Climate Change Already Forcing 17 U.S. Communities To Move
Above Photo: This map shows five of the 17 communities in the U.S. that are in the process of climate relocation. Upwards of 13 million Americans will be at risk of displacement from a projected 0.9 m rise in sea levels by 2100. (Center for Progressive Reform)
Climate change could force tens of thousands of U.S. residents to move this century. But 17 communities already face that threat, and most of these are Native American, according to a new academic analysis.
One of them is the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, which lives on Isle de Jean Charles. The tribe has been awarded a $48.3 million grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to move from its remaining sliver of land in Terrebonne Parish.
But the new report, released Wednesday (May 3) by the Center for Progressive Reform, lays out other ways for indigenous communities to buy land as their homes buckle from melting permafrost or are swallowed by rising seas. One of the report’s three authors, Loyola University law professor Robert R.M. Verchick, said he hopes that the analysis achieves two things:
- That communities confronted by seemingly insurmountable odds against moving realize others have succeeded. “They are finding ways to have important conversations in their communities about their future. And they’re finding ways though the law, through their own governmental management systems,” Verchick said. “They’re finding ways of moving communities and governing communities in ways that will make them safer.”
- That the report serves as a wake-up call to political leaders who scoff at climate change and the prospect of it affecting more Americans. “We are talking about a future where tens of thousands of people are going to be relocating, and yet we have no uniform strategy,” Verchick said. “And that’s a conversation we’re almost not having at all in the Unites States right now.”
The report describes several legal and policy tactics that can be used to help climate-threatened Native Americans move. Among them: generating revenue through tribal enterprise, obtaining grants and loans to buy lands and reclaiming land through litigation.
Each comes with its own set of drawbacks. Some revenue raisers, such as extracting minerals and harvesting timber to sell, can exacerbate the effects of climate change by increasing land subsidence and diminishing storm protection. Applying for grants and loans often requires federally recognized tribal status, which some, including the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, do not have. And lawsuits can be costly, with no guarantee of success.
Verchick said these problems are an indication that more needs to be done at the state and federal level. “The relocation opportunities presented by the federal government to both native and non-native communities are inadequate,” the report says. “Federal policies and programs for relocation need to be adapted to better serve the many and growing number of communities facing dire threat and actual harm from climate change.”
The Center for Progressive Reform is a small, Washington-based non-profit network of academics. It says it works “to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary.”
Verchick’s co-authors on the report were University of Hawaii law professor Maxine Burkett and David Flores, a policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform. The report was funded in part by Oxfam, an international group of charities that aims to alleviate poverty.