climate change

When is it time to abandon a place?

Have you been watching Climate Change: Ade on the front lines? It’s a three part BBC series in which Ade Adepitan travels to visit communities already facing the devastating impacts of climate change. It’s on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service if that’s available to you, or see these educational resources otherwise.

In the series, Adepitan visits Bangladeshi villages that are shored up by vast stacks of sandbags, or homes on stilts in the Solomon Islands, where the sea keeps encroaching. How long can people hang on? When do you give up, and let the water have its way?

For many front line communities, this is a live question. It’s going to remain a live question for many decades to come, in the many places that climate change starts to bite. Do you rebuild after a fire, for the second or third time? Or repair after a flood, knowing that your home is still vulnerable?

Who gives up first – the residents? Or is it the banks or insurance companies, no longer willing to underwrite reconstruction? Or the local authorities, giving up on street lighting or bin collection. Is it businesses, who won’t guarantee a mail delivery or broadband services any more. And how do you keep a community going, or make a living, run a home, raise a family, with these sorts of questions hanging in the air?

These are all live questions. In some cases it’s individual homes or farms, built close to an eroding cliff or near a river or in a fire zone. Sometimes it’s a whole city, as Pitchaya Sudbanthad explores in his extraordinary novel Bangkok Wakes to Rain, or Amitav Ghosh contemplates with horror in The Great Derangement. Entire nations are at risk in some cases, as I’ve written about with the choices facing Kiribati.

I was reminded of this short documentary about Isle de Jean Charles, one of the first places in the United States that climate change will render uninhabitable. It’s a case study in why people stay, despite everything, and why that question of when it’s right to abandon a place is so hard to answer.

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