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While some still view climate change as some distant or unidentifiable threat (and others simply argue its effects “won’t be so bad”), the impacts of rising tides and surging temperatures are already changing lives around the world. From South Florida to the Pacific Islands, this list represents thousands of lives that are forever altered by the warming climate — and a threat to millions more unless something changes quickly.
1. Miami, Florida, United States
“Climate change is no longer viewed as a future threat round here,” atmosphere expert Professor Ben Kirtman, of the University of Miami, told the Guardian in a recent interview. “It is something that we are having to deal with today.”
As noted by the Guardian, Miami’s once glamorous beachfront thoroughfare has been reduced to a one-lane passage in many places, with blockades and road work closing in on all sides to stop the rising tide. Every year, with the coming of fall and spring tides, ocean surges break up over the beach and pour through storm drains — destroying cars and damaging homes and businesses.
“This never used to happen,” laundromat owner Eliseo Toussaint told the New York Times, as he watched saltwater fill the streets and block his front door. “I’ve owned this place eight years and now it’s all the time.”
2. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok residents are already experiencing dramatic temperature increases as a result of climate change, with rising tides threatening further damage. The average maximum temperatures observed in Bangkok have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius from 1961 to 2007, the United Nations Environmental Program highlights in a new report.
According to the report: “The impacts of climate change on the city are likely to be quite severe, including major flooding due to Bangkok’s low elevation, increased land subsidence which is already occurring, problems of water supply provision and contamination, air pollution and oppressive heat with associated health consequences, increases in infectious diseases and decrease in biomass production.”
3. Coastal cities in Indonesia and Bangladesh
Experts expect about 250 million people worldwide to move by 2050 as a result of climate change. Of those, 20 million to 30 million climate change refugees are expected to come from Bangladesh, likely the largest number from one place, the Toronto Star reports.
Already, cyclones, tropical storms and other natural disasters, along with rising sea levels, have forced thousands from their homes in coastal Indonesia and Bangladesh into the slums of Dhaka. After taking residence in the overcrowded city, many find a home in shantytowns, where sanitation is minimal to nonexistent and monsoon season often brings malaria and cholera outbreaks.
4. Newtok, Alaska, United States
Last year, the Guardian ran a compelling and timely four-part series entitled “America’s First Climate Refugees.” Specifically, the series focused on native Alaskan villages on the shores of the Bering Sea.
In the village of Newtok, for example, floods and erosion are eating away the land at alarming rates. Shorter, warmer winters, earlier springs and rising waters threaten to transform the area into an ever-shrinking island, which could completely disappear, possibly within the next five years.
Some coastal Alaskan villages are exploring ways to prevent erosion and flood damage, but in areas like Newtok, which is situated in a low-lying wetlands unable to support infrastructure projects, residents have no choice but to move.
5. Sovereign Pacific islands
The first mass exodus related to climate change has already happened in Kiribati, a group of 32 islands located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean. Back in 2012, the archipelago began moving its entire population to Fiji to avoid rising seas. If rising sea levels persist at current rates, the entire nation will be submerged by 2100.
Unfortunately, Kiribati is not alone. The Caterat Islanders of Papua New Guinea, for example, were the world’s first community to be entirely displaced by climate change. The island is predicted to be completely underwater by 2015.
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and the Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.