Magazine article Newsweek International

Follow the Butterflies; Changing Weather Patterns Have Long Forced Populations to Move, Whether Man or Beast. and So It Will Be in the Future

Magazine article Newsweek International

Follow the Butterflies; Changing Weather Patterns Have Long Forced Populations to Move, Whether Man or Beast. and So It Will Be in the Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Esther Bintliff

The moth known as Clancy's Rustic had never been seen in northwestern Europe. So what was it doing fluttering in a garden in Kent a few years ago? According to Britain's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, moths and butterflies once found only in the Mediterranean and North Africa are venturing into Northern Europe in unprecedented numbers. The cause, says chief researcher Tim Sparks: global warming.

Just as Al Gore called the melting of the polar ice "the canary in the coal mine," so are migrating insects a bright yellow warning. With butterflies on the move, says Sparks, could people be far behind? Climate-induced migration is a survival mechanism as old as life. Human mobility helped cultures sidestep extinction and often worked as a catalyst for growth and evolution. It could do so again. "Environmental refugees could become one of the foremost human crises of our time," says Norman Myers, an environmental scientist at Oxford University who once painted an infamously scary scenario: 200 million environmental refugees by 2050--"a massive crisis," compounded by "famine and starvation."

That was in 1995. Today, his apocalyptic vision is accepted as a real possibility. Impoverished and climate-sensitive nations like Bangladesh and Kenya simply don't have the resources to provide relief for mass numbers of displaced people. Nor is there spare cash for construction projects--dikes and water reservoirs, for example--that could mitigate climatic calamities. In 1996, Myers estimated that sea-level rises induced by global warming would threaten the lives of 26 million people in Bangladesh, 73 million in China and 20 million in India. …

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