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Faith resettlement groups assert that the climate crisis has become a refugee crisis.

Faith resettlement groups assert that the climate crisis has become a refugee crisis.

The climate crisis is increasingly a refugee crisis, faith resettlement groups say

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She explained that the storms seem to get more intense and more frequent every year. Then last year — 16 years to the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall — she found herself fleeing the coast once again as Hurricane Ida struck.

Verdin, who made the documentary “My Louisiana Love,” is exhausted by the constant flight, figuring out where to go and who to stay with, she said. She’s thinking through how to create spaces where people can retreat during disaster, remain in community and return home when able.

“But I also think that you can’t run from climate change,” she said.

Verdin said that although few people were discussing climate change when Hurricane Katrina struck they were still feeling its effects.

According to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (one of nine agencies that resettle refugees in the United States), these effects are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

“Climate change will eventually be the biggest source of refugees the world’s ever seen if estimates are anywhere near correct,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, a member of LIRS’ advisory committee.

LIRS has been helping refugees and people displaced by conflict or persecution around the world for more than 80 years. These people are being displaced by climate disasters in increasing numbers. However, there are currently very few ways to provide protection for climate refugees and those who have been affected by climate change.

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben. Photo © Nancie Battaglia

The impacts of climate change aren’t a faraway threat, though, according to Susannah Cunningham, manager for advocacy at LIRS. Rather, she said, they’re familiar to many Americans.

“Americans know this story. These stories are being felt in our families, homes, and communities. And there are versions of those playing out all over the globe,” Cunningham said.

Take, for example, The most destructive and deadly fires in California history‚ the 2018 Camp Fire that incinerated the town of Paradise, she said. Or the Three 500-year rains that flooded Cunningham’s hometown of Houston three years in a row.

The United States and other countries are experiencing worsening humanitarian crises due to climate change-related catastrophes. People are forced to relocate. According to LIRS which released His first report on the impact of climate change on migration last year — as did the White House.

The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Estimates more than 20 million people are forced to leave their homes and move to other areas of their countries every year by extreme climate disasters.

Relocating is never an easy task. Some populations may face additional difficulties, according Cunningham.

She said that a climate catastrophe would force members of Somalia’s minority groups to relocate over international borders. They’re not safe in many areas of their home countries.

For many Indigenous peoples, spirituality and culture are tied to the lands where they’ve lived for generations. Elizabeth Crocker of the American Association for the Advancement of Science explained to journalists that leaving the land would mean losing sacred spaces and plants necessary for medicine and ceremonies. It also means losing access to culture bearers who can carry Indigenous wisdom, language, and songs. Religion News Association’s annual conference last month in Bethesda, Maryland.

“You can’t bring the sacred mountain to New York City,” Crocker said.

“You can’t take the bayou,” added Theresa Dardar, spokesperson for the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe.

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe of Louisiana is one of the four coastal Louisiana tribes. Filled a formal complaint with the U.N. in 2020, claiming the U.S. government had violated their human rights by failing to act on climate change.

The only reason Pointe-au-Chien citizens have left their homes in Lafourche Parish is because of land loss, Dardar said.

And she described their neighbors on Isle de Jean Charles as the “first climate change refugees,” though she said she dislikes the term.

“Even though you take us off a piece of land and you put us in another place, it doesn’t matter, because at one time it was all Native American land,” Dardar said. “So no matter where you move us, we’re not refugees. We’re still in our land.”

The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe are resettling with assistance from the First federally funded program to relocate residents endangered by the impacts of climate change. Their island home in Terrebonne parish has seen much of its land disappear due to subsidence, coastal erosion, and rising sea levels. According to the Isle de Jean Charles Website.

The “iron law” of climate change is, the less one did to cause it, the sooner and harder one is impacted by it, according to environmentalist McKibben.

That’s one reason people of faith should care about the growing climate crisis. The Hebrew Bible and the Gospels are full of messages about welcoming the stranger and loving one’s neighbor, he noted.

And when it comes to Scripture about caring for the environment, he said, “You don’t really have to pass the first page, do you?” The biblical book of Genesis opens with the story of creation.

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“Those two things seem to me to dictate that we work hard to stop climate change and we work hard to take care of the people who’ve been damaged by that which we can’t stop,” said McKibben, who is United Methodist.

According to the environmentalist, 2020 was the most active year for hurricanes in American history. He said that the fossil fuel that causes climate changes is what allows Russian President Vladimir Putin, to wage war against Ukraine. This alone has resulted in more than 5,000,000 refugees.

He said that there are also things people can do and reasons for hope.

McKibben stated that he is encouraged both by solutions like solar power and wind power, and by the growing movement for climate change mitigation led mainly by young people like Greta Thnberg and groups such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

LIRS continues its support for climate displaced people and to advocate for stronger protections for them.

Verdin, in the face despair, plants a garden.

She is planting elderberry, maypop, goldenrod, and wild onions, which are medicinal plants that can be used for anxiety relief or to make natural dyes. She chooses plants that are in danger of disappearing along with the coastline, moving them to a plot of land further inland and hoping they’ll adapt.

She’ll see how they take, she said.

It reminds her of the fact that although humans may not live long enough to see the effects of their actions and she can still make a difference, she said.

“The seas are rising here. We’re witnessing that,” Verdin said.

“We’re learning how to adapt to it. We just need to look at things differently and respect nature. We can’t control it or manipulate it anymore.”

By Emily McFarlan Miller Religion News Service

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