50 million 'environmental refugees' by 2020, experts say

Feb 22, 2011 by Karin Zeitvogel
A boat full of illegal immigrants enters the port of the Italian island of Lampedusa escorted by a Coast Guard vessel on February 20. Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.

Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.

"In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees," University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate," she continued, outlining with the other speakers how is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food.

Southern Europe is already seeing a sharp increase in what has long been a slow but steady flow of migrants from Africa, many of whom risk their lives to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain from Morocco or sail in makeshift vessels to Italy from Libya and Tunisia.

The flow recently grew to a flood after a month of protests in Tunisia, set off by food shortages and widespread unemployment and poverty, brought down the government of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said Michigan State University professor Ewen Todd, who predicted there will be more of the same.

"What we saw in Tunisia -- a change in government and suddenly there are a whole lot of people going to Italy -- this is going to be the pattern," Todd told AFP.

"Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the , but we're going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in. And it was food shortages that put the people of Tunisia and Egypt over the top.

"In many Middle Eastern and North African countries," he continued, "you have a cocktail of politics, religion and other things, but often it's just poor people saying 'I've got to survive, I've got to eat, I've got to feed my family' that ignites things."

Poverty stricken Pakistani people eat free food outside a charitable organizations office in Karachi on February 16. Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.

Environmental refugees were described in 2001 by Norman Myers of Oxford University as "a new phenomenon" created by climate change.

"These are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with the associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty," Myers wrote in a journal of Britain's Royal Society in 2001.

"In their desperation, these people feel they have no alternative but to seek sanctuary elsewhere, however hazardous the attempt."

Monday's panel cited ways in which climate change has impacted food security and safety.

Warmer winters allow pests that carry plant diseases to survive over the cold months and attack crops in the spring, soil physicist Ray Knighton of the US Department of Agriculture said.

Increased rainfall -- another result of climate change -- when coupled with more fungal pathogens can "dramatically impact crop yield and quality," said Knighton, adding that greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollutants have changed plant structures and reduced crops' defenses to pests and pathogens.

Women wade through water covering the street and bridge connecting the suburbs on the outskirts of Chokwe, near the Limpopo river, Mozambique, in January 2011. Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.

Tirado noted that floods caused by heavy precipitation can spread diseases carried in animal waste into the human food chain.

The World Health Organization has estimated that 2.2 million deaths in developing countries are caused each year by food and water-borne diseases, said Sandra Hoffmann of the US Department of Agriculture.

And yet, the global economic crisis has pushed climate change "down in priority" on governments' to-do lists, said Todd.

"If you're suffering economically, climate change is not going to be the first thing you fund.

"Any action you take will be costly, be it in terms of prestige, economics, less oil... I think it's going to take a real crisis to get world opinion to change," he added.

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User comments : 34

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Modernmystic
2.5 / 5 (13) Feb 22, 2011
So when this bullshit prediction turns out to be...well..bullshit it will be interesting to hear the backpedaling. Oh wait, no it really won't, we've heard so much of that at this point it's getting passe'.
gvgoebel
5 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2011
There is nothing historically new about migrations of peoples in response to natural calamities -- droughts, volcanic eruptions, and the like.
Quantum_Conundrum
4 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
Wow, for my entire life Africa has been having food shortages and famines. Actually, the last 5 to 10 years they've been doing better than average.
d_robison
4 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
I'm with Quantum Conundrum on this one, there have been food shortages and clean water shortages in Africa for a long time now (as long as I can remember) and there have been refugee's and migrations from Africa due to political instability, war, famine, etc. for most of its modern history. By all means I'm not saying that it should be overlooked, merely stating that this article doesn't hold very much in terms of scientific arguements. Yes we can say some food shortages may occur due to x, y, and z, but predicting human behavior and linking a specific number to x, y, and z is pure speculation. It may be 5 million it may be 60 million, and it may not even be from food shortages...
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2011
Just imagine our dams breaking, half of the netherlands would be under water. that is like 12 millions of people already...
omatumr
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2011
"In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees," University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said


If the US Congress ends funding for the UN's IPCC, climate science will return to reality:

"Earth's Heat Source - The Sun"
Energy and Environment, vol. 20
(2009) pages 131-144

arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

"Neutron Repulsion"
The APEIRON Journal
in press (2011), 19 pages

arxiv.org/pdf/1102.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Oliver K. Manuel
geokstr
2 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
Wow, for my entire life Africa has been having food shortages and famines. Actually, the last 5 to 10 years they've been doing better than average.

