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Climate Fears Are Driving 'Ecomigration' Across Globe

Adam Fier, wife Misbah Sadat and daughters Maya and Maha moved to New Zealand partly out of climate concerns.
Adam Fier, wife Misbah Sadat and daughters Maya and Maha moved to New Zealand partly out of climate concerns. (By Leah L. Jones For The Washington Post)

"I am not going to predict how the climate might change and how it might affect New Zealand," Fier said. "But quite honestly, I feel in 100 years, one of my daughters is still going to be alive and this planet is going to be a mess. If I didn't have two daughters, I would not be doing this."

There are lots of reasons Fier might be wrong. Broad prediction is notoriously difficult, and humans have long proved adept at devising technological solutions for major problems.

But he argued that people who do nothing in the face of risk are the ones who are being irrational: If even a fraction of the consequences of global climate change that scientists are forecasting come true, disasters such as Hurricane Katrina might become the norm, not the exception. In a world afflicted by overpopulation and environmental degradation, he asked, is the irrational person the one who acts or the one who says the future will look after itself?

"This is an absolutely rational way to do things," agreed Reuveny, who moved from Israel to Indiana with an eye on environmental concerns. "When it comes to climate change, we tend to forget about it being better to be safe than sorry and say it is not going to be a problem."

"I would not deny that more than once, a thought has gone through my mind on the fourth floor in my office, when everything is green and tranquil and the sky is blue and everything is clean, and I say, 'Yeah, it is different than the Middle East,' " Reuveny said. "Do I want to go back and live in a little town in Israel, where everything is yellow and dry and there are only three months of rain a year and there is pollution?"

Within the United States, regions that are vulnerable to hurricanes appear to be producing the greatest number of domestic ecomigrants.

Lynn Lightfoot was briefly displaced from New Orleans ahead of Katrina, but the hurricane did not do much damage to her law practice. The general devastation, however, prompted her to look for a new life elsewhere -- she knew that Katrina would not be the last storm. Within weeks, she had a job offer in northern Louisiana.

"I laughed at it because I had never been to Shreveport -- it is a different cultural world from the unique culture of New Orleans," she said. But she took the job as an assistant state attorney general.

Last year, New Orleans was ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Gustav. "Viewing all of that on TV and reading about it online and seeing images of this impending doom, I was very happy that I had made the decision not to return to New Orleans," Lightfoot said.

Thomas Hoff, 50, of Lakeland, Fla., may soon be an ecomigrant. He said he has come to regret moving to the Sunshine State from Michigan a quarter-century ago and is exploring his options.

"The snow is looking better every cotton-picking hurricane that comes through now," Hoff said. "I am constantly watching the tropics every hurricane season. You don't know what is going to happen."

"The risks have gotten worse in recent years because of global warming," Hoff said, adding that even if a hurricane does not hurt him in the next few years, the rising cost of hurricane insurance will. "I have watched movies like "The Day After Tomorrow," when the Earth has a deep freeze that suddenly comes over and there are these giant tidal waves -- I don't think they are so far-fetched."

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