Drought and floods — the climate exodus | DW Documentary

The global climate is changing
faster than expected, and the effects are
already plain to see. Too much water — from
storms and flooding — is driving people
from their homes. Elsewhere too little water is robbing
people of their livelihoods. All this could produce the largest
wave of migration in human history. Up to a billion people may be displaced
by climate change in this century. Initially, most will be poor
people in the global south — even as the wealthy north
seals its borders. It’s true that we humans are
causing climate change. It’s real and
it exists. People who deny it are
lying to themselves. They can see and feel the effects
of it in their surroundings; they can feel the effects
of climate change. In the Philippines the future has
already arrived. Tropical storms, flooding and heavy rains are
striking at ever shorter intervals — and growing
in intensity. Climate change is the worst creation
to be produced by our species. We humans have created
climate change. And more and more people
are on the run from it: If sea levels rise to the extent
that scientists have predicted, then by 2030, millions people on the coasts
worldwide will be in acute danger. The densely populated coastal regions
of Asia will be most affected. Binuangan is an island
district on the Bay of Manila. Here water is already
eating away at the land. Every year this community has been
sinking four to six centimeters deeper into the sea. Residents have to rebuild their houses on
the rooftops of their old, sunken homes. What scares me the most about
this steady sea water rise is that someday we won’t
even see the roofs anymore. Entire houses
will vanish. And at the same time we’ll keep trying to build up the
ground through land reclamation. George de Omaña —
who goes by Jojo — is captain of the
community’s rescue vessel. He has been homeless
for years now. Since the rising water
made his house unlivable, he has been sleeping
at his workplace. Jojo doesn’t come
here much anymore. After the water began to destroy their
home, his wife took their son and left. At high tide, everything
here is submerged. The water was
knee-deep here. We had to stow things in higher
places to keep them safe. If the water
reached the bed, we had to wait for it to
subside before we could sleep. This was a happy home. We usually had visitors
— friends, relatives. We’d all be together inside this
house, chatting, sharing meals, sometimes drinking. Now it’s makes me sad to think
about this house – abandoned. Jojo dreams of
restoring his house, but at the moment he
doesn’t have enough money. Many families have
been torn apart. The young people move away to seek work.
In 2018 alone, an estimated 3.8 million
people in the Philippines fled from storms and
natural disasters. Worldwide most refugees are internally
displaced in their own countries. In the end, everyone in Binuangan
will be driven out by climate change. The dead can no longer be buried here;
they have to be taken to the mainland. There are still 6,000 people
living here, in cramped quarters. Binuangan is sinking due to
erosion and rising sea levels. I can see the extent of
environmental destruction. The life of people in Binuangan is
bound up with the water around us. Sea levels are rising worldwide as the
temperature of the atmosphere increases, causing ice at the
poles to melt. That increase is due to the rise
in greenhouse gas emissions — especially carbon
dioxide, CO2. It is released when we burn coal, oil
and gas in industry, heating and cars. The biggest CO2 emitters are
the big industrial nations — above all, China and
the United States. I’ve seen big changes here. Back when I was 15 or 20 years old
the rainy season was normal — in May, June, July. But now we get frost
in those months. In the past we didn’t have those problems.
I can feel the changes. The rainy season
is coming later, and at the same time we
keep having cold snaps. In the summer we have long
periods without rain. We suffer from that — and then
suddenly we have too much rain. Pilar Jacinto Pablo grew up here
in the highlands of Guatemala. She’s grown potatoes all her life. But
in recent years, things have changed. This little plant — as you can see
— isn’t strong enough to survive. We can’t use it for seeds or
potato production. It’s a loss. Every year, drought and frost
destroy many potato plants — which is all Pilar and her
family grow on their fields. In Guatemala’s Western Highlands,
most people are small-scale farmers, and three quarters of
them live in poverty. During the rainy season from May to
October, the countryside changes from dusty and dry, to lush and green.
For Pilar this would be the most
trouble-free part of the year — if only rainfall patterns
were like they used to be. Water is so important for
us and the community because we have no natural water sources.
