International Unitarian Universalism

Confronting Climate-Forced Displacement

Street-art mural of multicolored smiling people holding signs, including "Real Equality Isn't Possible, If We Don't Celebrate Our Differences," "Refugees Welcome," "Nobody Eats Money," "Water for People, Not for Profit," and "Coexist"

By Bruce Knotts

This post was originally sent out on February 18 via a monthly email message from Director Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations. Subscribe to the UU@UN email list

The UU@UN will host a newly revamped Intergenerational Spring Seminar this April 22-May 1, 2022. For the first time the Seminar will have both virtual and in-person components. The pace will be easier, with time to think and reflect. There will be virtual presentations, then attendees will meet locally to discuss and reflect. “Displacement and Human Rights: All In for Climate Justice” is this year’s theme.

There are serious moral questions, left unresolved for centuries, that we will face anew as climate forces people to leave their homes. Over the centuries of colonialism, those with wealth and power overwhelmed and stole land, resources, and livelihoods from the weak and the poor. The Europeans who came to America slowly stole the lands of the indigenous peoples. This caused the deaths, displacement, and impoverishment of millions. A myth was created that the land was empty and free for the taking, acquitting future settler generations of responsibility for their ancestors’ crimes.

Many people like to think that we are more civilized now. That Americans don’t do those kinds of things anymore. Yet there is a new reckoning coming our way.

Climate-forced displacement has been here for some time. The Syrian Civil War began with a 12-year drought that forced farmers to leave their farms, seeking relief in the cities. No help was given, and a civil war erupted that led to millions of Syrians’ losing their homes and livelihoods.

What we have seen in Syria will soon be the global story. Climate change will displace people. Some will have the wealth and networks to survive without government assistance. Others will need help and support. Will we organize our governments to support those who are forcibly displaced by climate change, or will we leave them stranded?

All immigration law, national and international, is based on the experience of World War II. To be a bona fide refugee or asylee you need to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution by your government. But times have changed. We need immigration laws that allow immigration to be justified due to climate-forced migration. Through our programming and advocacy, the UU@UN is working to create acceptance and welcome for more migrants. We seek to rebuke critics’ irrational fears, which are often rooted in white supremacy and Christian supremacy. Our work at the UU@UN endeavors to foster appreciation for the contributions immigrants make to our society and culture.

When climate forces you to move, there needs to be welcome and support regardless of your skin color or your religion. Remember the inequities of climate change. Those most responsible for climate change will likely be the least impacted and those who are the least responsible will suffer the most. It is up to wealthy nations to ensure equity and support for all.

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About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...


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