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Climate change is forcing Americans to relocate

climate change
Posted at 10:58 AM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 14:07:24-04

Judith Saum and her husband Doug never intended to have a small plot of land to care for in their retirement. They also never intended to be spending their golden years in Rumey, New Hampshire.

But the Saums are part of a growing number of Americans who have become climate refugees, forced to leave their homes for someplace safer because of climate change.

"It was stressful; I feel grief about it. It actually grieves me to see it happen," Judith Saum said.

For the last two decades, these lovebirds lived in Reno, Nevada. They loved their little house. But there was a problem: wildfires in the region were becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change.

"I was sensitive to the smoke. It would give me headaches, sinus infections, it just made me really sick," Judith recalled.

The Saums never lost their home to fire but the constant worry became too much, which is how they've now found themselves living in New Hampshire. They're part of a growing number of Americans who are considered climate change refugees, forced to move from one part of the country to another because the climate where they were living just wasn't sustainable.

"I don’t think it was any single thing; it was time to move. Different scenario than what we planned based on what’s happening," Doug Saum said.

The Saums are not alone. There are millions of people across the planet who are suddenly becoming homeless because of climate change.

Don Wuebbles is a preeminent scholar on climate change who teaches at the University of Illinois.

"This is going to become more intense. A larger problem over the next decade," Wuebbles said.

By some estimates, close to 162 million people in the U.S. will experience a decline in their environment over the coming decades--from rising sea levels to fires to droughts. By 2070, nearly 4 million Americans could find themselves being forced to move because of climate change.

"I think we need to be aware of the risks that are associated with the changes of climate and increase in intensity in severe weather events and what that means to us," Wuebbles added.

As for the Saums, having experienced the impacts of climate change firsthand, they are trying to make their new home more sustainable. Having learned full well the effects of climate change are a clear and immediate danger.

"I think we need to be looking at it in a bigger way," Doug said.