Climate refugees: place and identity in a changing world

This really interesting piece in The Guardian documents the story of the people of Newtok, Alaska, a community seen as America’s first climate refugees. Climate refugees are defined as “people displaced from their homes by the impact of a changing climate”. Interestingly, the current definition of a refugee in international law is narrower and includes people displaced by war, violence or persecution, but not environmental changes. This may soon have to change.

This interactive series highlights the very real, lived effects of global climate change on a community intricately inked to their environment, both in terms of their everyday livelihood and surroundings but increasingly in a global context, through climate change. The use of text, video and photography is a great combination and The photographs and video by Richard Sprenger are informative, interesting, beautiful and at times moving. The piece goes some way to link people, landscape and understandings of identity and place in relation to environment and demonstrates how these are all now are being forced to change with global environmental change.

I am reminded that changes in the climate are not just a concern for developing countries (though certainly developing countries feel the impacts of a shifting climate heavily and tend to be much more vulnerable to them) but these changes can and will be felt everywhere. I am also reminded me how global changes, that can often seem abstract when talked about in terms of carbon emissions and so on, have very on-the-ground consequences.  Small scale, everyday changes that produce a less energy and carbon intensive lifestyle are important and link us to large global changes, but further to this there needs to be serious shifts at a much larger scale, with drastic changes in politics, economics and policy needed, but nothing new there…


Photograph: Richard Sprenger


About Rebecca Enderby

I am a PhD student at King's College London, researching the politics of biofuels and their social and ecological impact in India. In general my interests lie within critical environmental geography, covering various issues around the environment, gender, power relations and the construction of nature. I am also a keen amateur photographer and I enjoy trying to capture some of my research interests through images, as well as photographing new environments, cultures and livelihoods. I am fascinated by bees, love yoga, art and photography, a good book, good coffee, Italian food and Turkish simit. I currently live in Bangalore, India, amongst Holy Cows and auto-wallahs, which I love, but my heart lies in London.
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