Extreme weather and climate events have kept humans on their toes since the dawn of civilization. Without notice our familiar environment can be dramatically altered, leaving us incredibly vulnerable. Recent events in Canada: the fires that ravaged Slave Lake, Alberta; the recent evacuations in northern Saskatchewan; and the flooding rivers that threatened thousands of residents in Manitoba and Quebec; all illustrate the devastating force and swiftness in which we can be displaced from our homes and communities by forces of nature.
A new report reveals that displacement from weather disasters is a growing problem globally and climate change is behind many of the most severe examples. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reveals that 38.3 million people were displaced by climate related disasters in 2010, up from 15.2 million the previous year. Asia has been particularly hard hit in recent years with the major floods in China and Pakistan displacing over 26 million people, the equivalent of every Ontarian, Quebecker and British Columbian suddenly being made a refugee.
Given 2010's record green house gas emissions, as a society we should be asking, "What will our future look like in a world where mass evacuations become a routine occurrence?"
Turns out those who monitor threats to global security, such as the Canadian and US military, are trying to figure out the answer. They recognize that environmental refugees could have a major impact on regional security and potential resource conflicts.
In light of the hardships many in Canada and abroad have suffered from environmental disasters, it is easy to despair at the prospect of a future more prone to such events. But there is also a sense of empowerment when these episodes are overcome and we are able move forward with a greater understanding and preparedness for the future. We must learn from our experiences, put a greater emphasis on adapting to a changing climate, and do everything we can to prevent future events from being more destructive.
We can also rally around success stories where citizens and governments are bucking the trend of climate complacency and demanding leadership and action. For instance, the citizens of California recently overcame a threat to their thriving clean energy economy. They defeated a bill that would have hampered the state's ability to continue its leadership in that industry. Across the pond, the United Kingdom has committed to the most aggressive emission reduction targets ever set by a government. These are significant benchmarks and the kinds of action that are possible when citizens and governments make calculated choices that will benefit our environment, economy, and quality of life.