ProPublica’s US Climate Transformation Map Should Spark Serious Discussions Around Climate Refugees

Governments worldwide need to start formulating strong policies for external and internal climate refugees.

Maria Korpijaakko, Ph.D.
Mar 5 · 3 min read
“California Air and Army National Guard Battles Rim Fire Over Yosemite National Forest [Image 11 of 27]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Millions of people worldwide are being displaced by climate change, and the numbers will continue to increase, with top projections being around 1 billion climate refugees by 2050.

In North America, climate refugees are also our fellow citizens (think fire and flood caused relocations). Many don’t talk about them in that way yet, and things are going to get worse even. In fact, if and when they are discussed, they are referred to as climate migrants, which implies that they have some choice in their movements, which I do not agree with.

Privileged/rich countries have a moral obligation to enact rigorous climate refugee policies for external and internal climate refugees. The moral obligation to internal climate refugees is easily understood by many –– they’re our co-citizens. The moral obligation to external climate refugees is based on the fact that rich countries not only have the resources to help but, more importantly, they are the most responsible for climate change.

From a more selfish perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how interconnected the world is. If we leave external climate refugees to suffer, we too will suffer from the insecurity caused by geopolitical instability and increased wars.

Currently, not enough is even being done to support internal refugees, let alone external climate refugees. In Paradise, California, for example, many fire survivors are continuing to struggle almost three years later. As for external refugees, tragically, many die en route, and when they arrive at their destinations, they are met with xenophobia and are often scapegoated for local problems. Policies must include providing education to the general public to overcome these social tensions.

ProPublica recently published an article entitled: “New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States.” I wanted to draw attention to it through the lens of climate refugees— not just through the lenses of the horrors of climate-change-related disasters and the impacts of climate change on agricultural production. I would like to encourage people to think about this U.S. climate transformation map through the lens of local livable conditions and how climate change will increase the number of climate refugees generated within our ‘privileged’ borders.

Not everyone will be able to live in the best U.S. climate zones projected by the ProPublica article for 2050 and beyond. For those who are already there, count yourselves lucky. Real estate prices will increase, and those who will be able to migrate will be the privileged. Those “left in the dust” will be living in extreme heat and/or extreme humidity. Shaw et al. (2020) state:

“Heat alone, however, won’t determine Americans’ fate. A new climate analysis — presented for the first time here — projects how humidity and heat will collide to form “wet bulb” temperatures that will disrupt the norms of daily existence.”

We must keep the pressure on our governments to do everything they can through policies and regulations to mitigate climate change now so that we aren’t dealing with a nightmare scenario (though many argue that it will be a catastrophe no matter how much we manage to mitigate at this point). Additionally, we must also prepare for the rising numbers of external and internal climate change refugees while coming up with ways to improve the living conditions for those who will be stuck where they are.

For those who are interested, here are some more climate change projection maps for different regions:




South and Southeast Asia:



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Maria Korpijaakko, Ph.D.

Written by

Ph.D. in critical media literacy, education, democracy, and social media. Climate change activist. Horticulturalist.

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Maria Korpijaakko, Ph.D.

Written by

Ph.D. in critical media literacy, education, democracy, and social media. Climate change activist. Horticulturalist.

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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