Climate refugees: A useful concept? Towards an alternative vocabulary of ecological displacement

Hiraide, Lydia Ayame. 2023. Climate refugees: A useful concept? Towards an alternative vocabulary of ecological displacement. Politics, 43(2), pp. 267-282. ISSN 0263-3957 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Against the background of climate scepticism and raging anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe, the politics of climate change and the politics of migration are fraught with tension. The two converge over discussions about ‘climate refugees’. But what merit does the term ‘climate refugee’ have, and are there potential problems associated with it? This article pays attention to how racialised discourses underwrite the concept of climate refugees in ways that further exclude already marginalised populations. In place of ‘climate refugees’, it proposes ‘ecological displacement’ as a notion which stresses how and why people are displaced within or across borders. While, indeed, anthropogenic climate change is a real threat to the livelihoods of humans (among other species), it is not the only environmental driver of displacement. By using the term ‘ecology’, this article argues that we allow for a description which encompasses other potential displacement drivers beyond climate change, such as volcanic eruptions, landslides, and political violence. Citing ‘displacement’ makes the term available to populations who are displaced by damaged ecologies both within and across borders, in and outside of Europe. The notion of ‘ecological displacement’ and ‘ecologically displaced people’ tries to rehumanise those carrying the heaviest social and climate burdens on a burning planet.

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climate change, discourses, language, migration, refugees

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5 January 2022Accepted
10 February 2022Published Online
May 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

10 Feb 2022 17:30

Last Modified:

22 May 2023 10:34

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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