Filmmaker Takes on Plight of 'Climate Refugees' at Copenhagen

But initially, from what we saw, the first level of migration will be toward the cities of those countries, but those are countries that are already dealing with a lot of stress to start with. And in time, people are going to start migrating outside of those cities to other places that have resources. People aren't going to cross borders for copper or tin, but they will for water or food.

How much time does the world have before this issue becomes unmanageable?

The number that the experts are throwing out right now is that we currently have 25 million climate refugees. Experts are saying within the next eight to 12 years in Africa, 75 million to 250 million people are basically going to find themselves without water. And they're going to start crossing the Mediterranean looking for places to survive into Europe.

What areas are the most vulnerable?

Really poor countries are going to get hit by this the worst. From a location standpoint, probably the biggest are Africa, parts of Asia, specifically Bangladesh, South America, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

I went to Tuvalu and there are these beautiful little paradises that have sustained life for thousands and thousands of years, and they're starting to go underwater.

Is it only poor nations that will have people migrating because of environmental problems? Are there places in the United States and Europe that are susceptible to this as well?

There certainly are. Alaska, along the eastern and northern brim of Alaska, where all these ... Indian tribes live, they're moving right now. Their villages are falling into the ocean because the shore ice no longer exists during certain seasons. I interviewed one of them and he said, "You know, it's a little scary that within an hour you lose 30 to 50 feet of land."

So it's happening right now in America.

Lester Brown [an author and climate change expert] put it really well in the film, and he said, "Katrina had a million evacuees when the levees broke. Three hundred thousand have not come back." So essentially, he said we have climate refugees within our own country -- 300,000 of them.

What about the argument that it's not only climate change stemming from the actions of industrialized nations, that are causing environmental problems in poorer countries, but also bad commercial and agricultural practices they, themselves, are doing?

Climate change is a threat multiplier, and anything that is kind of bad, [climate change] is only gonna make it worse. If you have in Africa, where people have over-grazed the land, pretty much depleted the nutrients in the land, cut down the trees, that land, in time, becomes desert-like, creating less rain. And you get this runaway effect where it just keeps getting worse.

In China, there's a lot of land where they double-crop the land, where they would grow one crop in the spring ... then they grow another crop four or five months later -- and over time, the soil turns to dust and nothing's left to actually grow anything.

What kind of responsibility do richer nations have to help with this problem? What kind of solutions can there be?

There's going to be collateral damage, but we certainly can stop the majority of this. The numbers that people are throwing around are 150 to 250 million climate refugees by 2050. The Christian Science Monitor has the number up to a billion. That's 20 percent of the population, right now.

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