It has gotten worse because of all the corn we've decided to make a poor gasoline substitute from. Food prices in third world toilets have therefore been going up because of the envirofreaks, not despite them, and may have contributed to the food riots in the Middle East. Unintended consequences are rarely beneficial for anyone.
Just imagine our dams breaking, half of the netherlands would be under water. that is like 12 millions of people already...

Yeah, once the glaciers of the Himalayas are all melted in 2035, that could happen. Plus don't forget the 100 foot tsunamis washing over Manhattan when the sea level increases by 4.76 inches in the next 100 years.
Caliban
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 22, 2011
It has gotten worse because of all the corn we've decided to make a poor gasoline substitute from. Food prices in third world toilets have therefore been going up because of the envirofreaks, not despite them,


Not quite right, geok. When Big Ag can make more profit for corn as biofuel feedstock, the dollar rules. Add to that the leverage of food commodities markets for vastly increased profits for traders and hedge funds, and the recipe for food shortages and bread riots is complete

You really should try to understand what forces drive these effects before you go off on some Glen Beck/Fux Yous rant.
Howhot
1 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2011
In my estimation, 2020 will be the beginning of the "Soylent Green" revolution. You guys that put your hands over your ears, and sing "LA LA LA... LA LA LA" good luck with that.
Howhot
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2011
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Oliver K. Manuel


It's a shame to have Apollo even associated with such stupidity.
d_robison
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2011
When looking at something like global climate change it is important to remember that the facts are:
-Humans have both positive and negative effects on our environment, as do other living beings and geological processes.
-The Earth has regular climate cycles.
-We don't know exactly how much of this changing climate is our doing, and how much is the planets normal cycle.
-There are a vast number of variables that need to be accounted for when looking at a system as large as an entire planet. Isolating these variables is a great way to begin to understand the entire process.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
-Humans have both positive and negative effects on our environment, as do other living beings and geological processes.

Where do we have a positive affect? All we humans do is fuck up the stable ecological systems.
-The Earth has regular climate cycles.

No it doesn't, the earth follows the laws of physics. Thermodynamics, conservative energy law etc. Look up Gaia Theory.
-We don't know exactly how much of this changing climate is our doing, and how much is the planets normal cycle.

Maybe YOU don't but as a whole human race we have a pretty good idea, just the ignorant/corrupt people are a problem. Ex. sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110222083153.htm
-There are a vast number of variables that need to be accounted for when looking at a system as large as an entire planet. Isolating these variables is a great way to begin to understand the entire process.

And that is what climate models are doing, adopt variables as we learn more and more about climate.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
Fifty million "environmental refugees" will flood into the global north by 2020


Does anyone have the original source material for this? I wonder if this quote is out of context or not. For example, are they doing a running accumulated total starting from now (or maybe starting from some prior date), or is this an anual number?

As for the recent uprisings; I thought it was relatively affluent students who started it, using twitter and other social networks. The complaints I've heard most are about jobs and social freedom rather than food and water. Many of the food/water problems in Africa are artificially caused by wars and profiteering rather than not actually having enough to go around. It doesn't help when one of their leaders sells all the food they got from the UN for free in order to buy guns and then they blow up the water treatment plants we build too.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2011
Continued:

My Uncle is a retired US Army Colonel. He works as a civilian contractor now and makes frequent trips to Africa in places like Zimbabwe and Jabooty (spelling?). There are ships full of food and medicine waiting in ports because the local tyrants want a bribe before they will let them unload. You wouldn't believe how stupid some of the crap that goes on there can be. The biggest problem is really education he thinkgs. Most of the common people have no way to attend a school in their lifetime. There aren't enough people with the skills required to maintain good public infrastructure. You can build a road with UN money, but who is going to maintain it? Moving from Africa to Europe is like using a time machine to go from the middle ages to modern times for those people. The places they live now are practically in the stone age in many ways. There just aren't any opportunities and the leaders like it that way.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2011
@ Kaasinees:

I disagree with most of your points, but agree with some of them too. The 1/5 I gave you was mainly for the obscene language. I won't take you seriously as long as your comments are so crude.

So, how about you explain what is so bad about my post? I love to debate actual points of fact, if you can point out where you think I am wrong without using the F word, which is against commenting policy here.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2011
With what did you disagree and why.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2011
With what did you disagree and why


Where do we have a positive affect? All we humans do is fuck up the stable ecological systems


1)You are from the Netherlands? Is reclaiming the land from the ocean a positive effect? Is irrigation of millions of acres of the US West a good thing? Are man made lakes a good thing? It's very subjective, so there isn't a 'correct' answer.

