As the United States dithers on climate change, the territories remain the most vulnerable

by Jan 26, 2022Opinion0 comments

With worst-case scenarios for sea-level rise being nearly 8.2 feet by 2100, the world has to act now to change the trajectory and lessen the future impact. However, the United States, as one of the world’s top 3 polluting countries, is still stuck in debates of whether or not the climate is actually changing. As politicians decide whether or not they want to believe scientists, millions around the world and more specifically, in the United States are behind the rest of the world and solutions are being overlooked in favor of the wealthy fossil fuel industries and their lobbying. 

The future potential rise of global sea levels will devastate island territories such as the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Low lying populations will be forced to either move to higher ground, abandoning entire settlements and cities, or move to the mainland. 

As oceans rise, beaches and resorts are the first areas to be wiped out, meaning that large sectors that keep these communities and entire territories alive will be completely devastated. The US Virgin Islands, in particular, is heavily dependent on visitor exports to keep its economy alive. Over 60% of the US Virgin Islands’ economy is based on these visitor exports. Visitor exports include all the spending of international tourists within the territory as a motivator for economic growth. In the likely event that sea levels rise, extreme poverty will follow and mass migration back to the mainland will most definitely occur. Hagatna, Charlotte Amalie, San Juan, and many more coastal settlements will be severely impacted by the flooding. 

As seen with Hurricane Maria in 2017, the United States government does not handle humanitarian crises in the territories very well. While mainland cities like Houston and Miami quickly bounce back from natural disasters due to the immense relief efforts and funding from the central government, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are still reeling from the devastation of the 2017 hurricane season. This disparity has made it clear that Washington, DC cares more about citizens in states than citizens in its suffering colonial outposts across the Pacific and Caribbean. A scenario where those without the means to move inland or to the mainland will be abandoned to live in the sunken ruins of drowned cities is the darkest and most certain outcome.