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← Climate change will displace millions. Here's how we prepare

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Showing Revision 7 created 01/10/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. It was about two years
    after Hurricane Katrina
  2. that I first saw the Louisiana flood maps.
  3. These flood maps are used
    to show land loss in the past
  4. and land loss that is to come.
  5. On this particular day,
    at a community meeting,
  6. these maps were used to explain
  7. how a 30-foot tidal surge
    that accompanied Hurricane Katrina
  8. could flood communities like mine
    in south Louisiana
  9. and communities across
    the Mississippi and Alabama coast.
  10. It turns out that the land we were losing
    was our buffer from the sea.
  11. I volunteered to interact
    with the graphics on the wall,
  12. and in an instant my life changed
    for the second time in two years.
  13. The graphic showed
    massive land loss in south Louisiana
  14. and an encroaching sea,
  15. but more specifically, the graphic showed
    the disappearance of my community
  16. and many other communities
    before the end of the century.
  17. I wasn't alone at the front of the room.

  18. I was standing there with other members
    of south Louisiana's communities --
  19. black, Native, poor.
  20. We thought we were just bound
    by temporary disaster recovery,
  21. but we found that we were now bound
    by the impossible task
  22. of ensuring that our communities
    would not be erased by sea level rise
  23. due to climate change.
  24. Friends, neighbors, family, my community:
  25. I just assumed it would always be there.
  26. Land, trees, marsh, bayous:
  27. I just assumed that it would be there
    as it had been for thousands of years.
  28. I was wrong.
  29. To understand what was happening
    to my community,

  30. I had to talk to other communities
    around the globe.
  31. I started in south Louisiana
    with the United Houma Nation.
  32. I talked to youth advocates
    in Shishmaref, Alaska.
  33. I talked to fisherwomen
    in coastal Vietnam,
  34. justice fighters in Fiji,
  35. new generations of leaders
  36. in the ancient cultures
    of the Torres Straits.
  37. Communities that had been here
    for thousands of years
  38. were suffering the same fate,
  39. and we were all contemplating
    how we would survive the next 50.
  40. By the end of the next century,

  41. it's predicted that
    more than 180 million people
  42. will be displaced due to climate change,
  43. and in south Louisiana,
  44. those who can afford to do so
    are already moving.
  45. They're moving because
    south Louisiana is losing land
  46. at one of the fastest rates on the planet.
  47. Disappearance is what my bayou community
  48. has in common with
    other coastal communities.
  49. Erasure is what communities
    around the globe are fighting
  50. as we get real about
    the impacts of climate change.
  51. I've spent the last 14 years
    advocating on behalf of communities

  52. that have been directly impacted
    by the climate crisis.
  53. These communities
    are fighting discrimination
  54. within climate disaster recovery,
  55. and they're also trying to balance
    mass displacement of people
  56. with an influx of others
  57. who see opportunity in starting anew.
  58. Since 2005, people
    have been called "refugees"
  59. when they leave when they're displaced
    by climate disaster,
  60. even when they don't cross
    international borders.
  61. These terms, these misused terms,
  62. that are meant to identify the other,
  63. the victim,
  64. the person who is not supposed to be here,
  65. these terms are barriers
  66. to economic recovery,
  67. to social integration
  68. and to the healing required from
    the climate crisis and climate trauma.
  69. Words matter.
  70. It also matters how we treat
    people who are crossing borders.
  71. We should care about how people
    who are crossing borders today
  72. to seek refuge and safety
    are being treated,
  73. if for no other reason than it might
    be you or someone you love
  74. who needs to exercise
    their human right to migrate
  75. in the nearby future.
  76. We must start preparing
    for global migration today.

  77. It's a reality now.
  78. Our cities and our communities
    are not prepared.
  79. In fact, our economic system
    and our social systems
  80. are only prepared to make profit
    off of people who migrate.
  81. This will cause rounds
    of climate gentrification,
  82. and it will also penalize
    the movement of people,
  83. usually through exploited labor
  84. and usually through criminalization.
  85. Climate gentrification that happens
    in anticipation of sea level rise
  86. is what we're seeing in places like Miami,
  87. where communities
    that were kept from the waterfront
  88. are now being priced out
    of the high ground
  89. where they were placed originally
  90. as people move away from the coast.
  91. These folks are being moved,
    forced to relocate away
  92. from the social and economic systems
    that they need to survive.
  93. Climate gentrification also happens
    in the aftermath of climate disaster.

  94. When massive amounts
    of people leave a location
  95. for an indefinite amount of time,
  96. we see others come in.
  97. We also see climate gentrification happen
  98. when damaged homes are now "green built,"
  99. but now have a higher value,
  100. generally outside of the reach
    of black and brown and poor people
  101. who want to return home.
  102. The price difference in rents
    or the ownership of a house
  103. is the difference between
    being able to practice your right,
  104. your human right
    to return home as a community,
  105. or be forced to resettle somewhere else
  106. less climate resilient,
  107. less expensive
  108. and alone.
  109. The climate crisis
    is a much larger conversation

  110. than reducing CO2 emissions,
  111. and it is a much different conversation
    than just extreme weather.
  112. We're facing a shift
    in every aspect of our global reality.
  113. And climate migration
    is just one small part,
  114. but it's going to have ripple effects
  115. in both coastal cities
    and cities in the interior.
  116. So what do we do?

