American Climate Refugees

How the effects of climate damage will impact northern regions
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Published on
September 30, 2022
Allies and Partners
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Editor’s note:This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

In addition to melting glaciers, forest fires, droughts, and floods because of climate change, we also are seeing people on the move around the world.

Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, in addition to flooding vast swathes of Puerto Rico and Florida, will be bringing a tremendous surge of people heading north due to the cataclysmic climate damage. We will begin seeing a “storm surge” of refugees.

NBC News on Wednesday afternoon estimated that over 100,000 homes will be uninhabitable in Florida. and Reuters with a New York dateline on Wednesday also wrote, “An estimated 349,000 homes and businesses were still without power in Puerto Rico on Wednesday after Hurricane Fiona hit on Sept. 18, causing an island-wide power outage for its 3.3 million people”

A large portion of these Americans are going to be displaced people they are American climate refugees, and they will be surging north to friends and family, some of which are in the gateway cities of Springfield and Lawrence.

Also, many of which are retirees from leafy suburbs who will be trying to move back. For a state with too little housing affordability, or even availability at any price, we are going to feel that wave of people forcefully arriving. We are not prepared to accommodate the potential impact of this chaos.

As society works to mitigate climate change longer term, we also need to have emergency plans at the ready. Should there be a Massachusetts emergency zoning waiver to start filling the housing needs of these American refugees?

They will become climate refugees due to two hurricanes in the early weeks of a very big season of storms. They will have been big and energetic due to very warm waters and rising sea levels as the glaciers of the north melt. But more will be coming in months to come.

Each of ACES’ Allies has been working and preaching about climate change for years.

Storm Surge – of Newburyport – is one of those groups which has specifically educated the public, including a long-planned film, “2040,” about opportunities of what can be done to counter the climate crises that just aired at the Firehouse.

They have taught us over the years the whys and hows of storm surges. They have let us know that as The Washington Post recently described, that “when a hurricane travels over the open sea, its powerful winds act like a giant bulldozer collecting water and pushing it forward.

When this buildup of water runs into land, the sudden rise in sea level above normal tides is called storm surge, and it is sometimes the most deadly and destructive part of a hurricane.”

Our immediate issues from these two hurricanes will be absorbing people moving back to be sheltered with family already here. Important next steps should be anticipated ASAP.

Our next governor’s leadership on this issue to engage all our elected officials and departments ranging from mayors to MassDOT to support new housing production and new protections at our water’s edges is critical.

Worcester and Holyoke, Lowell and New Bedford, will all need state aid to deploy to housing in new and innovative ways. We need everyone to step up and start putting aside NIMBY instincts and creatively confront this significant challenge through collaboration at all levels.

Bureaucratic logjams should be cleared away and work start soon – we do not want to be swept away in the chaos that may ensue.

This column was coordinated by ACES youth corps member Ana Satir. To share any comments or questions, send an email to To learn more about ACES and its 4 Initiatives, visit


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