Climate (In)justice and the Other: Dissecting the Politics of the Representation of Climate Displaced People in the Bay of Bengal

  • Authors: Holly Benna, Sagorika Haque, Rwittika Banerjee
  • Faculty Supervisors: Antje Ellermann and Amanda Cheong
  • Partner Organization: Bachar Lorai
  • Year: Fall 2021

The 2018 World Bank report projected the forced migration of approximately 143 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America due to sea level rise, lower water availability, and intense agricultural disruption. As the report indicates, “the poorest and most climate-vulnerable areas will be hardest hit”, disproportionately impacted by a crisis they are not responsible for. Our research locates its start in these violent geographical realities of expected mass displacement on the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, a region where by 2030 large swathes of the subcontinent, such as Bangladesh, are predicted to lose 40% of their total land mass despite contributing to only 0.3% of global emissions. Even if the Paris Agreement target of two degrees is met, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those in 2015. Hence, the vulnerability and imbalance in this global structure, specifically in the South Asian region around the Bay of Bengal is of particular interest to us.

Despite this impending threat of mass displacement caused by anthropogenic climate change, a clear and comprehensive definition for ‘climate refugee’ is nowhere to be found in international law. We see this as outright denial of reality. Scholars working within critical refugee studies and critical border studies frameworks engage with the systemic erasure and disposability of migrant bodies. Our research seeks to utilize these epistemological frameworks, applying them to displacement specifically catalyzed by climate change, and the driving forces behind this crisis.

We seek to interrogate the intersection between climate justice and migration by conducting a content analysis of documentary film media sources that attempt to address this topic. Through a climate justice lens, our primary research focus is to understand how media framing functions to uphold global power structures and narratives of racial capitalism and erasure.

Our final report details our research findings, and our creative deliverable serves as a counter-narrative to the story of erasure told by mainstream media. Beyond our final report, we want to create something that is more accessible and impactful. We are interested in collaborating with a community organization to produce something that would be of use to them, instead of having our work simply be read by our professors then forgotten. We are currently brainstorming what this collaboration could look like, thinking of things like a short educational documentary film, or a set of accessible and shareable infographics that are based on our research about climate migration.

Read the full report