The NBC Nightly News featured a report that showed how much is at stake in Copenhagen. The 20 million of people in southern Bangladesh are in jeopardy of becoming early victims of Global Warming.
By Ian Williams
If climate change does lead to a 3-foot rise in sea levels around Bangladesh by mid-century, as some scientists predict, then Shelim's story could echo those of 20 million climate change refugees here. It's an aspect of global warming that's only now being more fully appreciated, but which Atiq Rahman, the country's leading environmentalist, calls one of the biggest threats facing not only Bangladesh, but the world.
"There will be global destabilization of populations," he told me. "The poor will be the most affected. They'll have very little to lose once they've lost their land."
As the sea levels rise the fertile, densely populated, low lying delta region bordering the Bay of Bengal is experiencing more frequent floods.
Floods that are also increasing in severity, wrecking homes, saturating farmers' fields with salt water rendering the land infertile, and contaminating well water.
These are very poor people, in a very poor country. Bangladeshis have a per capita income of just $480 US.
In Dhaka, the impact is already being felt, with some half a million migrants arriving in the city each year. That's about the population of Washington, D.C., pouring mostly into squalid slums. The biggest reason for moving is environmental degradation.
"People are moving, being displaced forcibly, because of climate factors," according to Rabab Fatima, the Dhaka-based representative of the International Organization for Migration.
Dhaka (Pop. 12+ million) is reeling from this influx of climate refugees with about 1,370 new migrants arriving each day. In many cases these people have lost all their possessions in a flood. These destitute migrants were the lucky ones because they survived the floods.
Neighboring India fears climate refugees spilling over their border with Bangladesh.
This area borders India, where the authorities are building a border barrier, a high fence of reinforced barbed wire that cuts through the paddy fields. Soon it will completely encircle Bangladesh, 2,100 miles of it.
International migration, millions of poor and desperate people pouring across borders, is a sensitive subject here, but it is clearly one factor in India's thinking. The fence is due to be completed by March next year.
This is a preview of the kind of things we can expect to see a lot more of in the future, if we in the rich world can't make a concerted effort to change how we consume and produce energy.
"(Climate change) here is a matter of life and death for the communities, for the people, for the ecosystem," Rahman says. "In the West it is an issue of minor lifestyle changes."
I have to agree with Atiq Rahman. How much worse global warming becomes largely depends on how quickly people in the rich word reduce their appetite for fossil fuel consumption. Unlike Bangladeshis climate Change hasn't become a life or death issue for Americans....yet.
NBC News deserves an Emmey for this report IMHO. Take a couple minutes to watch the video.