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Faith resettlement groups claim that the climate crisis is becoming more of a refugee crisis.

Faith resettlement groups claim that the climate crisis is becoming more of a refugee crisis.

Monique Verdin in Montegut, Louisiana, in 2017. RNS photo by Roxanne Stone

(RNS) — For Monique Verdin, the apocalypse came in 2005.

About a million gallons of oil were spilled into St. Bernard Parish where Verdin lived when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Her family home was submerged in 11 feet of water.

Verdin, 42, is a citizen of United Houma Nation, and a member of grassroots collaborative Another Gulf is Possible, said she realizes now how much of her early adult life — even the direction of her work — was shaped by that experience.

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.

Monique Verdin in Montegut, Louisiana, in 2017. RNS photo by Roxanne Stone

Monique Verdin, Montegut, Louisiana in 2017. Roxanne Stone took the RNS photo

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 assist refugees in the United States, these effects are becoming more difficult for people 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 around the globe for over 80 years. These people are being displaced by climate disasters in increasing numbers. There are not many ways to protect climate refugees, also known as climate-displaced people, at this time.


RELATED: Indigenous communities in Louisiana’s Delta overwhelmed by damage from Ida


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, Most destructive and fatal fire 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 move. According to LIRSThese were 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 EstimatesEach year, more than 20,000,000 people are forced from their homes to move to other parts of their countries by extreme climate catastrophes.

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. According to Elizabeth Crocker, American Association for the Advancement of Science, leaving the land can mean losing sacred spaces, plants that are needed for medicine and ceremonies, and access to culture bearers who have Indigenous wisdom, history and songs. Elizabeth Crocker spoke out at the conference. Religion News Association’s annual conferenceLast month in Bethesda Maryland.


RELATED: Faith groups are joining the fight against climate change in increasing numbers


“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, one of four tribes along the coast of Louisiana, is home to the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe. Filled a formal complaintIn 2020, the U.N. claimed that the U.S. government had violated its human rights by failing climate change action.

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 programTo relocate residents who are at risk from the effects 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.

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben. Photo © Nancie Battaglia

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben. Photo © Nancie Battaglia

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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.

“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 added that there are still things people can accomplish and reasons to believe in themselves.


RELATED: Evangelical scientist Katharine Hayhoe finds hope in United Nations’ climate report


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 to support climate displaced persons and advocate for greater protections for them. This includes a pathway to U.S citizenship for those who are unable to return home.

Verdin even plants a garden in the face of despair.

She is planting elderberry, maypop and goldenrod, wild onions, and wild onions. These are medicinal plants that can be used as natural dyes or to relieve anxiety. 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 reminded her that while humans may not see the consequences of their actions, she can still do her part.

“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 also remember that nature must be respected. We can’t control it or manipulate it anymore.”

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