Uprooted: Climate migration and scientist activism

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“The poor and underprivileged and often minority communities are going to bear the brunt of much of this change,” says Abraham Lustgarten. They are already disproportionately affected because of decades of legacy inequalities that actually make them more vulnerable to climate change.” Graphic by Gabby Quarante/KCRW

Abraham Lustgarten, investigative journalist and author of On the Move: The Overheating Earth and the Uprooting of America, takes a deep dive into climate-induced migration, which by all indications is already happening.  

According to the data, charts, and research Lustgarten sources in his book, if predictions hold steady, there will be a massive redistribution of the global population as more and more people pack up and move northward to cooler and wetter regions.  

“Declining crop yields, increasing wildfire risk, dramatic sea level rise, and flooding on the coasts all [will happen] within the next 16 years or so,” says Lustgarten. “We can't pinpoint who will move or how many people will move, but those are things that are expected to directly drive migration.”

Dire climate predictions often go unnoticed; charts, graphs, and reports may not tug at the heartstrings, but Lustgarten says they do tell a compelling story that Americans are already being uprooted and American society is slowly transforming.

Scientist Rose Abramoff has spent her career researching, analyzing data, and writing reports. But at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a federally-funded laboratory where she worked as an ecologist, Abramoff spent much of her time out in the field, witnessing and charting changes in real time. 

“I could see roots dying and it was heartbreaking”, she says. “I've seen tons of graphs, I've read tons of papers in the IPCC Report, and it still chokes me up because [when] you spend enough hours in a place, you develop a connection to those organisms.”  

She began to ask herself how she could remain silent and impartial. What could she do to voice her concern? 

In a recent New York Times op-ed, “I’m a Scientist Who Spoke Up About Climate Change. My Employer Fired Me,” Abramoff explains her difficult and scary decision to transition out of the scientific community and become a climate activist.

In his book On the Move: The Overheating Earth and the Uprooting of America,” author Abrahm Lustgarten describes how his reporting is “inspired in part by a body of research that looks at what they call the human habitability niche- this idea that there’s for 6000 years been a niche that humans survive best in and that niche is moving and it's shifting northward towards the poles. And it basically projects that billions of people across the equatorial regions of the planet will be displaced..in response to that.” 

Abrahm Lustgarten, pictured here, says “the data points to the Great Lakes, as one, real promising region in the future… Relatively speaking, it's very promising, in part because those lakes hold about 20% of the world's, surface freshwater supply.” Photo courtesy of Abrahm Lustgarten

Rose Abramoff pictured here says “the science that we do, how that science is funded, who makes those decisions is deeply ingrained with our values as a society and political values. So I think it's a little bit naive of us to say, we're completely divorced from that, we are just searching for the truth and that we're interested in understanding what happens to the climate and don't have any stake in that as humans.”  Photo courtesy of Rose Abramoff 

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Andrea Brody