Climate Fears Are Driving ‘Ecomigration’ Across Globe

Adam Fier recently sold his home, got rid of his car and pulled his twin 6-year-old girls out of elementary school in Montgomery County. He and his wife packed the family’s belongings and moved to New Zealand — a place they had never visited or seen before, and where they have no family or professional connections. Among the top reasons: global warming.

Halfway around the world, the president of Kiribati, a Pacific nation of low-lying islands, said last week that his country is exploring ways to move all its 100,000 citizens to a new homeland because of fears that a steadily rising ocean will make the islands uninhabitable.

The two men are at contrasting poles of a phenomenon that threatens to reshape economies, politics and cultures across the planet. By choice or necessity, millions of “ecomigrants” — most of them poor and desperate — are on the move in search of more habitable living space.

There were about 25 million ecomigrants in the world a little more than a decade ago, said Norman Myers, a respected British environmental researcher at Oxford University. That number is now “a good deal higher,” he added. “It’s plain that sea-level rise in the wake of climate change will inundate the homelands of huge numbers of people.”

In Bangladesh, about 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters — and the low-lying country is likely to experience more intense flooding in the future. In several countries in Africa’s Sahel region, bordering the Sahara, about 10 million people have been driven to move by droughts and famines.

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