The Great Climate Migration Has Begun

The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable. Abrahm Lustgarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporter and has spent years looking at how climate migration will reshape the world. He speaks with Hari Sreenivasan about his latest project.

watch the video

Originally aired on May 24, 2021.

It precipitated the Syrian Civil War 10 years ago. 1% of humanity are new refugees.

The video mentioned that

There are several issues to note regarding the topic of climate change. There was a lot of food for thought, but let me play the devil’s advocate in pushing back.
Climate change is real. But this issue is also so politicized that it is difficult to know what is true, and what the best ways to address climate change are, versus how to promote a certain political outcome. And some of the problems affecting the environment are cultural and even religious, so the underlying issues need to be addressed.
Lustgarten states “Absolutely no other choice” than to migrate because of climate change. But then Lustgarten sort of contradicts himself by suggesting that we send aid to help in food production. Another choice is to apply technology to ameliorate the effects of climate change, as I think he well knows.
The “band” where most people live spreading around the word is “moving for the first time in 6000 years.” Well, as we should know, after the ice age, many inhabited areas were inundated by water as the oceans rose after the Ice Age. So many people have moved before because of climate change.
Then Lustgarten speaks of the fire season near San Francisco where he lives. We faced the same thing in Oregon where we live, with homes of our relatives within hours of being consumed by fire before the winds died down. Yes, the climate is getting drier. But also forest management changes have also been made “to protect the environment” but which made the forests much more vulnerable to catastrophic fires. The western states are more affected because we are among the driest states in the summer, but forest management policies are being made by people who assume that western forests are the same as where they live in the east and Midwest. And there are many more people to cause fires, either through carelessness or arson, particularly as we teach our children to hate America.
“Pastoral communities” having difficulty in raising their animals. Oh yeah. As the community grows, so do the number of people trying to earn a living raising animals. That means that the grazing destroys the environment, which then also impacts the climate. When we lived in Nigeria, we called it “Go M.A.D.”—Go Make A Desert. And that is causing a lot of the terrorism in Nigeria today, as the Muslim “herders” move south from the ever expanding Sahara into where the predominantly Christian “farmers” are living. The herders claim that the land that is being farmed has always been theirs and whole villages are being destroyed and their people being killed. But increasing numbers of people demanding that they can keep their lifestyle of herding is not sustainable. And the overgrazing is contributing significantly to the expansion of the Sahara Desert. That is a cultural and religious issue that needs to be solved—not just environmental. This could be another whole post.
My “bias” is that at best, climate change is inevitable. We should always be good stewards of the environment, but the US is already one of the most environmentally responsible countries. The US has been a leader in technological innovation, and we need to turn those abilities toward developing reasonable and cost effective technologies to slow climate change and to adjust to it.
And then again, unless you think that the book of Revelation is not at all prophetic, God is again going to judge the world because of our rejection of Him and our defiance of his laws. And some of that judgment sounds a lot like what climate change folks are predicting. So maybe our real focus needs to be repentance and turning to God.

1 Like

In principle, the issue of climate change is spiritual. We can see that from our over consumption and our accumulation of material wealth in our society. We can also see it in our lack of compassion for other people. And so God will judge the world in ways that we can learn about from reading the book of Revelation. Many of God’s judgments we see there may not come directly from God’s actions but indirectly as a result of mankind’s actions.

In other words, everything is spiritual, or at least has a significant spiritual component.

That became clear during our years in Nigeria. The Sahara Desert is encroaching on the Sudan, a geographical band across Africa south of that desert. Primary contributors to that encroachment are overgrazing and denuding of the trees to use for cooking fuel.

One of our friends in Nigeria developed an alternative to the use of wood for cooking. The solution was a solar oven that could be made using readily available materials—a half of a large gourd lined with aluminum foil with a glass top sealed by using a strip of foam insulation. It really worked, except . . .

