Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’
ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES, La. — Each morning at 3:30, when Joann Bourg leaves the mildewed and rusted house that her parents built on her grandfather’s property, she worries that the bridge connecting this spit of waterlogged land to Louisiana’s terra firma will again be flooded and she will miss another day’s work.
路易斯安那州让·查尔斯岛(ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES)——每天清晨3点半，乔安妮·布尔格(Joann Bourg)离开父母在祖辈地产上修建的发霉生锈的房子时，总会担心连接这一小块水涝地与路易斯安那州陆地的那座桥再次被洪水淹没，她就又不能去上班了。
Ms. Bourg, a custodian at a sporting goods store on the mainland, lives with her two sisters, 82-year-old mother, son and niece on land where her ancestors, members of the Native American tribes of southeastern Louisiana, have lived for generations. That earth is now dying, drowning in salt and sinking into the sea, and she is ready to leave.
With a first-of-its-kind “climate resilience” grant to resettle the island’s native residents, Washington is ready to help.
“Yes, this is our grandpa’s land,” Ms. Bourg said. “But it’s going under one way or another.”
In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants totaling $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, by building stronger levees, dams and drainage systems.
今年1月，住房和城市发展部(Department of Housing and Urban Development)宣布为13个州拨款10亿美元，修建更坚固的堤坝和排水系统，帮助很多社区应对气候变化。
One of those grants, $48 million for Isle de Jean Charles, is something new: the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change. The divisions the effort has exposed and the logistical and moral dilemmas it has presented point up in microcosm the massive problems the world could face in the coming decades as it confronts a new category of displaced people who have become known as climate refugees.
“We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture,” lamented Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, the tribe to which most Isle de Jean Charles residents belong. “It’s all going to be history.”
Around the globe, governments are confronting the reality that as human-caused climate change warms the planet, rising sea levels, stronger storms, increased flooding, harsher droughts and dwindling freshwater supplies could drive the world’s most vulnerable people from their homes. Between 50 million and 200 million people — mainly subsistence farmers and fishermen — could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change, according to estimates by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the International Organization for Migration.
各国政府面临着这样一个事实：人类造成的气候变化导致全球变暖，海平面上升，暴风雨雪更猛烈，洪水更频繁，干旱更严重，淡水供应减少，世界上处境最危险的人群可能因此流离失所。据联合国大学环境和人类安全学院(United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security)以及国际移民组织(International Organization for Migration)估计，到2050年，将有5000万至2亿人因气候变化而失去家园，他们大多是自给自足的小农和渔民。
“The changes are underway and they are very rapid,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell warned last week in Ottawa. “We will have climate refugees.”
But the problem is complex, said Walter Kaelin, the head of the Nansen Initiative, a research organization working with the United Nations to address extreme-weather displacement.
不过，研究机构南森计划(the Nansen Initiative)的主管沃尔特·凯林(Walter Kaelin)说，这个问题很复杂。南森计划与联合国合作，设法解决极端天气导致的无家可归问题。
“You don’t want to wait until people have lost their homes, until they flee and become refugees,” he said. “The idea is to plan ahead and provide people with some measure of choice.”
The Isle de Jean Charles resettlement plan is one of the first programs of its kind in the world, a test of how to respond to climate change in the most dramatic circumstances without tearing communities apart. Under the terms of the federal grant, the island’s residents are to be resettled to drier land and a community that as of now does not exist. All funds have to be spent by 2022.
“We see this as setting a precedent for the rest of the country, the rest of the world,” said Marion McFadden, who is running the program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But even a plan like this — which would move only about 60 people — has been hard to pull off. Three previous resettlement efforts dating back to 2002 failed after they became mired in logistical and political complications. The current plan faces all the same challenges, illustrating the limitations of resettlement on any larger scale.
For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.
What little remains will eventually be inundated as burning fossil fuels melt polar ice sheets and drive up sea levels, projected the National Climate Assessment, a report of 13 federal agencies that highlighted the Isle de Jean Charles and its tribal residents as among the nation’s most vulnerable.
据《国家气候评估报告》(National Climate Assessment)预计，由于燃烧化石燃料，极地冰层在融化，海平面在上升，所以仅剩的少量土地也终将被淹没。该报告由13个联邦机构提供，它着重指出，让·查尔斯岛以及岛上部落居民的情况属于美国最危险的情况。
Already, the homes and trailers bear the mildewed, rusting scars of increasing floods. The fruit trees are mostly gone or dying thanks to saltwater in the soil. Few animals are left to hunt or trap.
Violet Handon Parfait sees nothing but a bleak future in the rising waters. She lives with her husband and two children in a small trailer behind the wreckage of their house, which Hurricane Gustav destroyed in 2008.
维奥莉特·汉登·帕尔费(Violet Handon Parfait)觉得，不断上升的水位只会让未来一片黑暗。她和丈夫以及两个孩子住在一个小活动房里，前面是他们原来房子的废墟，那所房子被2008年的飓风古斯塔夫(Hurricane Gustav)摧毁。
The floods ruined the trailer’s oven, so the family cooks on a hot plate. Water destroyed the family computer, too. Ms. Parfait, who has lupus, is afraid of what will happen if she is sick and cannot reach a doctor over the flooded bridge.
Ms. Parfait, who dropped out of high school, hopes for a brighter future, including college, for her children, Heather, 15, and Reggie, 13. But the children often miss school when flooding blocks their school bus.
“I just want to get out of here,” she said.
Still, many residents of Isle de Jean Charles do not want to leave. Attachment to the island runs deep. Parents and grandparents lived here; there is a cemetery on the island that no one wants to abandon. Old and well-earned distrust of the government hangs over all efforts, and a bitter dispute between the two Indian tribes with members on the island has thwarted efforts to unite behind a plan.
“Ain’t nobody I talk to that wants to move,” said Edison Dardar, 66, a lifelong resident who has erected handwritten signs at the entrance to the island declaring his refusal to leave. “I don’t know who’s in charge of all this.”
Louisiana officials have been coping with some of the fastest rates of land loss in the world — an area the size of Delaware has disappeared from south Louisiana since the 1930s. A master plan that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars envisions a giant wall of levees and flood walls along the coast.
But some places, like the island, would be left on the outside. For those communities, wholesale relocation may be an effective tool, if a far more difficult and costly one.
The location of the new community has not been chosen. Chiefs of the two tribes present on the island — the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and the United Houma Nation — have debated who would be allowed to live there beyond the islanders themselves, and whether some islanders could resettle elsewhere. One of the planners involved in the resettlement suggested a buffer area between the new community and its surrounding neighborhood to reduce tension. Chief Naquin wants a live buffalo on site.
新社区的地点尚未选定。岛上两个部落（分别是比洛克西-奇蒂马查-查克托部落和联合霍马族部落[United Houma Nation]）的首领对一些问题存在争议：比如，除了岛民，还有哪些人可以住在新安置点；有些岛民是否可以在其他地方定居。参与重新安置的一个规划者建议在新社区和周围社区之间设立缓冲区，以减少摩擦。酋长纳坎希望新安置点有活野牛。
What has been decided, and what was essential for the islanders’ support, is that the move be voluntary.
“I’ve lived my whole life here, and I’m going to die here,” said Hilton Chaisson, who raised 10 sons on the island and wants his 26 grandchildren to know the same life of living off the land.
He conceded that the flooding has worsened, but, he said, “we always find a way.”