Venkata: The tension after the storm

Hurricanes cause movement, and movement causes friction

Morgan La Casse

Morgan La Casse

Uma Venkata

The Category 5 Hurricane Dorian decimated the Bahamas in its hardest-hitting storm to date. As of Sept. 9, the Bahamian death toll had risen to 50. Thousands are left homeless and without any security with respect to immediate safety and future income. The storm made an appearance up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, battering islands in North Carolina. Four people have died during storm preparation in the southeastern part of the country. Although there is damage in the U.S. from Dorian, it’s incomparable to the aftermath in the Bahamas. As of Tuesday, losses due to Dorian in the Bahamas adds to approximately $7 billion, subject to rising, according to New York Times reporting. The Bahamas’ GDP is just over $12 billion. This catastrophe cannot be understated.

What will be everyone else’s response when people move out of the disaster-prone coasts? As time and climate change go on, the number of people who lose their livelihoods or are killed or displaced during the annual hurricane season will increase in magnitude but decrease in perceived newsworthiness. More people will be affected, and those unaffected will care less. It’s already what we do. I had discussed in an earlier column that coastal residents in places like Florida will have to bite the bullet and move. That will most likely start happening too late, but eventually residents will have no choice.  

Then the response begins. When it happens, there will be a large flock of people — some from the U.S., and ideally some foreign — to the inland U.S. The question is about how the U.S. will handle it. Climate change is officially a direct security threat to the United States, and, one day, the country will have to address it. 

If people move inland from Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, where Dorian is liable to affect, they will be able to find alternatives without a problem. For further context, have fun on Nantucket Zillow. But if less-affluent and vulnerable people from Jacksonville, Florida or New Orleans should move inward, there may be pushback. They will not be able to afford and establish their own inland enclaves. If I’ve learned anything at college, it’s that there can be culture clashes between those who are from cities and those who are not.

We also need to mix in the possibility of hosting coast dwellers from the Caribbean, like the Bahamians devastated by Dorian. President Trump has already made his sentiments clear: he believes in a firm “no” to welcoming Bahamians to the U.S., using some infallible “Bad Hombres” logic: “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.” 

Not coherent, but at least no guesswork required.

Both poor Americans and poor foreign nationals moving to inland U.S. will likely experience friction upon integration. Landlocked U.S. is already significantly more racially homogeneous than the southern and southeastern coasts. Racism is especially unforgiving to those without the choice to escape by moving. Maybe climate migrations will effect new cultural landscapes, like the Gold Rush and San Francisco’s Chinatown. The transition could be slow, and it could hurt.

Welcoming coastal people to safer inland areas should happen without question. People don’t deserve to lose everything just based on where they live. If they refuse to evacuate, that’s a different matter. We need to keep in the backs of our mind a preemptive levee possible discrimination against future communities seeking refuge from climate change.