Have you heard of ecological exile?

Screenshot 2023-02-24 at 12.20.15

The sci­en­tif­ic expres­sion ‘eco­log­i­cal exile’ is now sad­ly becom­ing a part of our com­mon vocab­u­lar­ies, because it is becom­ing a much more com­mon occurence. Just like the cli­mate cri­sis it stems from, the phe­nom­e­non is now glob­al.

What is ecological exile?

The term “eco­log­i­cal exile” refers to the forcible dis­place­ment of set­tled pop­u­la­tions due to the ecol­o­gy and cli­mate cri­sis.

It is the aca­d­e­m­ic term for being forced to leave one’s home­land because its envi­ron­ment is no longer safe or healthy, thanks to cli­mate change. Thanks to abnor­mal ris­ing sea lev­els, accel­er­at­ed ero­sion, water short­ages, agri­cul­tur­al over­ex­ploita­tion or geo­log­i­cal changes, such as soil sink­ing or soft­en­ing.

The des­ig­na­tion became more wide­ly used amongst aca­d­e­mics after Cana­di­an researcher Derek Gald­win, fel­low of the country’s Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil, pub­lished his book Eco­log­i­cal Exile: Spa­tial Injus­tice and Envi­ron­men­tal Human­i­ties.

Slow defor­esta­tion in the Ama­zon rain­for­est by Wara­nont (Joe)

From Latin America to Europe

Sea­soned sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal­ist, founder and direc­tor of mag­a­zine Aquí Lati­nos, Mr. Perez Uber­hua­ga agreed to share with us his tes­ti­mo­ny on the sub­ject.

Edwin Perez Uber­hua­ga emi­grat­ed to Europe 15 years ago from Bolivia. He mar­ried Esther, a love­ly French woman. He now lives between Spain and Switzer­land, trav­el­ing all over the con­ti­nent to report on the ordi­nary and extra­or­di­nary lives of Latin Amer­i­cans in Europe.

Edwin Perez Uber­hua­ga in Paris on the day of our inter­view, Feb­ru­ary 18th 2023

The mag­a­zine is a com­pi­la­tion of per­son­al sto­ries and think pieces on polit­i­cal events in Europe and the Amer­i­c­as. It reflects on the exis­tence of lati­nos in Europe, some of whom did not move to this side of the pond by love, choice or ambi­tion, but because eco­log­i­cal caus­es forced them to move.

Regard­ing the sub­ject, Mr. Perez Uber­hua­ga wrote for us:

I am a wit­ness to mod­ern eco­log­i­cal exile. In more than 30 years of trav­el­ing around the world as a jour­nal­ist, I have wit­nessed a phe­nom­e­non that is not new but has inten­si­fied great­ly: eco­log­i­cal exile. Almost every­one talks about polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, labor exiles, or migra­tions for study, work, love, or adven­ture, but few refer to the painful depar­ture from a rur­al cen­ter affect­ed by cli­mate change or nat­ur­al or war-induced tragedies.

I have seen farm­ers suf­fer­ing from droughts or floods and then seen them in a Euro­pean city suf­fer­ing per­haps twice or triple the migra­tion trau­ma, not under­stand­ing the rules of the “big city” (metro, trams, bank pay­ments, liv­ing in apart­ment blocks, etc). I was in the Ama­zon­ian region of Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil (Bolpe­bra), affect­ed by the over­ex­ploita­tion of gold and the earth for chem­i­cals used to make cocaine. I vis­it­ed the dis­ap­peared and ancient Lake Poopó in Oruro, Bolivia, walked in the hot zone of Bari­nas in Venezuela, or the Caribbean Sea of Colom­bia, whose fish do not live as long as they used to.

I looked at the now-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Nile in Egypt or the more or less well-pre­served waters of the Dead Sea in Israel, where the hydro­pon­ic sys­tem fights to sow in emp­ty deserts. More recent­ly, I saw the Tagus and Douro rivers that reach Spain and the birth of the Atlantic in Por­tu­gal, whose waters are also con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed.

I have crossed the Swiss, French, and Ital­ian Alps by bus, where the cold and snow forced many to go to the Latin Amer­i­can par­adise. Today, these snowy moun­tains are los­ing snow and forc­ing arti­fi­cial pro­duc­tion for win­ter sports.

To all the garbage that exist­ed before, now add the exis­tence of masks, con­doms, and bev­er­age and med­i­cine con­tain­ers, which are ingest­ed by ani­mals that we lat­er hunt and eat, with­in a very dan­ger­ous vicious cir­cle.

Polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic exile almost have clear rules. But eco­log­i­cal exile is more dif­fi­cult to under­stand and explain.

How does one fath­om that an indige­nous or farmer has to pack their bags to move to strange ter­ri­to­ry? How does one explain to a con­sul or a migra­tion agent that there is no alter­na­tive?

Edwin Pérez Uber­hua­ga for Par­a­digme Mode
Quecha refugee

“In coun­tries like Colom­bia, there was not only eco­log­i­cal exile, but also peas­ant lead­ers that were made to leave their land for oppos­ing transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions irra­tional­ly exploitat­ing their lands’ water and nat­ur­al resources.

In my three books and a hun­dred edi­tions of the Aqui Lati­nos mag­a­zine, I try to inform about that process and, like oth­ers, show the “face of migra­tion” that can take on many forms: field-field, field-city, or field-strange coun­try.

Pre­cise­ly that face burned by the sun and those cal­loused hands that today must ful­fill oth­er trades show us that there is still a great pend­ing issue with this type of exiles. Born and raised­with their Pachama­ma (Moth­er Earth), they are now far from their moun­tains, forests, and seas, with­out any­one under­stand­ing the mag­ni­tude of their con­di­tion as vic­tims of mod­ern eco­cide.

Either way, we must return their lands, san­i­tized and pro­duc­tive. We must also under­stand the roots of their migra­tion. It is the least we can do to return to a bal­ance between man and nature said Edwin Perez Uber­hua­ga on Feb­ru­ary 20th, 2023.

An added tension for European leaders

While Europe already faces polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic migra­to­ry cri­sis, the phe­nom­e­non con­tin­ues to spread. If it first became appar­ent when over­sea migrants start­ed to recount their sto­ries and rea­sons for emi­grat­ing, it is also well under­way inside our own walls.

Eco­log­i­cal exile has moved — and con­tin­ues to move — peo­ple from East­ern to West­ern Europe or from the Mediter­ranean to north­ern lands, inside and out­side of the Schen­gen space.

Pol­lut­ed shore in the Mediter­ranean, by Nigel Wal­lace

In-Depth Resources

Written by Malu Benjamin
February 24, 2023

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