By Tim King
Publisher of Central Minnesota Political

When you are in one place, with your feet on the ground, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to comprehend the totality of our home, the Earth. This is true even though your connectivity via tweets, posts, and breaking news seems complete.

Climate Refugees: How Climate Change Is Displacing Millions by the editors and writers of the New York Times presents a comprehensive, unnerving, and global picture of the varied ways that climate disruption is displacing humanity and our fellow creatures around the planet. It presents, in straightforward and well-crafted journalistic prose, the nearly unbearable tragedy we have wrought upon ourselves and the other creatures that inhabit this beautiful place.

Image: Climate Refugees, MIT Press.

Because the disaster is of such magnitude, and because we are human, the editors start with a message of hope and resilience rising out of devastation. In a 2017 article by K. Anis Ahmed entitled In Bangladesh, a Flood and an Efficient Response, Ahmed writes from Dhaka:

“After two weeks of flooding, about half of Bangladesh is under water, 140 have been killed, tens of thousands of families have been forced from their homes and well over a million acres of crops have been destroyed. The poorest, their rural livelihoods in ruins, will most likely have no choice but to head to the cities.” 

These floods’ extreme intensity are a result of a changing climate and these people are climate refugees, Ahmed writes. But Bangladesh is as ready as any poor country can be. Previous floods have been lesser in magnitude but have brought a greater toll in human life. From that previous destruction Bangladesh has learned. In 2017 Bangladesh, and Dhaka, were at least temporarily ready to house and care for the crush of refugees that descended on the already severely overcrowded city.

Tim Wallace and John Schwartz have also told a remarkable tale of adaptation and resilience in their Left to Louisiana’s Tides, A Village Fights for Time. 

Jean Lafitte is a fishing village two miles on the wrong side of the primary levees protecting New Orleans from the next Katrina. The village is on an island. Around it are the submerged 2,000 square miles of estuarine land and forest that have gone under water in the last 80 years. 

“State planners believe another 2,000 square miles, or even double that, could be overtaken in 50 years as the land sinks, canals widen and sea levels rise because of climate change,” the authors write. 

But the story about Jean Lafitte isn’t about the inevitability of being submerged. It is about their spirited refusal to accept the inevitable and their uniquely American response to that non-inevitability. 

That, perhaps, should be our response. The house is on fire — but we can still save it. 

But there may be a time when we will have to quit trying to adapt and simply get out of the way of the beast that we have created. That, at least, is the story that Jeffrey Gettleman tells of Baidoa, Somalia, where climate exacerbated drought intersects with war to cause crushing famine. Gettleman writes:

“First the trees dried up and cracked apart. Then the goats keeled over. Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.”

“Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from the cholera epidemic.”

Gettleman’s article reminds a Minnesotan how fortunate we are that Somalis have sought refuge here. Providing that refuge, in as hospitable and generous way as possible, is the least we can do.

Even though the information in Climate Refugees: How Climate Change Is Displacing Millions is a heavy spiritual load to carry, I recommend reading it. It is vital that we be fully aware of, and care for and honor, the place fate has planted our two feet. I believe we do that best when we have some understanding of the plight of people we may never know and places we may never visit. This book does that better than any other I’ve read.

Climate Refugees: How Climate Change Is Displacing Millions was published by the New York Times Educational Company in 2019. The ISBN is 9781642820102.

Tim King is a partner in an organic produce and sheep farm near Long Prairie. He is also an agricultural journalist, former publisher of the bilingual La Voz Libre, and the publisher of Central Minnesota Political at