The headline in Grist is grim: “Climate change is forcing people to migrate and the world doesn’t have a plan to handle it.”
But the story cites a grand total of two people who claim to be climate refugees. They are a couple who overstayed their visa in New Zealand and when they were busted decided that all of a sudden they were climate refugees.
The couple is from Kiribati, an island in the central Pacific. A Google search for ‘Is Kiribati Disappearing’ yields 97,500 results. And the first few pages of search results certainly give the impression that the answer is yes, Kiribati is disappearing.
The only problem is that Kiribati is gaining land, not losing it to the sea. Since the 1950s the three main urbanised islands also “grew” – Betio by 30 percent (36ha), Bairiki by 16.3 percent (5.8ha) and Nanikai by 12.5 percent (0.8ha). The islands are mostly comprised of coral debris eroded from encircling reefs and pushed up onto the islands by winds and waves. The process is continuous, because the corals are alive. In effect the islands respond to changes in weather patterns and climate – for example, Cyclone Bebe deposited 140ha of sediment on the eastern reef of Tuvalu in 1972, increasing the main island’s area by 10 percent.
Since 1960 the population of Kiribati has grown, not shrunk. People are not migrating away from Kiribati due to climate change. In 1960 the population was 35,000. By 2013 it had grown to 100,000.
But back to Grim’s–I mean Grist’s fairy tale. “While island nations like Kiribati face total inundation, other regions less existentially threatened still face an increase in weather-related disasters like droughts and hurricanes — and people who flee such disasters aren’t covered under the refugee convention.”
Except that the 100 year trend globally for drought is negative. (Very slightly–it’s not statistically significant. But it is negative–see here.) As for hurricanes, gasp in horror at the dramatic increase in hurricane frequency and intensity shown here:
Grist writes with increasing worry: “One thing we know is that, time and time again, the people who are least responsible for creating global warming are the ones most often forced to find new places to live because of it.”
But they haven’t found anyone who has actually had to, you know, move because of global warming. Anybody.
And they (thankfully) close with: “As it stands, one person is displaced each and every single second because of a natural disaster. That’s more than 25 million displaced people every year since 2008 — millions of whom can blame climate change for their plight.”
But they haven’t found one person who fits the description.
How does Grist get away with this?