Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’

May 6, 2016

By Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson

Each morning at 3:30, when Joann Bourg leaves the mildewed and rusted house that her parents built on her grandfather’s property, she worries that the bridge connecting this spit of waterlogged land to Louisiana’s terra firma will again be flooded and she will miss another day’s work.

Ms. Bourg, a custodian at a sporting goods store on the mainland, lives with her two sisters, 82-year-old mother, son and niece on land where her ancestors, members of the Native American tribes of southeastern Louisiana, have lived for generations. That earth is now dying, drowning in salt and sinking into the sea, and she is ready to leave.

With a first-of-its-kind “climate resilience” grant to resettle the island’s native residents, Washington is ready to help.

“Yes, this is our grandpa’s land,” Ms. Bourg said. “But it’s going under one way or another.”

In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants totaling $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, by building stronger levees, dams and drainage systems.

One of those grants, $48 million for Isle de Jean Charles, is something new: the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change. The divisions the effort has exposed and the logistical and moral dilemmas it has presented point up in microcosm the massive problems the world could face in the coming decades as it confronts a new category of displaced people who have become known as climate refugees.

“We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture,” lamented Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, the tribe to which most Isle de Jean Charles residents belong. “It’s all going to be history.”


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2 comments on “Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’

  • @OP – In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants totaling $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, by building stronger levees, dams and drainage systems.

    That’s been done before, but with the usual woefully sub-adequate levels of funding up front, ($1 billion in 13 states!!), corner cutting designs, politicians in denial, cowboy contractors, and powered-up-weather systems, the US can expect more situations like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy to hit areas which are woefully unprepared!

    http://www.livescience.com/25076-sandy-katrina-cost.html
    Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and its damages are estimated at $108 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Current estimates suggest the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast will cost upward of $65 billion, which would make it the second most expensive storm.

    “People who deal with disasters assume a recovery period, they assume a response, and what happens in New York will fit with that,” said Lahr. “[The area hit by] Katrina has not rebounded, it’s still not what it was and never will be.”

    Of course these will pale into insignificance if Florida and the Keys succumb to tidal surges and rising sea-levels!



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