We depend on the rain for water. That’s why we buy containers and
canisters to catch the water. When the summer comes that’s the
only way to store a bit of water. It’s very important for our
communities and our plantations. Without water we
can do nothing. Around half the residents of Todos
Santos have gone to the United States. After every drought,
more and more leave. Most of the men are now
working in the US. Every month, they send
a few hundred dollars. Pilar’s house was built
with US dollars. The family also uses the money to pay the
installments on a loan they took out to finance the trip and
the people smugglers. Like most here, Pilar and her family
are Mam, an indigenous Mayan people. Pilar lives together with her
children and grandchildren. Pilar’s husband emigrated
three years ago. They now make their decisions
together over the phone. Without my husband’s help
it would be very difficult. When our harvest fails,
we lose all our money. If my husband didn’t send
money we wouldn’t get by. And it’s not just this
one piece of land. We have more land where
harvests have failed. Without his help we’d
lose a lot of money. As an illegal immigrant, her husband could
be deported from the US at any time, so he doesn’t
want to be named. Pilar knows that migrants
from Central America are no longer welcome
in the United States. You know, it’s really difficult
when you think of Donald Trump, what he
believes. He’s so contradictory and in so
many different scenarios, right? You’re going to build up this wall
but you’re saying on Twitter: climate change
is a hoax. As climate change exacerbates
other things that are going on, it’s definitely becoming either
a secondary or a primary reason why people
are leaving. And their answer of course is this,
right: Building up a border wall, building up what we see
before us right now. There is still no legally
accepted definition for terms such as “climate refugee” even though the World Bank predicts that
Mexico and Central America will have at least 1.4 million internal climate
migrants over the next 30 years — and many more who
will migrate abroad. The number of Guatemalans
migrants registered at the southwest US border has
quintupled in the past three years. Todd Miller is an author who writes about
security policy and climate change. He’s been observing developments at
the US-Mexican border for years. If you go along the
2,000-mile US-Mexico border there’s about 650 miles of either
walls or barriers of some sort. There’s all kinds
of technologies, billions and billions of dollars in
technologies, from high-tech cameras, cameras that can see seven miles
away, radar systems, drones. There’s a fleet of
approximately ten drones. There’s other things that you
see in US military operations. There’s been a lot of
these kinds of transfers from conflict zones abroad to here. Now the United States has a new
conflict zone on its own doorstep. It’s a crisis that the US and other
industrial nations have helped to create. There’s seven hundred times more carbon
emissions from the United States since 1900 than Guatemala, El
Salvador, and Honduras combined — seven hundred times more. Yet this
is the country that’s fortifying its borders from people who
are obviously impacted by those sorts of excessive
amounts of emissions and I think: How could that be possible?
I mean, we’ve known about the science for so many years and
we had more than ever before. But at the same time there’s more
border walls than ever before, too. Like this is a kind of adaptation plan
— right? — for the richer countries. When David Ramos arrived
in Arizona eight years ago there was no reception
center for migrants. He’s still waiting for a
permanent residence permit. I’ll always feel like a Guatemalan.
I don’t feel American. That’s where I come from and
I’ll only be here for a while. I don’t have a green card
yet, but what can I do? No matter what, I’ll
always be Guatemalan. David has a work permit that has
to be renewed every two years. Even if he were to be expelled, what
he’s achieved here is something that many back home
can only dream of. And he earns enough to help
support his family in Guatemala. He grew up there on his parents’
farm as one of nine children. I didn’t enjoy my childhood all that much.
But it was an ordinary childhood. We grew up working. My brothers worked
with my father, my sisters with my mother. Then I started to look for a way to earn a
living, and how I could continue my studies. So I got a job
in a workshop. Here in the US he works
as a freelance gardener. It’s very different
from Guatemala. A lot grows in the hot season, even
though there’s hardly any water. Arizona has a desert climate
and a severe lack of water. Life here is only possible thanks to water
piped from the faraway Colorado River. But the cities of Phoenix and Tucson
still use the resource wastefully. They’re counted among the least
sustainable cities in the world. Hundreds of thousands
of liters of water go into keeping golf courses
in the desert green. It’s a different life here. They have more ways of
treating the water. We don’t have that in Guatemala. I
can’t judge if that’s fair or unfair. Things are more
advanced here. When you look at their houses,
they’re not wasting water. They’re using it
for their plants. And since they have money, they can
pay for as much water as they want. David says someday he’d like
to live like his clients — in his own house with a garden. To achieve that goal he
works six days a week. Beautiful,
thank you! Thank you so much,
have a nice day! Have a good
weekend! Thank
you. He just earned 65 dollars cash,
for an hour of gardening. David married a Guatemalan
woman in the US. She comes from the same
highland region as he does. He lives here in a trailer park
with his wife and daughter. On Sundays David likes to drive out into
the desert. The hills remind him of home. He’d like to go back to Guatemala
someday to see his family, but without a Green Card he
wouldn’t be able to reenter the US. It makes me sad. It’s tough to
be separated from your family. They’re over there and only I’m here.
