Climate impacts and disasters are pushing more and more people to leave their homes and face the unknown—a heartbreaking part of the climate crisis that’s expected to accelerate in the coming decades. We’re already seeing it: as coasts move inland, and wildfires, floods, mudslides, and droughts worsen, many more will seek higher ground or the perceived safety of more northerly climes.
Here in North America, Louisiana is losing land to the Gulf at the rate of one football field every 100 minutes, and communities from Florida to Alaska are trying to relocate away from disappearing coastlines, but are facing enormous barriers. Hurricane Katrina displaced more than a million people, 40 percent of whom never returned home. Over the past several years, whole towns have been destroyed by wildfires, including Paradise, California, and Lytton, British Columbia. Soon, the sweeping shifts of the population in North America may eclipse the Great Migration or the Dust Bowl exodus.
216 million people will be climate refugees by 2050.
On average, climate disasters have forced 21.5 million people across the globe to move every year since 2010. Think of the increased tension and violence at the US’s southern border in the last few years. Many of those seeking refuge were Central American migrants forced to flee drought that’s resulting in crop failures in their home countries. Experts also believe the Syrian refugee crisis is underpinned by drought, famine, and the instability they create. And as sea levels rise, cities like Jakarta have proposed “managed retreat,” i.e. government-organized evacuation and resettlement, instead of trying to continuously rebuild after storms. The entire Pacific nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land elsewhere, in what could be the first climate-caused relocation of a whole country.
All in all, it’s estimated that 216 million people will be climate refugees by 2050—and the world is woefully unequipped to help them. As we know from the mistreatment of Central American migrants at the US border, current international law doesn’t protect climate migrants as refugees—though many people are fighting to change that. What’s egregiously unjust and cruel is that the majority of climate migrants are from communities and cultures that did little to cause the climate crisis but are bearing the first and worst impacts of it.
As the climate crisis worsens, the threat of ecofascism grows more real.
Good Energy doesn’t believe in telling writers what not to write. However, we humbly but fervently request—beg—that you steer away from depictions that demonize or stoke fear of climate migrants. As the climate crisis worsens, the threat of ecofascism grows more real. Climate philosopher Naomi Klein explains ecofascism as “a hypernationalist, white supremacist worldview that fuels the calls to harden borders at the softer end. At the harder end, it can express itself through the idea that climate change is a divine purging.” It’s the idea that (usually white) wealthy people should get into a metaphorical lifeboat and refuse to let anyone else on board. Even though said wealthy people did far more to cause the shipwreck in the first place.
Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful parable of the dangers of ecofascism: Gilead is a super climate-friendly and super evil society.
And we’re already seeing the seeds of ecofascism IRL in the rise of ethnonationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism around the world. We’re seeing politicians who cast migrants as faceless hordes and anarchist criminals infiltrating Western borders. And there have even recent acts of mass violence like the murder of 22 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, which the murderer—who explicitly targeted “Mexicans”—justified on environmental grounds. This is one category of climate story we don’t want to see on-screen (unless it’s skewering or satirizing this atrocious worldview—like The Handmaid’s Tale).
The way we choose to tell these human stories could not be more important. After all, there’s growing research to suggest that climate fiction really does help shape the futures people dream and live towards—making it all the more crucial that we collectively Just Say No (to ecofascism).
Besides, there’s a lot of beauty to be found in the story of migration. As journalist Sonia Shah points out in her book The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move: “Humans have always been a migratory species, and so are most other animals. Migration itself is not the crisis. It’s part of the solution. It’s how we adapt to change.”