  117. I have a few ideas.
  118. (Laughter)

  119. First, we must reframe
    our understanding of the problem.

  120. Climate change is not the problem.
  121. Climate change
    is the most horrible symptom
  122. of an economic system
  123. that has been built for a few
  124. to extract every precious value
    out of this planet and its people,
  125. from our natural resources
  126. to the fruits of our human labor.
  127. This system has created this crisis.
  128. (Applause)

  129. We must have the courage
    to admit we've taken too much.

  130. We cannot close our eyes to the fact
  131. that the entire world is paying a price
  132. for the privilege and comfort
    of just a few people on the planet.
  133. It's time for us to make
    society-wide changes
  134. to a system that incentivizes consumption
  135. to the point of global imbalance.
  136. Our social, political and economic
    systems of extraction
  137. must be transformed into systems
    that regenerate the earth
  138. and advance human liberty globally.
  139. It is arrogance to think
    that technology will save us.
  140. It is ego to think that we can continue
  141. this unjust and extractive approach
    to living on this planet
  142. and survive.
  143. (Applause)

  144. To survive this next phase
    of our human existence,

  145. we will need to restructure
    our social and economic systems
  146. to develop our collective resilience.
  147. The social restructuring must be
    towards restoration and repair
  148. of the earth
  149. and the communities
    that have been extracted from,
  150. criminalized
  151. and targeted for generations.
  152. These are the frontlines.
  153. This is where we start.
  154. We must establish a new social attitude
    to see migration as a benefit,

  155. a necessity for our global survival,
  156. not as a threat
    to our individual privilege.
  157. Collective resilience means developing
    cities that can receive people
  158. and provide housing,
  159. food, water, health care
  160. and the freedom from overpolicing
  161. for everyone,
  162. no matter who they are,
  163. no matter where they're from.
  164. What would it mean if we started
    to plan for climate migration now?

  165. Sprawling cities or declining cities
    could see this as an opportunity
  166. to rebuild a social infrastructure
    rooted in justice and fairness.
  167. We could actually put money
    into public hospitals
  168. and help them prepare
  169. for what is to come
    through climate migration,
  170. including the trauma
    that comes with loss and relocation.
  171. We can invest more of our time in justice,
  172. but it cannot be for temporary gain,
  173. it cannot be to help budget shortfalls,
  174. it has to be for long-term change
  175. and it has to be to advance justice.
  176. It's already possible, y'all.
  177. After Hurricane Katrina,

  178. universities and high schools
    around the US took in students
  179. to help them finish their semester
    or their year without missing a beat.
  180. Those students are now
    productive assets in our community,
  181. and this is what our communities,
    our businesses and our institutions
  182. need to get ready for now.
  183. The time is now.
  184. So as we reframe the problem
    in a more truthful way

  185. and we restructure our social systems
    in a more just way,
  186. all that will be left is for us
    to reindigenize ourselves
  187. and to conjure a power
    of the most ancient kind.
  188. This necessarily means
    that we must learn to follow --
  189. not tokenize, not exotify, not dismiss --
  190. the leadership and
    the traditional knowledge
  191. of a particular local place.
  192. It means that we must commit
    to standards of ecological equity
  193. and climate justice and human rights
  194. as the basis, a base standard,
  195. a starting point,
  196. for where our new society is to go.
  197. All of this requires us to recognize
    a power greater than ourselves

  198. and a life longer
    than the ones we will live.
  199. It requires us to believe in the things
    that we are privileged enough
  200. not to have to see.
  201. We must honor the rights of nature.
  202. We must advance human rights for all.
  203. We must transform from a disposable,
  204. individual society
  205. into one that sees our collective,
    long-term humanity,
  206. or else we will not make it.
  207. We must see that even the best of us
    are entangled in an unjust system,
  208. and we must acknowledge
  209. that the only way you're going to survive
  210. is for us to figure out
  211. how to reach a shared liberation together.
  212. The good news is

  213. we come from powerful people.
  214. We come from those who have,
    in one way or another,
  215. survived so far to be us here today.
  216. This is reason enough to fight.
  217. And take it from
    your south Louisiana friend,
  218. those hardest fights
    are the ones to celebrate.
  219. Let's choose to make this next phase
    of our planetary existence beautiful,
  220. and while we're at it,
  221. let's make it just and fair for everyone.
  222. We can do this, y'all.

  223. We can do this,
  224. because we must.
  225. We must, or else we lose our planet
  226. and we lose ourselves.
  227. The work starts here.
  228. The work starts together.
  229. This is my offering.
  230. Thank you for receiving it. Merci.

  231. (Applause)