In a historic fashion, leaders from over 100 countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030. This is one of the biggest headlines to come out of the newsworthy United Nations Climate Conference, better known as ‘COP26’.
Climate change still can feel distant, people often view the earth’s rising temperature as a far off problem that will not affect us as New Yorkers. Climate change is most frequently framed as the threat of rising sea levels.
As members of a coastal community perhaps this is the framework that is most impactful for us. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is charged with monitoring rising sea levels, changes in climate, weather and coasts.
According to the NOAA, the global sea level has risen about nine inches since 1880. However, a third of this rise has come in the last 25 years.
Sea level rise can be noticed through beach erosion. Significant portions of the South Shore have less than three feet of elevation. Superstorm Sandy and higher storm surges provide further evidence.
While these weather events are not everyday occurrences they are an ever-looming threat. For South Shore Long Islanders, the threat of sea-level rise means flooded basements and shrunken shorelines.
Sea level rise is not the only threat of the climate crisis. Creation of food deserts, stronger storms, floods and hurricanes, prolonged heat waves and loss of biodiversity are some of the many problems we will face.
As part of Western society, we have a greater ability to fight the effects of climate change. Citizens have much more autonomy and influence over their government. We have access to resources to mitigate the adverse effects.
Houses are being put on stilts. Sand dunes are being built up and restored from Fire Island to Montauk Point as part of a federally funded project. While these options cannot be mistaken for long-term solutions, they do prove how our ability to adapt is a key component of who is subjected to the damaging effects of climate change.
In 1948, the term environmental refugee was coined. Yet, those who leave their home because of its inhospitable climate are seen as migrants, not refugees. Refugees are granted certain status and protections when immigrating to other countries.
Migrants are seen as undeserving of these protections because they are voluntarily moving, typically for economic reasons. Many of the world’s poor are reliant on their ability to grow crops to survive.
As a result of rising temperatures, extreme heat waves and unpredictable local climates, agriculture is becoming increasingly difficult in the equatorial region. These conditions create food insecurity and scarcity.
Climate change refugee is a category that needs to be widely recognized at the international level as the climate crisis worsens. Pressure at the southern border of the United States in some measure is due to climate change.
Exploitation of natural resources, industrial disasters and instituted development projects are among the most prominent human-created reasons for people to leave their homes. These projects alter the natural ecosystem and can make the land inhospitable.
The influx of immigration to the global north is only going to increase in the coming years as a result of climate change. Our ability to fight the effects of climate change further highlights the privileged position of the global north versus the global south.
There is structural injustice seen through economic disparity between the two hemispheres in the world order. These core differences come through in the way we deal with climate change. A population’s ability to adapt is a demonstration of the vastness of resources and technology which can be put toward solutions.
Climate change is a global issue, therefore inaction will have trickled down effects.
The global north is better positioned to handle the effects of climate change and we are also the power players in international politics.
We need to consider our privileged position when speaking about climate change. We are on unequal footing. Migration as a result of people’s homelands now being inhospitable is an issue that the global north and the west will have to solve.
Each nation is not able to solve the climate crisis for their own people alone. Looking inward for a solution will leave all people without one. International organizations provide a framework for collaboration.
COP26 leaves leaders with goals for them to promote domestically. Small milestones, through collective action, can lead to larger change.
As New Yorker’s we have a powerful voice and as Long Islanders we understand and bear witness to the changing climate.
Furthermore, as citizens from a powerful nation and influential part of the country we have to do our part in expanding the conversation from its current political framework and bring attention to the long-term effects of climate change, such as climate change refugees.