Friday, May 20, 2016

Rural refugees of climate change: from Louisiana to India

The New York Times reported last week about "Resettling the First American Climate Refugees," and since those climate refugees are in rural, coastal Louisiana, I was planning to blog about them but hadn't got around to it when NPR ran this series this week on climate refugees in rural, coastal India, in an area called the Sundarbans.  I found striking the similarities between the two places and their residents, including the attachment to place that motivate many to stay, in spite of perils.

The Louisiana story, by Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson, dateline Isle de Jean Charles, describes Department of Housing and Urban Development grants worth $1 billion going to 13 states to help with climate change adaptation.  Some $48 million is going to Isle de Jean Charles to move the entire community to drier land--to a community that does not yet exist.  All funds must be spent by 2022.

Most of the 60 residents of Isle de Jean Charles are American Indian, and Davenport and Robertson describe their recent history, as impacted by climate change:
For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.
* * *
Attachment to the island runs deep. Parents and grandparents lived here; there is a cemetery on the island that no one wants to abandon. Old and well-earned distrust of the government hangs over all efforts, and a bitter dispute between the two Indian tribes with members on the island has thwarted efforts to unite behind a plan.
The chief of one tribe, Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw is quoted:
We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture. It’s all going to be history.
The caption to a photo of a man named Hilton Chaisson includes this quote from him:
I’ve lived my whole life here, and I’m going to die here.
Chaisson has raised 10 sons on the island and says he hopes his 26 grandchildren will also grow up there.
The Robertson/Davenport story is well worth a read in its entirety, along with this NPR story on the same events, elaborating on the American Indian distrust of the federal government.

And as for the NPR story, Ari Shapiro explains that humans (4 million of them) and Bengal tigers (numbering about 200) compete for the diminishing land area in this place, which means "beautiful forest," referring to the largest mangrove forest in the world.   There, too, long-time village residents talk about their attachment to place, even as they acknowledge the perils of village living--amidst tigers.

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