Ashy exile — and climate consciousness

Blog by
26 April 2010

When Iceland’s unruly volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted last week, the focus was largely on disrupted flights. But viewed from a different perspective, this is a small reminder that natural disasters can displace people and incur massive costs.

Of course, it’s a pinprick compared to recent devastating earthquakes, or the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. But any awareness of what ‘environmental displacement’ actually means is key; as we collectively head into coming decades of what may be climate change-fuelled turmoil.

If richer countries can comprehend to even the slightest degree of what people in say Bangladesh are already dealing with, collective action might come easier.

What the dust did

When volcano Eyjafjallajoekull blew a fine ash cloud covered the sky making it unsafe for planes to enter the air.

For a total of six days airports in the UK were closed as well as many other European airports. Travellers were stranded, schools were closed, and tourism was slowed as business was unable to continue as usual. Many European airlines and tourism agencies were heading toward bankruptcy due to cancelled flights and reimbursements.

Real displacement

People stranded on holiday or business trips abroad experienced a range of impacts. Those with more financial assets could more easily adapt to the new situation as they could afford extended hotel stays or alternative means of travel such as car rentals. Others relied on travel insurance or even charitable organisations for food and shelter until transportation was offered. Some camped out on the floor of airports for the duration, having exhausted their funds.

The effects of climate change on the developing world put all this in the shade. Last year, the Carteret Islanders in Papua New Guinea were forced off their ancestral home by rising sea levels—making them what many called the world’s first environmental refugees.

Other island countries such as the Maldives are likely to be next on this list.

The coming decades and centuries will wreak further havoc in the South. A study from US-based Purdue University, for instance, shows that a large percentage of the populations of Bangladesh, Mexico and Zambia could suffer from the effects of climate extremes. Citizens may be displaced; those already in poverty will further rely on aid and government resources for help.

In countries where the government is unable to help and create solutions, conflicts will arise over the available natural resources. Such conflicts are already occurring in Madagascar, Niger and Senegal.

Since the beginning of 2010, the world has seen several devastating natural disasters. And according to an article in NewScientist, climate change could increase the occurrence of natural disasters in the future.

We all, as human beings must rely on each other for help as our world is increasingly tightly linked through processes such as globalisation.

In preventing catastrophic disaster we must work to decrease our contribution to climate change. Now is the time to starting thinking about how you can best help your global neighbour. Even during times of recession, reducing your carbon footprint, shopping wisely, and investing socially can help bring the transformation needed to combat climate change.

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