The Muslim women lived on their family compounds in Northern Nigeria. They were restricted to that compound unless there was some need to leave it. So the only social interaction they had with other women was going out daily to collect firewood. The foraging was done in groups of women sometimes walking several miles to find the wood they needed. So none of them were interested in a solar oven; they needed the social interaction. So a cultural and spiritual change needs to be made. For the trees to be spared and desert encroachment to stop, the men in that Muslim society need to value their wives and recognize their needs more than they value their control over the women in their society.

Most of the people in that same area are also Muslim Fulani nomadic cattle herders. Their wealth is in the number of cattle they own. So cattle are not raised on a sustainable basis, or just to provide income and feed their animals. They are kept as a symbol of wealth and status. Severe overgrazing results. And as the population of nomadic peoples increases, they are pushing farther south and encroaching on farming areas. They claim that the land was always their own, and so they burn villages, destroy crops and slaughter the (mostly Christian) inhabitants to reclaim the land they claim is theirs. So it takes on a measure of jihad as well.

Maintaining their nomadic lifestyle and wealth and status based on cattle ownership in a world that can no longer sustain it at a cost of other peoples’ lives and livelihoods is again a spiritual issue. If everyone involved first loved God and their neighbors, then solutions could be worked out even though the cultural cost is high.

And of course, we in the West are not exempt. We have our own consumption issues. But it does seem a bit incongruous to say the least that we welcome people from low consumption areas to our high consumption society only to make them excessive consumers as well. And let’s be frank. Not all of the “refugees” coming to America are coming because of climate change and violence. Many are drawn by the economic “benefits” of consumption that we so highly value here. Again—a spiritual issue.

Ultimately the solution is also spiritual—repentance and turning back to God. God is in Christ, reconciling the world to himself:

2 Corinthians 5:1 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ . . .


It’s not difficult to know what is true, since the truth is backed by data. Should be be like the tobacco industry and peddle doubt?

Fire season starts earlier, and lasts longer. Things are drier. Forest management is not a big part of the problem. The destruction is devastating.

Revelation doesn’t talk about melting polar ice caps.

1 Like

For the reason that it wouldn’t have made sense to someone from the near east at that date, but that is beside the point.

True, but Revelation isn’t about climate change anyway.


It looks as if you have been watching too much Fox News.

1 Like

Your post is silly when you say “we teach our children to hate America.” And you are wrong about wildfires, but so is Fox News. Climate disruption is making the Western wildfire season longer, hotter, drier, and windier.


Welcome to the forum! I edited your post slightly to remove the political reference as we try to avoid getting too deep in those matters.

Great climate migration is (potentially) a good example of how human societies respond to a slowly evolving crisis. Decades of warnings by experts but short-term profits and more acute issues delay political, economic and societal responses until the crisis hits your family or company hard (or burns your door).

Reminds me of the development within car industry during the last decades. Emission problems and rising fuel prices were predicted decades before they hit the global car industry hard. Changing legislation as a response to climate change was a rational consequence of these problems and therefore, a predictable change. Yet, many companies concentrated on designing more appealing cars with high emissions, rather than developed low-emission cars that would have given an advantage in competition when the legislation was enforced. Bad business for those companies.

Part of the problem is, as was told in the video, that apparent reasons for migration are not always the same as ultimate causes. If a war or comparable violence drives people from their homes, we blame the war (acute crisis) and not the underlaying environmental change (long-term crisis) that leads to the conflict.


I don’t imagine this has changed in six years or will in the next sixty or six hundred. It will just intensify. AGW should cease by the end of the century and start to come down a couple after that, getting back to pre-fossil fuel levels by 2400. That’s if we go flat out with nuclear, wind and solar to provide equality of outcome aka justice and righteousness. It’s that spiritual. Humanity will still be maximally urbanized with some move back to the re-greening deserts to maintain the PV and robot tractors.

True. Our armed forces consider climate change to be a threat multiplier, increasing the chances for political instability and violence in an already troubled world.

1 Like

I like your tag line re importance of expressing faith in love.

