Marshallese are the descendants of seafarers who seized the climatic opportunity some 2000 years ago–when sea levels dipped to present position–to entrench a civilization with distinct customs and life skills suited for human habitation in what is now called the Republic of the Marshal Islands (RMI). Looking towards the future with 0.6 – 1.2 meters of sea level rise projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by the end of this century, Marshallese face increasingly frequent threats of submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion that will progressively render atoll environments uninhabitable.
This grim reality is quietly but notably alluded to in the United States 3rd National Climate Assessment released last May. It comes in the assessment’s 23rd chapter, in the form of a ‘key message’ to the 100,000 or so atoll inhabitants within the US-affiliated Pacific islands region. As foretold: Mounting threats to food and water security, infrastructure, and public health and safety are expected to lead to increasing human migration from low to high elevation islands and continental sites.
Work is now underway to better understand and anticipate the timing and spatial sequence of climate-induced migration, particularly given the exacerbating impacts of tropical cyclones and drought. This type of information will help not only Marshallese prepare for climate change, but also the host communities that are likeliest to receive them as climate migrants, so that collectively we can confront the tides of climate change with confidence and not with despair.
– Mark Stege, MA in Climate and Society, Columbia University.