As the sun rose on a new day in Tuvalu, water buckets were handed out. Each family was allocated only two per day — there’s not enough fresh water to go around. A drought in the region led to water shortages on the islands, and rising sea levels have caused all the water supplies in the small nation in the South Pacific to be contaminated by saltwater.
Every day, a local woman had to contemplate how to use her small supply of water: does she save it to drink and cook rice? Or does she use it to bathe her newborn? In a perfect world, she would bathe her newborn in a lagoon, but the child developed a severe rash as a result of the saltwater.
She and her husband tried to get out of Tuvalu, applying over and over to secure permanent residency in New Zealand. Water insecurity was forcing families like this to try to find other places to live, such as Auckland, New Zealand or Fiji — not for the lifestyle, but to have a reliable source of water and food.
These are the decisions Tuvalu residents faced back in 2013 — stories that Vermont author Devi Lockwood uncovered as she traveled the world looking for anecdotes on water and climate change. Her book, 1,001 Voices on Climate Change, was published this year by Tiller Press.
The theme of migration was something that came up repeatedly.
“It was supposed to be the start of the rainy season in Bangkok,” Lockwood writes. “But the rains were delayed, and I met a man named Tsun there . . . . He comes from a family of rice farmers in the rural north. And he told me that he had moved to Bangkok because the rainfall patterns are so much more unpredictable than they used to be that he can’t perceive that same form of livelihood that his family has for generations. And so he, like many other people of his age group, has moved to the cities in search of work.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reports that 24 million people are displaced from their homes every year due to climate events.
These weather events range from floods, droughts and tropical storms to earthquakes. However, smaller-scale weather effects that slowly build up over time are also very prominent, such as rising sea levels contaminating water sources.
People are being forced away from their homeland every single day and climate-related migration is only expected to increase.
The World Bank projects climate migration hotspots will emerge by 2030, with stable water availability likely a driving factor. This means people will move away from coastlines, migrating inland.
In many cases, such as the one in Tuvalu, rising sea levels are to blame for a majority of these issues. And the problem is only getting worse, as countless cities and islands around the globe are projected to lose land to the Earth’s oceans over the next couple of decades.
Those rising sea levels are due to a domino effect created by glaciers and ice sheets melting and ocean waters warming, resulting in expanding volume and a slowing gulfstream — each tying back to the overarching issue of climate change as a whole.
While the world has already been heavily affected by climate change, the accounts of those impacted are under-reported.
Lockwood’s drive to tell stories of everyday people impacted by climate change, as well as those of climate scientists and policy makers, led to a five-year journey across six continents and through 20 countries.
“I wrote this book for many reasons,” she says. “One of which was that I think the conversation about climate change can often be really abstract and inaccessible and numerical and I wanted to give people a touchpoint for how to understand these issues in a way that was more human-centered.”
Lockwood says the future will likely bring more instability, intensifying migration patterns and putting different types of geopolitical pressures on countries around the world.
“It could look like increased disasters, when we think about floods and fires and droughts. And just a kind of an intensification of the kind of issues that we see whether it’s a massive hurricane, or a cyclone, or people who are internally displaced because of drought that leads to food shortages, and all sorts of things,” she says.
“So it’s not one thing, it’s many things, and it can feel kind of slow and fast moving at once.”
Lockwood says she sees no use in looking for a point of no return but the focus should be on how to move forward.
“There will always be things that we can do and do better. And so there is never giving up, it’s a continued effort. That has to happen internationally.”