2) There is no such thing as a 'stable' ecosystem. Ecosystems are dynamic; they change all the time, with or without people. People did not cause the Sahara to expand over the past 10k years, for example. Rivers change course on their own. Mountains rise and fall. Continents move. This is also subjective though. Do you think the planet cares if we build a road? Do plants do better or worse as we increase the CO2 in the air? There's no 'correct' answer.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2011
You are confusing geology with ecosystems, sadly.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
continued:

No it doesn't, the earth follows the laws of physics. Thermodynamics, conservative energy law etc. Look up Gaia Theory


Look up chaotic nonlinear systems. I think that represents ecosystems better than the Gaia Hypothesis. I like some parts of Gaia, but it is a little too idealistic in my opinion. I think the earth is more like a brutal war zone of nature, rather than a beautiful symbiosis. For example, trees are tall so that they can get all the sunlight and kill off all the shorter plants below them, and their roots are deep so that they can get all the water too. All living things who share a niche constantly try to kill off all the other living things that compete in that same niche. Humans are a product of that world, not an intruder in it. We just happen to be the best nich-invaders on the planet amongst all the other living things which are less successfull nich invaders than us.

You asked for my opinion. Yours could be better than mine. Who knows.
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2011
You are confusing geology with ecosystems, sadly


No, when the North and South American continents joined a few hundred k years ago, that changed the climate patters around half the world profoundly. Distribution of life around the world changed as a result. You cannot look at biodiversity and ecosystem changes without looking at geology. If an area rises in elevation by 100 feet due to upheaval, that's going to have a pretty profound effect on the things living there. Changes of a few feet can happen in a single earthquake. It is actually quite common. That can have effects on tides and ocean currents, wind patterns, rainfall, etc. Sometimes it doesn't take much to cause a really big change even thousands of miles away. My point is that change is continuous and sometimes rapid. Stability is an illusion caused by the length of human life and memory.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2011
Distribution of life around the world changed as a result


Humans are a product of that world, not an intruder in it.


So do you get my point now?

Human evolution is recursive, we learn from the world and with what we learned we reshape our world, by reshaping our world we learn and then we reshape again.
Most lifeforms are not flexible like us, microbes are not flexible they just evolve/adapt fast, and some other lifeforms are just robust, like most insects.

My point is life has developed over many millions of years, us screwing up ecosystems with polution and direct interaction in matter of days will cause ecosystems to damage beyond repair. We are killing off biodeversity that took millions of years to develop, also we have evolved to use that biodeversity, also this biodeversity is what keeps our planet in balance. It is just a matter of time before biodeversity hits a critical point beyond repair.
GSwift7
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2011
Maybe YOU don't but as a whole human race we have a pretty good idea, just the ignorant/corrupt people are a problem


I can cite the relevant portions of the IPCC AR4 if you have not seen them. There are many uncertainties according to them.

And that is what climate models are doing, adopt variables as we learn more and more about climate


I agree with that part. Each time we learn something new, we are able to tighten the constraints on unknown factors and things that are too complex to model completely. They are getting much better. The CESM is a great advance.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
will cause ecosystems to damage beyond repair


we have fundamental difference of opinion. I would have worded that in the following way:

will cause ecosystems to change in unpredictable ways which can be equally viewed as positive or negative depending on priorities and those change are in many instances only temporary. There are many cases where human caused stress has resulted in the benefit of some species over others. Many of the extinctions you most likely fear are actually caused by humans allowing some other species to over-succede and wipe out their competition in a niche.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2011
also this biodeversity is what keeps our planet in balance. It is just a matter of time before biodeversity hits a critical point beyond repair


Again we are looking at things through different colored glasses.

1)I don't think life keeps the planet in balance. I don't think there is a grand plan by some God/Gaia super-being. I think the planet is one of countless planets in the Universe. Life is here right now. Life attempts to self-replicate for some strange reason we can't explain. I don't view that as inherently good or evil. The universe will be fine without dolphins or with them.

2)I would not use the generalization of 'critical point beyond repair'. Some areas will change one way and others will change another way. It's difficult to say whether the net effect is good or bad. Judgement call really. Which are better grizzly or polar bears. Expand one, extinct the other. Good? Bad? Who knows. I would say the Grizzly bears would call melted ice a repair not damage.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2011
Maybe YOU don't but as a whole human race we have a pretty good idea, just the ignorant/corrupt people are a problem
I can cite the relevant portions of the IPCC AR4 if you have not seen them. There are many uncertainties according to them.
That's only about 24 years out of date now.
geokstr
1 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
You really should try to understand what forces drive these effects before you go off on some Glen Beck/Fux Yous rant.

