Tens of thousands of U.S. residents were displaced by climate change-fueled disasters in 2018. California saw a string of massive wildfires — from the Mendocino Complex in July, which became the state’s largest wildfire on record, to the Camp fire in November, which was the deadliest. Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence, the second rainiest storm in 70 years of U.S. record-keeping, was quickly forgotten as Hurricane Michael slammed into the Gulf Coast, the third strongest ever to make landfall in the U.S.
The survivors of the disasters have resorted to camping in tents in retail parking lots, sleeping on friends’ couches, parking trailers on the lawns of their destroyed homes, or renting overpriced apartments in communities where housing has become increasingly scarce. Safety nets like flood and fire insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency routinely fall far short of providing the support needed to keep survivors housed, fed, and on their feet. A climate refugee’s pathway to recovery is determined by their savings, family wealth, community connections, and credit scores.
While storms and wildfires reduced thousands of homes to ash and rubble, or left them covered in mold, slower-moving disasters, like sea-level rise on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and erosion driven by melting permafrost in Alaska, are giving scores of communities expiration dates.