Climate Change Refugees — Thousands Likely Left Homeless By Sandy

(Flood damage to Staten Island homes. Image credit here.)

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said today that it’s too soon to know how many were left homeless by Hurricane Sandy.

“I wouldn’t even begin to guess,” Fugate said. “I’d also caution that the number of people at shelters probably wouldn’t be a good indicator of how many people’s homes have been impacted by flooding. We know a lot of people stay with friends and family.”

But judging from the massive number of homes destroyed and flooded over broad swaths of coastal New Jersey, New York and other states, the number is likely to be staggering. The scope is so large that FEMA is struggling to reach all those in need of aid. Some Staten Island residents are still in need of FEMA contact and assistance. For those who have yet to contact FEMA, you can do so by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by going to

The American Red Cross is also conducting a major effort to reach out to and assist those in need. If you wish to help, you can make a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief page here. Blood banks are also short of supplies. So any in-person blood donations to the Red Cross would also help.

Unfortunately the scale of this disaster is so large that both FEMA and the Red Cross are still struggling to reach all those in need. Both climate scientists and global threat analysts have been concerned that disasters, like Sandy, caused by climate change would result in large numbers of people made homeless. As weather impacts worsen and some regions become flooded or rendered uninhabitable by drought, the concern is that growing numbers of people will be dislocated.

The ongoing efforts of FEMA and philanthropic organizations are likely to blunt the damage caused by Sandy and allow residents to begin to re-build. However, the risk remains that new storms and sea level rise brewed up by climate change will result in another wave of displacement.

There has been much talk of building infrastructure to help alleviate the impact of future storms and sea level rise. However, without first dealing with climate change’s root cause — continued and growing fossil fuel emissions, such efforts will be like stacking twigs in front of a tsunami. Current levels of CO2 — 400 ppm — were enough to raise sea levels as much as 75 feet in past ages (at rates of rise as fast as 6-10 feet per century). But current emissions are on a path to put world CO2 levels above 600 ppm by mid century and this is enough to result in a sea level rise of 250 feet (likely far faster than 6-10 feet per century).

Current predictions for east coast sea level rise are 2 feet by 2050. However, given the amplified heating caused by human CO2 emissions, this estimate is potentially low by as much as 2 or 3 feet. On top of the sea level rise, you have the likelihood for much more violent storms. More violent even than Sandy. So the notion that infrastructure alone can deal with the problem is a false path. We must also draw down CO2 emissions to have any hope for a stable coastline and to avoid the worst of these home-wrecking storms.

The tragedy in New York and New Jersey is a terrible, terrible loss. And we must do all we can to help those in need. However, we are also morally obligated to do all we can to prevent and lessen the impact of the future storms and sea level rise that is sure to come. And to do that, we must set ourselves on a path toward zero CO2 emission as well as begin the necessary process of building a stronger coastal infrastructure while moving homes back from the rising seas.


News reports confirm that Sandy has resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes, rendering more than 40,000 souls without shelter. Please help these American climate change refugees in every way you can.


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