Sunday, February 08, 2004

ENN Affiliate News - Troubling New Flows of Environmental Refugees

A new kind of refugee is appearing, although they have yet to get much press, the environmental refugee:

Although the modern world has extensive experience with people migrating for political and economic reasons, we are now seeing a swelling flow of refugees driven from their homes by environmental pressures. Modern experience with this phenomenon in the United States began when nearly 3 million "Okies" from the southern Great Plains left during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, many of them migrating to California.

Today, bodies washing ashore in Italy, France, and Spain are a daily occurrence, the result of desperate acts by desperate people in Africa. And each day hundreds of Mexicans risk their lives trying to cross the U.S. border. Some 400 to 600 Mexicans leave rural areas every day, abandoning plots of land too small or too eroded to make a living. They either head for Mexican cities or try to cross illegally into the United States. Many perish in the punishing heat of the Arizona desert.

Another flow of environmental refugees comes from Haiti, a widely recognized ecological disaster. In a rural economy where the land is denuded of vegetation and the soil is washing into the sea, the people are not far behind. Attempting to make the trip to Florida in small craft not designed for the high seas, many drown. ...

The World Bank expects Sana'a, where the water table is falling by 6 meters a year, to exhaust its remaining water supply by 2010. At that point, its leaders will either have to bring water in from a distant point or abandon the city.

Quetta, originally designed for 50,000 people, now has 1 million inhabitants, all of whom depend on 2,000 wells pumping water deep from underground, depleting what is believed to be a fossil or nonreplenishable aquifer. Like Sana'a, Quetta may have enough water for the rest of this decade, but then its future is in doubt. In the words of one study assessing the water prospect, Quetta will soon be "a dead city."

The signs are growing, day by day, that the world has passed it's carrying capacity for the human race. And the only reason we've gotten this far is because of the unique energy properties of the world's hyrocarbon supplies.

When the world's production of oil and gas peaks and rolls over into decline--which, even under the most optimistic estimates, will happen in most of our lifetimes--the carrying capacity for the human race will diminish accordingly.

Environmental refugees will become a problem that overwhelms even the most affluent of countries.


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