Issues

5 Documentaries about Climate Refugees and People at Risk for Displacement

As the effects of climate change become more widespread and severe, millions of people are at risk for displacement. They become climate refugees. These people flee their homes not because of war, but because the climate has made the land unlivable. It’s already happening all over the world. Droughts and flooding threaten food security while extreme weather events like hurricanes destroy homes and claim lives. Climate change also leads to disease and aggravates societal instability. To get an idea of how serious the problem is, here are five documentaries about climate refugees:

Meet America’s First Climate Change Refugees (2019)

From: SBS Dateline/Jeanette Francis and Lanneke Hargreaves | Available: Youtube

Many people believe climate refugees will come from places like Latin America. While many of them will, the US isn’t unaffected by climate change. As sea waters rise, coastal areas are at risk. Dateline reporters visit these communities to explore what exactly people are dealing with. The US is very reluctant to accept the reality of climate change, even pulling out of international meetings about the issue. In the meanwhile, people are being forced to leave their homes

Dateline is an Australian TV public affairs program on SBS. It first premiered in 1984 and focuses on international events. It’s the longest-running international current affairs program in the country. Since 2000, Dateline reporters have gone out to pursue stories without sound engineers or camera crew. “Meet America’s First Climate Change Refugees” is 25 minutes long.

Tangier Island: Among the First US Climate Refugees? (2018)

From: The Atlantic Selects Director: Jeff Leeds Cohn

Tangier is a tiny island 12 miles off the Virginian coast. It only has 600 permanent residents who make a living as crabbers, schoolteachers, and so on. For over 240 years, islanders have depended on the sea for fish, crab, and oysters They are the world’s main source of soft shell crab. However, because of rising ocean levels, the island will be gone in as few as 25 years. The rest of America might not fare much better as climate change threatens all coastal towns and islands.

The 12-minute long “Tangier Island” is part of The Atlantic Selects, which is described as “an online showcase of short documentaries.” The Atlantic curates the shorts, which come from independent creators like Jeff Leeds Cohn. The Atlantic magazine and multi-platform publisher was founded in 1857.

Climate Refugees in Bangladesh (2019)

From: DW Documentary | Available on: Youtube

Bangladesh is at risk for big changes in the next three decades. Up to 20% could be underwater as the sea and rivers rise. The Meghna River is already changing, now moving fast enough to destroy houses and tear away the ground. 30 million people would need to move. Momtaj Begum and her family are only one example. 2,000 climate refugees pour into Dhaka, the capital city, every day. The city overwhelmed, the government is becoming aggressive. As the years go by and the effects of climate change increase, things will only get worse.

DW Documentary is part of Deutsche Welle, a series of television channels. It began broadcasting in 1992 and focuses on news. Their documentaries come from international production companies and German broadcasters. “Climate Refugees in Bangladesh” is 42 minutes long.

Thank You For The Rain (2017)

Director: Kisilu Masya/Julia Dahr

This unique documentary gives viewers a very personal look at who climate change affects. Kisilu Musya, a Kenyan farmer, spent several years documenting life in his village. He captured droughts, storms, floods, and more. “Thank You For the Rain” represents the collaboration between Musya and Julia Dahr, a Norwegian filmmaker. Today, Kisilu is a major figure in his community as a climate justice activist. This film shows the work that people are doing to preserve their lives and land, so they don’t become climate refugees.

“Thank You For the Rain” has been screened at many festivals around the world. It’s won 16 awards like the Basil Wright Film Prize in 2019 at the Rai Film Festival and the 2019 Doc Impact Award. By looking at one man’s life and community, the film brings the emotional stakes of climate change to a viewer’s attention. “Thank You For The Rain” is 1 hour, 30 minutes long.

Honduras: Climate Change Refugees

From: ARTE Documentary | Available on: Youtube

Climate change has hit Central America hard in recent years. Drought is an especially serious problem for Honduras, making food insecurity one of the main reasons why people leave. In this documentary, viewers learn how hydroelectric and mining projects are making the situation worse. Environmental activists fight back but at the risk of their own lives. Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. People are not only fighting against the effects of climate change. They’re also facing off against companies who are actively creating climate refugees.

ARTE is a Franco-German network originally launched in 1992. It streams magazine shows, documentaries, concerts, and other cultural programming. Selected programs with subtitles are available online. “Honduras: Climate Change Refugees” is just over 23 minutes long,

About the author

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Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.