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Climate Change and Migration

by The Enviro Engineer - 09:00 on 23 January 2019

Carbon Brief, a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, published their weekly briefing on the 18th January 2019. The first article in the briefing was the “State of the climate”.

They stated that “This week in January would normally see the leading climate agencies publish their results for the previous year, across each of the key global datasets. However, the ongoing US government shutdown has meant agencies such as NASA and NOAA have yet to do so”.

In spite of the US government shutdown, Carbon Brief has managed to publish its latest quarterly “state of the climate” report. The report written by Zeke Hausfather, a US analyst with a PhD in climate science, identifies that 2018 was the warmest year on record in the oceans. The ocean heat content has increased by about 9 zettajoules between 2017 and 2018. This approximately 18 times more than the energy used by humans in 2018.

2018 was also the fourth warmest year for surface temperatures since 1850. This is an increase of between 0.9 °C and 1.1 °C since the end of the 19th century, depending on the temperature record selected.

Annual global mean surface temperatures from NASA GISTemp, NOAA GlobalTemp, Hadley/UEA HADCRUT4, Berkeley Earth, Cowtan and Way and Copernicus/ECMWF. See full Carbon Brief report for description of raw data.  

So, what does this rising surface temperature mean for the planet, apart from warmer weather. Plants, invertebrates, mammals, fish and even microbes have all been affected by climate change. Since the 19th century nearly half of the earth’s species have been on the move, due to changes in the climate.   Migration from an environmental perspective is a normal process that occurs for many species on this planet. Many bird species migrate during the winter months to warmer climates and return in the spring to start breeding. During the summer months productivity in the artic regions is very high and many bird species, such as ducks and waders take advantage of this abundance of resources. As the food sources become scarce, they migrate south to warmer climates and areas with greater productivity. The Serengeti in East Africa also sees vast herds of wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus and other species migrate each year, following the path of the rain to seek out the best grass to feed on and calve. However, this increase in global temperature is changing the number and types of species that now need to migrate annually to survive.

Climate change produces changes in precipitation creating water shortages and drought in some areas and increased flooding in others. Hotter climates cause wild fires destroying vast areas of habitat. Changes in climate can reduce food production, causing species to migrate or starve. This can result in localised extinctions of species. Is the same fate waiting for humans? Already wild fires in the United States and Australia are destroying homes and livelihoods. Already populations of humans are being forced to cross borders to escape the effects of climate change. Often described as disaster displacement, this is human migration due to climate changes.

I find it strange that with an impending disaster such as climate change that some nations still think that they can refuse to allow migrants to enter their territory. When will those that support the US/Mexican border wall or Brexit in the UK realise that there is only one planet and we need to learn to share the earth’s limited resources such as land? Restricting the movement of people will soon be an unsustainable lost cause.     

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