The Anthropocene. To those who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the current geological epoch humanity has entered into as a consequence of our global footprint, particularly since the Industrial Revolution. While as a species, we have become a phenomenal global force, during this process our accelerated use of resources is disrupting the natural cycles of biology, chemistry, and geology by which elements such as carbon and nitrogen circulate between land, sea and atmosphere. This brief 3-minute film ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ is a great summary of how humanity has reached our current geological age in the past 250 years.
Possibly the most significant aspect of our newfound influence is our effect on the climate. Climate change has become a greater problem than ever before, with rising temperatures and sea levels resulting in dramatic environmental consequences. Such impact, not only evidently destroys our natural resources, but is actively impacting upon individuals particularly as wet climates continue to get wetter, and hot climates continue to get hotter resulting in extreme cases of severe flooding and drought. Climate refugees fall under this bracket, as people who are forced to leave their homes and communities due to the effects of climate change and global warming.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres says 36 million people were displaced by natural disasters in 2009, the last year such a report was taken. Scientists predict this number will rise to at least 50 million by 2050. Some propose it could be as high as 200 million.
Guterres has said on the matter:“Although there is a growing awareness of the perils of climate change… its likely impact on human displacement and mobility has received too little attention.” It is therefore imperative that now, more than ever as a unified species that we respond to this need on a humanitarian level.
An extremely relevant example of climate refugees now are those living in coastal cities, which are actively being affected by rising sea levels. Due to increasing temperatures related to global warming, glaciers and ice caps are consequently melting resulting in rising sea levels and flooding. The impact of such effects has the potential to make land completely uninhabitable with the future projection of it being completely under water.
For instance, about half the population of Bangladesh lives less than 5 meters (16.5 feet) above sea level. In 1995, Bangladesh’s Bhola Island was half-submerged by rising sea levels, leaving 500,000 people homeless. Scientists predict Bangladesh will lose 17 percent of its land by 2050 due to flooding caused by climate change. The loss of land could lead to as many as 20 million climate refugees from Bangladesh.
This is where the need for humanitarian aid and response comes in. Based on the current predictions of where our global epoch is heading towards, it is important that we prepare for what the future holds now before it is too late.
For example, the island nation of Tuvalu has struck an agreement with New Zealand to accept its 11,600 citizens in the event that rising sea levels overtake the country. In Bangladesh, where flooding is prominent the nonprofit organization Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, (meaning self-reliance) is building schools on boats.
It is initiatives such as these that we need to get behind in aims of responding to global crises that are predicted for the future.
Doherty, B, 2012. ‘Maldives Warns of Climate Refugees’, The Age, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.theage.com.au/national/maldives-warns-of-climate-refugees-20120106-1poog.html
Lagan, B, 2013. ‘Australia Urged to Prepare for Influx of People Displaced by Climate Change’, The Guardian, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/16/australia-climate-change-refugee-status
National Geographic, 2014. ‘Climate Refugee’ viewed 10 September 2014,
Refugee Council, 2012. ‘Climate Refugees?’, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/int-env.php
UNHCR, 2014. ‘Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human Displacement: A UNHCR Perspective’, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.unhcr.org/4901e81a4.html
UNHCR, 2014. ‘The Storm Ahead’, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4a5096.html
Wahlquist, A, 2014. ‘Climate Change Refugees a Reality’, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.smh.com.au/national/climate-change-refugees-a-reality-20140212-32hvu.html
Welcome to the Anthropocene n.d., viewed 15 September 2014, http://www.anthropocene.info/en/home
Welcome to the Anthropocene, video recording, Youtube, viewed 15 September 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvgG-pxlobk