Climate Change is Now the Leading Cause of Global Homelessness by Internal Displacement

climate refugee

The leading cause of global homelessness by internal displacement has always been violent conflict or war. Until now…

We represent an era of modernity, a time of great technological superiority- at least in some respects. Compared to many previous civilizations, we are faster, stronger, and more interconnected in many ways.

The worldwide internet can run at a jaw-dropping 319 TERAbits per second, which is incidentally about 10 million times faster than the smartphone you currently hold in your hand.

Vehicles move at unprecedented speeds. Free-standing structures tower through clouds. Planet Earth rings with enthusiasm as 2.4 billion phone calls each day are carried across submarine cables stretching 700,000 miles undersea.

Everything is fast – the travel, the fashion, the food, and the people, engaged in a never-ending marathon to get the most satisfaction from life.

This is what a dying planet looks like

Behind the glimmering screens of laptops and movie theaters, the empty racks, barren wilderness, and long-discarded soda bottles, lies an ugly truth. Climate change… It is the price of luxury. It is what happens when we attempt to connect the world through hundreds of interlocking underwater cables across our great oceans and then top it off with 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste.

Climate change is the after effect of industry, electricity, transportation, deforestation, and the very “innovation” we pride our society upon.

Never before in recorded history have we witnessed the heat of our deeds to such an extent that the ground beneath us is now literally on fire. The raging seas rise. Storms intensify. Droughts increase. All across the world, glaciers melt at record speeds.

And in the wake of this climate crisis, other disasters emerge, uniquely human in nature, although there is nothing natural about them.

One such disaster is that of climate refugees. With tens of millions of climate displacements happening annually across the globe, climate change just beat out violent conflict as the leading cause of global homelessness by internal displacement.

Who Are Climate Refugees?

Climate refugees are individuals forced out of their homes due to circumstances related to the environment. These circumstances are entirely outside of their control.

Climate refugees can happen anywhere from Sub-Saharan Africa to sunny California, from war-torn corners of the Earth to peaceful places nestled deep within rural communities.

In other words, climate refugee status can happen to you. One wayward wind could come through and turn your entire life upside down.

By the end of 2020, there were 55 million internally displaced people. An additional 30 million new displacements were recorded due to wildfires, floods, or generally intense storms. This number reflects a notable shift in the underlying causes of global displacement, mainly because it is the highest number of IDPs ever recorded. In the words of the New York Times“the Great Climate Migration Has Begun.”

This suggests that things are just getting started. Experts anticipate a drastic rise in this number in the near future.

According to EcoWatch, there could be as many as one billion climate refugees worldwide by 2050. It’s notable to point out that displacement incidents can happen multiple times to the same person or family. Due to our failure to address this problem, that is all too often the case.

Low-Income Earners are More Likely to become Climate Refugees

On the surface, the weather would appear to be the great equalizer. Storms hit every class and coast and country. While anyone can feel the wrath of a spiraling tornado or the unmistakable shake of an earthquake, the working class is most vulnerable to displacement by way of climate change. This is true in the United States and worldwide.

Several factors play a role in the scenario. Here are a few of the most impactful:

  • Cheaper buildings are more vulnerable to storm shocks.
  • Housing is cheaper in disaster-prone places.
  • Urban flooding disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods, damaging not only houses but educational institutions and community gathering spaces.
  • Wealthier families and individuals have an easier time evacuating in the wake of a storm. Many have vacation or rental properties to retreat to and the financial means to leave.
  • On the other hand, low-income earners often feel pressure to remain home when an intense storm strikes. Their boss might threaten them that leaving will cost them their job. They could also lack the financial means to evacuate at a moment’s notice, a pricey endeavor that requires thousands of dollars for hotels, transportation, and basic needs.

The Homeless Crisis, the Housing Crisis, and the Climate Crisis go Hand in Hand

Being suddenly thrust into a state of homelessness at the hands of a violent storm can lead to a lifetime of adversity. The trauma associated with enduring multiple life-threatening hardships consecutively can heighten anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Combine this with the isolation associated with living unhoused and the desperation of losing all material possessions, and it is clear that we must do more to protect climate refugees worldwide.

Emerging data shows that the future face of homelessness will likely be that of a climate refugee. Given this new information, it is high time we shift our policies to reflect the planet’s needs and its inhabitants.

Talk to your representatives about building a sustainable future where affordable housing is available for all.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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