Climate disaster victims may face forced retreat: 3 stories you may have missed

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Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Stay or go? Climate disaster victims face wrenching decision 

In the face of climate change, not everyone has the same options.  

The story: As sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent, many coastal communities must decide whether to retreat or face the consequences of climate change head on, reported Daniel Cusick for Scientific American. But low-income families, people of color and Indigenous communities that depend on nature or lack the financial means to flee may have fewer options, experts say

“Property owners on the front lines of climate disasters often stay put for reasons that have little to do with risk but everything to do with quality of life, familial bonds and shared history,” writes Cusick. 

The big picture: Recent research revealed that 19 percent of the world’s land could be inhospitable by 2070, which will largely impact areas in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide may be displaced from their homes, scientists estimate, which could exacerbate conflicts over resources and put increased pressure on cities around the world.

To minimize this threat, countries must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change, while adapting to unavoidable climate impacts by working collaboratively with local communities

Read more here

Some species — and the parasites they carry — are following warming temperatures to new parts of the world. 

The story: Global warming is forcing species to migrate, following climates that are suited to their survival. In many cases, they are carrying parasites with them, reported Agostino Petroni for NPR. 

For example, in many tropical countries, rodents and sand flies carry leishmania — a parasite that eats the flesh of its host — and “as climate change pushes rodent and sand fly habitat northward … an increasing number of U.S. residents could be exposed to different varieties of the flesh-eating parasite,” Petroni writes. 

The big picture: According to experts, climate change is not the only factor increasing human exposure to zoonotic diseases from nature. 

“When human activities such as logging and mining disrupt and degrade these ecosystems, animals are forced closer together and are more likely to be stressed or sick, as well as more likely to come into contact with people,” Conservation International scientist Lee Hannah told Conservation News. “In these conditions, diseases bounce back and forth between wildlife populations and humans.” 

Read more here

Two-thirds of drinking water in the United States originates in forests, but fires could put crucial freshwater reservoirs at risk. 

The story: Fueled by climate change, forest fires are becoming more frequent and severe across the western United States. Not only do these fires threaten people, wildlife and properties, they can also contaminate the drinking water that forest ecosystems provide, reported Henry Fountain for The New York Times. When it rains, erosion from fire-damaged forest slopes could flood rivers with sediment, debris and heavy metals. “This could clog intake pipes, reduce the capacity of reservoirs, cause algal blooms and cloud and contaminate the water, sharply raising maintenance and treatment costs,” Fountain writes. 

The big picture: Spreading mulch, seeds and straw throughout the forest can help stop sediment and debris from contaminating crucial freshwater sources. However, these efforts are not infallible. 

“We don’t have great information on, or the ability to predict, when and where those rain events are going to happen,” freshwater expert Jennifer Kovecses told The New York Times. “We could mitigate every square inch of our high-priority area, but the storms may happen somewhere else.” 

Experts agree the most effective strategy to prevent contamination from fires is to limit the fires themselves by slowing climate change and improving forest management. 

Read more here.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Water coming over the streets in Kemah, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey (© Shutterstock