I wish the wide-spread fear about AGW was better supported by real-life data. I think many people have no idea that current global average temp is closer to that of 2013-14 than it is to showing evidence of continued warming. While CO2 is now well-established as an important component of the life-giving greenhouse effect, and increased CO2 will add to some warming, it is questionable just how big that added effect is and may not be nearly as strong as currently projected by IPCC.

I’m thinking that a faith perspective would be first concerned with knowing the truth of the matter and then dealing with the justice that flows from there. For example, if CO2 is not nearly as strong of a driver of warming as claimed, then justice and equality may well be served by continued use of all kinds of energy, including fossil fuels to help under-developed countries prosper. Afterall, UN data shows very clearly just how much progress has already been made in recent decades with respect to improved education and health-care, along with reduced poverty. No doubt there is much work to do, but let’s not mis-label the progress that has already been made as if it was regression. And a lot of that progress is connected with the low cost, versatile, high-density, portable and valuable fossil fuels that can reach remote communities replacing dung, wood, etc.

I’d say that one of the problems with climate is the time-scale. Unlike the car industry, that can change dramatically in a decade or so, it takes much longer to see even a small change in the climate pattern. This is where I see hesitation coming from - not so much a lust of short-term profits, but rather a deep concern for getting at the truth of the matter.

In particular, we hear that the sun could not have given us any of the unusual warming at the end of the 20th century. However, a similar warming period that occurred in the first part of the 20th century, is almost completely attributed to solar energy. And, when you check the records around solar energy, you find that the accumulated solar energy input was actually higher for the period surrounding the warming in the latter part of the century, compared with the solar input for the early warming. I’d say that this tells us the sun would be a cause of just as much warming (maybe a little more) at the end of the century as it was in the first part of the century. And now, with solar energy at a low point, global temps are showing a tendency to resist further warming. In case you didn’t notice, the latest global temps are closer to those of 2013&14 than they are to showing evidence of continued warming.

It seems to me that we have sufficient data to wonder what is really driving warming and not just accept a consensus report as a substitute for proper science. The trouble is that climate matters take so long to confirm.

Have we seen the start of a change in the warming pattern dating back to the the ‘warming hiatus’? Looking at the solar energy record you could easily see such a possibility. After 7 consecutive above average solar cycles that continued throughout the last half of the last century - the last of those solar cycles peaked around 2002 - the latest solar cycle peak (circ 2014) was the lowest in more than 100 years and the forecast for the peak of the present solar cycle is for another below average energy input giving us the first back-to-back solar cycle lows in more than 180 years. We have such weak data from 180 years ago that I don’t think we can really trust it, but it certainly makes me wonder what will happen over the next few years - next solar cycle peak expected circ 2025. Will continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 level overwhelm all natural factors and give us a return to severe warming, or will we confirm evidence of stronger than conventional assessment impact from solar energy fluctuation? Many people think we already know the answer to this. I’m not so sure and encourage us all to be open and objective in assessing the data over the next few years.

We don’t have years. There is more than enough data and has been for decades. I studied this at university in the early 70s. The disintegration of Syria over a decade ago was driven by AGW. Not Milankovitch. There is nothing but evidence but there can never be enough for some cognitive biases.

‘We don’t have years’ … only IF strong CO2-driven agw is true. Presuming to know the full answer before we even have all the data is not open, nor objective. Declaring roughly the same amount of heat input a driver of significant warming in one period of time and then allowing it no impact of warming in another period of time is simply unsupportable. Don’t go away. The next few years will be speaking to us.

We definitely have enough information to be concerned about increasing CO2 levels - enough to be taking some action to curtail, as a pro-active insurance, and possibly eliminate, emissions if it proves necessary, but let’s not get into assuming that just because a region has had some effect from the unusual warming at the end of the last century and, indeed, throughout the last century, that it was necessarily caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

I go with the cognitive bias of the 98% of relevant scientists. What’s yours that overrules ours?

1 Like

Your wish has been granted. There is ample evidence from scientists.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.