as many as 13 million Americans are projected to become climate refugees by the end of this century. That’s a lot of displacement and instability across our coasts.

For some, displacement that can be linked to climate change has already occurred. In Brooklyn, thousands of families were forced from their homes and communities by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which flooded entire neighborhoods and left demolished houses in its wake. Many families to this day have still been unable to return home, and key pieces of infrastructure are still undergoing repair.


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