Bringing light to causes of climate migration

photo of cracked dirt
Luis Iranzo Navarro-Olivares/Creative Commons

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In UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union building, the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, or EBSC, launched its educational exhibit “Bringing Light to Climate Migration on April 13, which will remain open to the public over the next year. Established in 1982, EBSC is a community-led nonprofit based in Berkeley that provides legal and community services to immigrants fleeing violence and persecution. 

EBSC’s Amplifying Sanctuary Voices initiative created the exhibit in collaboration with scholars, climate scientists and migrants in order to share the stories of those displaced by climate change-induced forces. The initiative also advocates for the expansion of refugee protections, implementation of sustainable policy solutions and cultivation of compassion and advocacy in the Berkeley community.

A climate migrant is defined as an individual driven from their home due to forces induced by climate change. These can include rising sea levels, natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, increased drought or disease and a loss of biodiversity. Climate change functions as a threat multiplier, exacerbating the historic drivers of northern migration such as unemployment, economic instability and food and water scarcity. The campus exhibit in particular highlights the experiences of climate migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras), Haiti, Puerto Rico, Syria and Myanmar. 

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the United States accounts for about 5% of the global population, yet it is responsible for 30% of global energy use and 28% of carbon emissions. The exhibit shows that while American industries emit the most, populations in the Global South disproportionately suffer from the consequences. 

Increasing global temperatures have contributed to the growth of “La Roya,” a rust-colored coffee fungus which has spurred economic instability in Central American farming communities. Extreme weather, tropical storms and earthquakes compounded with the lack of fiscal support and disaster preparedness from U.S. government aid have left Puerto Rican and Haitian populations seeking refuge in the United States. Despite these obvious impacts of global warming, climate migrants are still not afforded refugee protections under international law, even though centuries of environmentally destructive and extractive U.S. foreign policy and capitalist industry have pushed vulnerable communities out of their homes.

The climate migration exhibit also contends that current efforts toward reducing greenhouse emissions and sourcing sustainable energy alternatives do not center around the health and well-being of these vulnerable communities. In Honduras, for instance, the damming and diversion of rivers for hydropower have caused forests to wither and decreased water access in farming communities. Mining for lithium and cobalt used in batteries has also destroyed ecosystems and displaced Indigenous populations. Across the world, Indigenous activists and communities are mobilizing to protect their natural and cultural resources and lands from dispossession and promote agro-ecological methods to mitigate climate change. 

Local organizations like the EBSC, Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative and Voice of Witness continue to provide educational and community resources for migrants, demand climate refugee protections and amplify the voices of displaced populations. It’s critical that the fight for climate action and solutions for ethical, sustainable energy prioritize BIPOC and communities who have suffered the consequences of capitalism-induced climate change.


Contact Lauren Jones at [email protected].