Climate refugees are on the way

Private water supply, public uses bannedFrom behind my back, over the ridge, the morning sun slipped its arms through the trees and over my shoulder, gripped the edge of darkness and peeled it back the way a mother pulls a blanket from her sleeping child to wake him for school. Rows of hills, farthest ones first, then the closer, darker colored ones, became visible.

A thousand or more miles to my north, the Greenland ice blanket melts into water that races to the shore and raises ocean levels world wide, erasing coastlines in Louisiana and, almost exactly halfway around the globe, Bangladesh – where residents make inexpensive clothing for us Americans, and answer our phone calls when our computers don’t work.

It also is where a ton of fellow humans are watching their homes stolen away by rising oceans. When someone says the ocean is going to rise 20 feet in some places, they’re not talking about 20 feet closer to the beach house. They’re describing 20 feet deeper.

But only a couple of inches, pushed into waves by a storm, is very effective in removing property lines — and property — making “climate refugees” out of the former residents. Isle de Jean Charles was once home to some 300 Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native Americans. Now there are only 60 left. The sea has taken the ground from under their homes, and Congress — that august group that has had considerable difficulty coming up with money to fight the Zika virus, has allocated $48 million to permanently move residents of Isle de Jean Charles to someplace safer, and drier. Some congressfolk think its real.

The grant is funded from a program with the rather fun-sounding name of National Disaster Resilience Competition. Unfortunately, if you win, you may already have lost — your home to a rising sea.

To most of us, the migration will come as a surprise. The “climate refugee” label has not often been headlined.

But I fear we all will feel the pinch, when money we now spend on guns and ammo to make heroes out of as many mothers’ kids as possible is diverted to provide accommodations for these new refugees. A wall between us and Mexico — now more a hindrance to wildlife trying to find cooler water than to Central Americans trying to find better-paying jobs — will pale against the cost of dams and dikes we will be building for folks rich enough — or poor enough — to have homes within sight of an ocean.

I read somewhere South Carolina has experienced six 1,000-year storms in six years; the state is holding its breath waiting to see whether a Tropical Depression currently in the gulf of Mexico makes good on its promise to cut across north Florida, bear for the eastern coast of the Sunshine State and up to, maybe past, the Carolinas.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania American Water Company is quietly buying up municipal water treatment facilities near my home, maybe yours. One day, our children and grandchildren will be buying water from Nestle Water Co., American Water Co. and a few others — water taken from the Susquehanna River and Marsh and Conewago creeks. Signs and fences will abound, they way they do on much of South Mountain, where the water and much of the land is – for the time being — owned by Waynesboro Municipal Authority.

From behind my back, over the ridge, the evening sun slipped its arms through the trees and over my shoulder, gripped the edge of darkness and slid it silently, the way a mother pulls a blanket over her sleeping child, over rows of hills, near ones first, then the farther ones. Borders of “No Trespassing, No Swimming, No Boating” signs slowly became invisible until morning.

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