Extreme Weather Is Creating American Climate Refugees

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty

Devastating floods have swept through Midwestern states including Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas this week, causing damage to homes and farms, and putting many at risk of losing their livelihoods, according to NBC.

Farmers, many of whom are already struggling economically, are particularly hard hit by the extreme weather.

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“We’ve done this before,” David Lueth, 61, who has farmed in Iowa for 35 years, told NBC. “But I just don’t know if I want to go through it again.”

Experts say the destructive flooding is a symptom of climate change. Warmer temperatures, rapid snowmelt, and unusually heavy rains have all contributed to the deluge.

The floods have already caused $1.4 billion of damages in Nebraska alone, and the Missouri River has burst a dozen levees. Three people are dead as a result.

Many farmers have lost millions of dollars worth of harvests thanks to the flooding. In the midst of President Trump’s trade wars, this is especially bad news.

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From NBC:

In Fremont County alone, local farmers pulled together a quick estimate that the flood affected 28 local producers’ farmland. Of those who stored grain, only three were able to move theirs before the water came and ruined nearly 1.8 million bushels of corn and soybeans.

Much of the grain lost by these Iowa farmers is uninsured, and they estimate that they lost a total of 390,000 bushels of soy and 1.4 million bushels of corn — totaling about $7.3 million in damage to their farm operations. For context, American farmers yielded 14.42 billion bushels of corn and soybeans between September 2017 and August 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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NBC reported that the town of Hamburg, IA, is experiencing the worst flooding anyone there can remember, and people are considering leaving the community behind.

“I think people will leave. I honestly do,” Charlie Winkler, who has lived in the town nearly his entire life, told NBC. “We lost a lot last time and major businesses got hit this time around.”

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Unfortunately for these communities, there’s no sign of the floods improving. In fact, the flooding could get much worse throughout the spring, according to NBC.

“The major flooding we’ve already experienced across the lower Missouri [River region] and the lower to middle Mississippi [River] valley is a preview to what we expect the rest of the spring,” National Weather Service deputy director Mary C. Erickson told NBC. “In fact, we expect the flooding will get worse and become more widespread.”

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Reading all this, it’s not hard to imagine that climate change will soon make large areas of the U.S. unlivable, creating a huge amount of internal displacement. Researchers say that’s already happening. Some estimates have calculated that 1.5 million Americans were forced from their homes by climate-related disasters in 2017 alone. The World Bank estimated in 2018 that 140 million people across the globe could be internally displaced by climate change by 2050.

Scientists say that cities must prepare for the influx of internal climate refugees.

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“While the focus on reducing carbon emissions is vital to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, cities are missing a big part of the climate change challenge by failing to plan for climate migration,” Victoria Herrmann, the managing director of the Arctic Institute wrote in an op-ed for Scientific American last year. “By including displacement in their planning, city governments can rise up to proactively address the mass migrations of climate change—and bring the country closer together in the process.”

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