I'd put my understanding of those "forces" up against yours any day of the week. But - been there, done that already. It was like having a battle of wits with an unarmed 12 year old.

Say, isn't that your Mom I hear calling you up to dinner?
ChiRaven
5 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
A LOT of the starvation in Africa is political, not climate, driven. Someone above mention Zimbabwe. One of the worst cases of a starving population on the continent. The nation of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was one of the largest EXPORTERS of food in Africa; now people starve. Climate didn't do that, corruption and total mismanagement did that. Productive farms were taken from the people who knew how to run them and handed over to "veterans" politically loyal to the new dictator, who had not a rat's a** idea how to grow anything. Production dropped precipitously, and people starved. And now even relief supplies can't get through to starving people because of political corruption.

SOME refugees are victims of climate change, true. But a lot of them are victims of the endless wars, dictators, and corrupt leaders that have characterized that part of the world for decades.
kaasinees
3 / 5 (6) Feb 23, 2011
I don't think there is a grand plan by some God/Gaia super-being.

Gaia Theory says nothing about godlike entities being involed in the life of Terra.
Life is here right now. Life attempts to self-replicate for some strange reason we can't explain. I don't view that as inherently good or evil.

This is exactly what Gaia Theory describes. Try reading some books about it, its pretty interesting.
The universe will be fine without dolphins or with them.

But for the planet to support human beings, that might not be the case.
It's difficult to say whether the net effect is good or bad.

We are attacking the planet on every front. Try healing your body while you keep getting stressed all the time and no good sleep, your sickness might even get worse.
Judgement call really.

i agree.
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2011
You really should try to understand what forces drive these effects before you go off on some Glen Beck/Fux Yous rant.

I'd put my understanding of those "forces" up against yours any day of the week. But - been there, done that already. It was like having a battle of wits with an unarmed 12 year old.

Say, isn't that your Mom I hear calling you up to dinner?


Nah -that's your mom telling you to either swallow or spit out what's in your mouth before you speak.
Even I have had to remind you of how unmannerly it is to speak with a mouthful of what I gave you to put in it.

You ain't got nothing to back up your claims, so you resort to 3rd grade antics to try and cover up your lack.

ted208
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2011
Fifty million "environmental refugees"
More AGW warmist BS. Having spent many years in Africa, the whole continent is cursed with tribalism, overpopulation and a reckless disregard for the land or the environment they will simply wear it down and it will be nothing to do with the western nations or a warmist wet dream CO2.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2011
That's only about 24 years out of date now


okay, then google the following:

Cloudy with a chance of leaves: reducing climate uncertainty

Cloud and biological feedbacks are still a big question mark as well as changes in ocean circulation and stratification. I'm sure you can find journal papers as recent as 2011 about them. Those are some of the uncertainties the IPCC AR4 spoke of and they are still uncertainties. The models have many paramaterizations that are not well constrained.

A LOT of the starvation in Africa is political, not climate, driven. Someone above mention Zimbabwe


That was me. My Uncle writes official reports about it for the US Army. He is an expert and spends months at a time there. He says the same thing you said, for the most part. They could have plenty of food if they had the political/social/technological infrastructure to produce and distribute it. The people running things are thugs with a preschool education and a gun.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2011
Gaia Theory says nothing about godlike entities being involed in the life of Terra


I stand corrected on that point. My statement is a common criticism of the Gaia theory, but I see that it is a straw man criticism. Sorry about my confusion.
d_robison
3 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2011
@kaasinees

The Earth does go through regular climate cycles and yes this is due to the laws of physics. The Earth is constantly trying to reach equilibrium, the mere fact that it DOES have climate cycles is a great example of both tectonic forces moving continents to different regions of the Earth, and the fact that it is trying to reach equilibrium.

Secondly, models are only tools, they are not laws. To claim that our models are 100% accurate (or even close), and that all variables are accounted for is very ignorant indeed.

Now, do I believe the human race should try to do a better job at melding into the planetary ecosystem instead of trying to control it? Yes. Do I believe we should try our hardest to save every single species and change every single aspect of our planet to make it "perfect?" No, because if we force a system into equilibrium we might as well kill most life on Earth. Being arrogant enough to claim we know what's best for the Earth is what will destroy it.
d_robison
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2011
Continued:

Some species are meant to die off, others are meant to thrive. That is the cold truth about evolution. If we actively try to save or consume our environment we are causing an imbalance in our planet. Let life on Earth sort itself out, try to have as little net effect on the environment as possible. We are not "Gods," only creatures.