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The Washington Post
Climate Refugees to Alaska in 2500?
"America must face scenario of 'climate change refugees' in distant future"
by Dan Bloom
Special to the Washington Post
North to Alaska? You bet. In the next 500 years, millions of climate
refugees are going to make their way to Alaska. And it won't be a pretty
picture. Washington should take note.
While Juneau seems to be far removed from the experts who recently made
their way to Copenhagen to try to hammer our blueprints to prevent global
warming from having a doomsday impact on humankind, Alaska will certainly
be on the front line of these issues.
Despite most observers thinking that solutions lie in mitigation ideas,
there are a growing number of climatologists and scientists who believe
that the A-word - adaptation - must be confronted head-on, too. The fact
is, despite the head-in-the-sand protestations of climate denialists such
former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), we cannot stop climate change or global
The Earth's atmosphere has already passed the tipping point, and in the
next 500 years, temperatures will rise considerably, sea levels will rise
considerably and millions, even billions, of people from the tropical and
temperate zones of the Earth will be forced to migrate north in search of
food, fuel and shelter. This is where Alaska, and Alaskans, will play a
By the year 2500, Alaska could be home to millions of climate refugees from
the Lower 48 and Central and South America who will have migrated north,
seeking safe harbor from the devastating impact of global warming in those
Many parts of the Alaska coastline will be under water, and Juneau will
find itself home to new kinds of visitors from the Lower 48 and beyond.
They won't be coming on cruise ships or airplanes, since there will be no
fuel for such services. They will be coming by road, on foot and bicycle.
Alaska must be prepared for the worst-case scenario. By 2500, millions,
billions of people will have been forced to leave their home countries in
the tropical and temperate zones and migrate north en masse to faraway
northern regions to find shelter in United Nations-funded climate refuges
in places such as Alaska, Russia and Canada. People from India, Vietnam,
Thailand, Japan and the Philippines will make their way to Juneau and
further north to Anchorage and Fairbanks. It won't be a pretty picture.
When I asked acclaimed British scientist James Lovelock if such a scenario
for Alaska was likely, he said in an e-mail: "It may very well happen,
Humans cannot engineer our way out of global warming, although scientists
who believe in geo-engineering have offered their theories on how to do it.
There are no easy fixes. Humankind has put too many greenhouse gases into
the atmosphere, the result of the industrial revolution that gave us
trains, plans and automobiles - and much more to live comfortable and
trendy lives - and now there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
that the Earth cannot recover.
Forget trying to be more "green" in our daily lives. Alaska, like the rest
of the world, is now doomed to a very bleak future. There will be millions
of climate refugees seeking shelter in Alaska and Canada (and in far south
places such as New Zealand, Tasmania and Antarctica as well.)
Meetings in Copenhagen and Rio de Janiero and at the U.N. building in
Manhattan will not stop global warming. What we need to focus on now is
preparing future generations for what our world will become in the next 500
years and how best to survive it. The Alaska Legislature needs to start
thinking about these issues, too. There is a very strong possibility that
the Northern White House will be located in Juneau, perhaps taking over the
Governor's Mansion there where Sarah Palin once presided.
For the next 100 years or so, life will go on as normal in the Lower 48, so
don't worry too much. There is nothing to worry about now. For the next 100
years, the local department stores in the Washington will continue to hawk
their trendy items, international computer firms will continue to launch
their latest cell phones and tech gadgets, and airline companies will
continue to offer passengers quick passage here and there, from the
Maldives to Manhattan, for business and for pleasure.
But in the next 500 years, according to Lovelock and otther scientists who
are not afraid to think outside the box, things are going to get bad.
Those of us who are alive today won't suffer, and the next few generations
of humans will be fine, too. The big troubles will probably start around
2200 - Lovelock says sooner - and last for some 300 years or so.
By 2500, Alaska will be home to the U.S. Congress, the White House and the
Department of Homeland Security, and the Lower 48 will be uninhabited, as
will most of the countries in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.
We are entering uncharted waters, and as the waters rise and the
temperatures go up as well, future generations will have some important
choices to make: where to live, how to live, how to grow food, how to power
their climate refugee settlements, how to plan and how to pray. Alaska will
be on the front lines of this new world. The question is: will Alaska, and
the U.S. government, be ready?
[Dan Bloom, a 1971 Tufts graduate, is a former editor of the Capital City
Weekly newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, who has been living in Asia