But what can you do? We’re separated, not because we want to be, but because
we are forced to be by necessity. Over there, you can’t
make ends meet. I’ll never leave here. As
long as this world remains, Binuangan will
remain Binuangan. Conditions in the ocean are changing; the
fishermen are catching less and less. They can hardly earn
a profit nowadays. Almost every family has at least
one member who has left Binuangan. It’s true that people
are leaving here. They’ve gone to work
overseas — or in Manila. As far as I can tell, the water level
here in Binuangan will continue to rise. But we’ll continue to build it up,
to reclaim our beloved neighborhood. The people of Binuangan won’t let
this place vanish beneath the waves. Not everyone here believes that
the community can be saved. Every day, Jojo’s neighbor
Melody finds her house flooded. I dream of settling in
another place, not here. But my husband, Jay, is from here
and he doesn’t want to leave. I’m originally from the
mainland, from Navotas. But Jay comes from here and
he won’t leave this place. There are plenty
of indications. First, the warnings on the
radio, and on the television. When a strong typhoon is approaching
we start tying down the roofs. We tie them down so they won’t
be blown away by the wind. And we usually buy supplies before the
storm so that we have something to eat, the basics, while the storm
sweeps through the village. From typhoons
to storms, extreme weather has grown more
frequent in recent years. Scientists still don’t know
to what extent this rise is connected to human-induced
climate change. Any place you look at that’s
supposedly a victim of climate change— no they’re a victim of lack of freedom.
They have very little capability. And so yeah, everything sucks
including the climate sucks, but it’s not because
we put more CO2 in it, it is just because life sucks
when you’re a human being on a difficult planet
with very low capability. For example, if you look at the US, we
have every form of climate imaginable. We have a polar
climate in Alaska. We have like swampy Florida or
we have California where I live which I think is the
nicest climate. But we all have life
expectancies over 75. Why? Because when human beings are
sufficiently capable they can adapt to and even master any climate versus
when they have very low capability when they’re in primitive and poor
societies they can’t deal with anything. So I think one of the big things that’s
misplaced in the climate discussion, is there’s not enough focus on how
do we increase human capability. I’m an energy philosopher, which means
I try to help people think more clearly about energy and
environmental issues. Alex Epstein is widely known
as a climate change skeptic. At least 13 percent of Americans
share his views on global warming — a higher proportion than in
any other western country. Epstein advises oil companies on how
to sell their products better — also using climate
denial arguments. People have a very deep-seated fear of
changing our environment. And I think that causes them when we change our
environment through fossil fuels, through say having a warming
influence on climate, I think people tend to exaggerate
and get overly fearful, versus looking at
it proportionally. Since the 19th century the
US has burned more coal, oil and natural gas
than any other country. The current administration has refused to
take responsibility for that — and in 2019 officially gave notice
that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. That’s bad news for the
countries in the global south. They’re already are the ones most
affected by climate change — and are least able to
deal with the impact. I think it’s been great for
us to have a lot of energy but also it’s been amazingly positive
for the poorer parts of the world that we’ve used
all this energy. So what’s happened is we’ve been
spending decades and decades and decades thinking about how to improve life
including things like medical discoveries that have then been shared in large part
with the poorer parts of the world. So there’s a certain narrative that
we’ve made people’s lives worse but no, the wealthy world has made in so far as
they’ve created all of this innovation has made everyone’s
lives better. So I don’t think we should
feel guilty about it. And I think we should be very proud. I think that humanity — there are a lot of
problems, but life has never been better and the earth has never been
a better place to live. And I think most people if they
think about it would agree. I don’t think they would want to go
back to 50 years ago or 100 years ago. In the Arizona desert, scientists at
the Biosphere 2 experimental station are trying to find out how to model and
perhaps save the Earth’s major ecosystems. Biosphere started out as the world’s largest
ecological experiment ever conducted with a closed or controlled
environment to try to replicate Earth’s systems and to
better understand it. The earth is
truly unique and we know that that uniqueness is
what allows us to live and survive. And if those conditions
change so much so it could definitely threaten
or it will threaten our survival. And so I think understanding what
those potential implications are before they actually
play out are crucial. The research center houses
seven model ecosystems. It’s a unique place where, under
close-to-real-world conditions, it is possible to test
how natural systems will respond to extreme
environmental change. The researchers can control the climate
and measure how the ecosystem reacts. In the model rainforest an
international team of scientists are studying what happens
when there is less rain. The unique thing here is that in the
