Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Refugees: "Climate Refugees" not just polar bears

Source: Refugees International (RI)
By Briana Orr

"What happens when you have overpopulation, over-consumption and lack of resources colliding and displacing millions of people from their homes?"

This is the central question driving the documentary "Climate Refugees," as summarized by director Michael Nash. "Climate Refugees" was screened last Thursday at the British Embassy as part of a Refugees International event

In the making of the film, Nash and his team spent eighteen months traveling the world to document the plight of people displaced as a result of environmental degradation and natural disasters. The film takes us to Bangladesh where we meet survivors of Cyclone Sidr and to drought-affected areas of Chad and Sudan. We also see the Tuvalu islands in the South Pacific, where rising sea levels are threatening not only the homes and livelihoods of the island's inhabitants—but also their very nationhood.

The film features the policy-makers, academics and scientists who work on issues of climate change, including notable figures such as Senator John Kerry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and former Speaker Newt Gringrich. Dominick Chilcott, Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy who introduced the film, commented on the appearance of both Pelosi and Gringrich, which he called "a truly amazing bipartisan accomplishment." Of Nash, he added: "the government should hire him."

Following the screening was a Q&A with Michael Nash and producer Justin Hogan during which they spoke about their hopes for the film. "Climate Refugees" has already been screened at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, and is running the film festival circuit -- it was even called one of the three most important films at Sundance. But Nash and Hogan now hope to reach a wider audience of Americans.

"Most people will tell you that climate change is fifty or a hundred years away and that it's polar bears," said Nash. "Climate Refugees" shows that the impacts of climate change are being felt today, in vulnerable parts of the world where people are losing their homes and livelihoods. It should be noted that these people are not technically "refugees" who have received official refugee status after fleeing persecution or conflict. Indeed, a major challenge is that there is no international framework to ensure these people receive the protection and assistance they need. This is why it's even more important for a film like this to put a human face on a debate that tends to be dominated by numbers and far-off predictions.

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