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Fire and Floods in Our Own Backyard: Examining Climate Change Displacement and Internal Migration in Canada

Fire and Floods in Our Own Backyard: Examining Climate Change Displacement and Internal Migration in Canada

Written by Tesni Ellis, PhD Student in Education

During Climate Change Research Month, at the March 16 lecture hosted by the York University’s Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response and Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE), listeners were invited to draw our attention inwards to proactively consider the “fire and floods” in our own backyard.

Dr. Yvonne Su began her talk by sharing a selection of photographs of devastating wildfires, from Australia to Greece to California to Lytton, British Columbia. With their vivid oranges and reds and their smoke-filled skylines, the scorching images reminded us, in Dr. Su’s words, that “climate change fuels the fires, and the fires fuel climate change.”

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters worldwide, Dr. Su explained. Several threats to Canada were recently outlined in a climate change report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS)’ outlines threats to Canadians, including water and food security, Arctic sovereignty, and coastal security.

A proactive turn inwards, Dr. Su observed, is essential for generating community-based plans and solutions, in the face of climate disaster locally as well as globally.

But this requires us to challenge common myths, Dr. Su underlined, especially the alarmist narrative dominating news today – the idea that the Global North needs to prepare for mass numbers of climate refugees and migrants coming from the Global South. Informed by a colonial mindset, such fear-mongering feeds into unfounded ideas that displaced peoples will move across continents as they flee climate change.

The research tells a different story, Dr. Su explained, one that is closer to home. Most displaced peoples seek to return to their homes and rebuild, so migration due to climate change is local and regional, not international. Further, we can learn from community-based solutions enacted worldwide when developing our own preparedness plans.

In a context where climate change is happening in our own country, Dr. Su observed, we must focus on proactive, practical solutions. These solutions will centre:

·        community-based, planned relocation;

·        multi-year and multi-hazard prevention plans;

·        cooperative, multi-level governance and resources;

·        and preparation and support for host communities.

We need to ask ourselves hard questions, Dr. Su suggests, and consider internal migration “so we can be sensitive to the tensions that might rise up, and be proactive for what may come, so we can be prepared.” Questions like, “If a disaster was to strike Toronto, for instance, where would we go?”

“How many of us are having these conversations?” Dr. Su urged. We need to “start with ourselves and then expand beyond our own household with empathy towards those who may be displaced now or in the future.”

All of this demands a politics of preparedness, engagement, and listening to communities. It means, too, that we must take politics seriously. Dr. Su explains:

“There is a need for us to push our politicians to think proactively, to show them that we care and that climate change is a priority for us. We need to make it clear that Canadians care about living in a good environment and that we care about living in a nation that is free of significant natural hazards due to climate change.”

When election time comes around, we must advocate for policies that address the serious challenge climate change represents, for all who live in Canada and beyond, beginning in our own backyards.