Biosphere we can control the entire forest. We can decide when it will rain,
and how much. We’re measuring how the
tropical rainforest responds when it is still in
its normal state. And then we’re going to initiate a long
drought and see how the ecosystem behaves. Once it gets drier, the
rate of photosynthesis — goes down. We want to know at what point a
system like this reaches its limits. It’s important to know what will happen
in the world’s forests in the future. Trees store CO2, the climate gas that
causes this atmospheric warming, which arises from the combustion
of fossil substances. Plants take it up
during photosynthesis. What we see around the world
is that up to 30 percent of the emissions that we put into the
atmosphere can be taken up again by forests. So they act as a huge buffer that
helps mitigate the climate effect. Without them, it
would be much worse. Scientists first warned about
global warming decades ago — but it took years for the message
to even begin to sink in. Today it’s apparent
that the climate is changing faster than
scientists had predicted. But at the end of the day we
are all inhabitants of Earth. And so what happens here in the
US or what happens in Europe or Asia at some point is
going to impact all of us. So I think it behooves all of us to
recognize that we are seeing changes, that those changes have impacts
on ecosystems, on resources and that we are dependent on
those systems for our existence. And so, again, if they change so
dramatically it is going to impact us and potentially, if we’re not able
to adapt, we will no longer survive. Pilar is seeking help to defy the extreme
weather. Her potatoes are her livelihood. Now she’s lost not only a
large part of the harvest, but has too few seed tubers
for planting next year. A seed bank helps
farmers like Pilar 53 domestic potato varieties
grow on the fields here. The seed bank gives
Pilar tubers. In return she will have to give
up some of her next harvest. A farming cooperative collects and
stores seeds from local crops. That way local growers can obtain seeds if
need be — so when the next drought hits, they’re less likely to have to
give up their farms and leave. In some villages here, half the
population has already gone to the US. ‘Vecinos fantasmas‘
– ghost neighbors — is what the owners of these
unoccupied houses are called. They live in the US but send money home to
build their American-style dream-houses. For when
they return. The cemetery in Todos Santos Cuchumatán
also has tales of migration to tell. American flags decorate the graves of
those who died as immigrants in the US When her husband left three years ago, he
and Pilar made that decision together. They knew they would not see
each other for many years. I know that he’s far from home
and we’re a long distance apart. But I also know that we did it
because things are very hard here. And I know in my heart that this
distance will not ruin our relationship. I know my husband
will come back. Scientists agree that climate
change can no longer be stopped. But its magnitude
will depend on whether people are prepared to
radically alter their lifestyles. As I drive myself, and I see all the
cars that are going back and forth and three lanes of traffic,
four lanes of traffic. And I think as a person that’s aware
of the climate crisis and you think ‘oh is there any progress being
made’ and all I have to do is go out on the main
avenues and think no. I don’t know, if I turn
on the television, I don’t know how many times
I’m told to buy a car. You know on one hand
there’s a climate crisis. On the other hand I’m always been told to
buy the new car, a new car, a new car. I mean, as you look around the
world, it’s all adding up. The stresses put upon
people are worse and worse. I think what the world
needs to be looking at is we’re going to have
people on the move. This is there is something set in
motion that cannot be stopped. There are going to be places
that can no longer be lived in. And now this idea of a more bordered
world is an idea of exclusion where certain people have
access and others do not. And we have to instead
start thinking of a world where there’s going to be a lot of
people on the move, and how can we begin to understand that and
maybe begin to at least forge a sort of new world where those
people will be more welcomed. I sometime dream of the
Flood, the Deluge. Because of people’s stubbornness,
because they did not obey God’s laws. He punished the
whole world. Then God promised that he would
not do the same thing again. But look at what’s happening now.
It’s happening slowly, in different places. It’s the
same scenario, all over again. Jojo might soon find
himself a climate migrant. If sea levels keep rising,
not just his home but the entire island
district could be submerged. How long that might
take nobody knows. I don’t like what’s happening,
especially for the coming generations. I pity those children who will grow up without
experiencing the beauty of this place. If we continue on this path, we won’t be
able to do anything about climate change. In the highlands of Guatemala the
descendants of the Maya believe that the global climate is out of
kilter because humans have lost their respect
for Mother Earth. It depends on us. If we conserve water and care for the
trees, we’ll have a chance of surviving. But if we continue like we are
doing now and cut down the trees, the future for our children
will be very hard. Thank God we still have water
and trees and can survive. But if we continue to destroy
nature and the Earth, in the future people will have
nothing left to drink and to eat.

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