Conflict and inequality are forcing people to leave their homes. Climate change is making matters worse.

With hurricane season still lingering, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid discussions involving climate change. While climate change may not necessarily cause a hurricane, warming temperatures will certainly make them worse. There’s plenty of scientific research that shows this, however the extent of what happens after a hurricane hits – that is how communities cope – is still widely under studied.

We’ve all seen the jarring photos of communities demolished post hurricane. But what those photos don’t tell us is how and where people move. Typically, it is communities of color sitting at the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder that are at most risk, and have the least access to critical resources needed to move.

It’s estimated that 7 million people globally were displaced due to natural disasters in just the last 6 months - and that’s not including Hurricane Dorian victims. A report, published last week by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), shows that when people are not forced to leave their communities by physical forces such as a hurricane, they are driven away due to conflict, violence, and political unrest.

Displacement is an issue rooted in inequity and exacerbated by climate change. In the United States, rising costs of housing, gentrification, redevelopment, negligent landlords (in addition to catastrophic disasters) are squeezing our country’s poorest communities into living conditions that are even less equipped to bounce back if a natural disaster were to occur. They are hotter, more exposed to pollution, have limited access to public transit, and have less access to green spaces – all factors negatively impacting physical and mental well-being. The Urban Displacement Project has a great 5-minute explainer video about displacement and its long-term impacts.

We need to better understand the root cause of displacement, how to prevent it, and how to better serve those who have already been displaced.

There is growing research on the consequences of displacement, however more must be done to understand what communities and government officials are doing to incorporate climate change into their decision making. In an effort to better understand how those concerned with climate change are thinking about displacement, EcoAdapt is conducting a survey asking community leaders, organizations, and government officials what they’re doing and what else must be done. This project is part of a broader project in collaboration with  Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) and the Urban Displacement Project.

Conversations about displacement shouldn’t stop once a hurricane has passed or after a family has been evicted. Studies like the IDMC’s put a number on how many people globally are forcibly displaced from their homes. And studies like EcoAdapt’s puts displacement in the context of climate change and helps us understand what needs to be done to help our most vulnerable communities. The results from the study will be shared with communities and organizations that are actively addressing displacement issues, and will help them develop the most effective messaging strategies that have the best chance of being adopted into policy.

Interim survey data report that some of the most frequently mentioned adaptation strategies by anti-displacement practitioners considering climate change effects in their work include:
  • Increase and diversity the supply of affordable housing options (e.g., funding, inclusionary housing/zoning, tax incentives, dedicating public land to housing, accessory dwelling units)
  • Incorporate anti-displacement criteria into investment and development rubrics
  • Integrate anti-displacement measures (e.g., affordable housing) into green infrastructure projects
  • Ensure that reliable transportation means are co-located with affordable housing
  • Integrate equity and just economy principles into climate action and resilience plans
  • Invest in workforce development (e.g., job training, green jobs)
  • Incorporate climate change and racial/ethnic equity impact assessments into policy and investment decision-making
  • Improve living wages to keep pave with cost of living
Nongovernmental or community organizations were most represented in the survey responses collected for the interim report. While there is much work being down at those levels and sectors, the project aims to collect data from academia, state, federal, and tribal governments as well as the private sector. Interim results from the survey also show lower response representation in the following geographical areas:
  • Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina;
  • Caribbean: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Pacific Islands: American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia
  • Central:Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin
  • Western: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
If you are an anti-displacement practitioner located in one of the aforementioned locations of low representation, please consider taking the survey and/or sending the survey to colleagues or organizations you think may be interested in taking part. The survey will remain open until October 15th.

If you have any questions concerning this project, survey, or EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program, please contact EcoAdapt's Senior Scientist Rachel M. Gregg.

Post content written by EcoAdapt's CAKE Program Assistant Tera Johnson,

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Images: (1) Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Stanton, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, (2) Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash