The Mayday Experiment: Nous Sommes Tous des Réfugiés

Paris. Beirut. Kenya. Iraq. Syria.

It’s hard to think about the tiny house and my life when the world is in chaos and so many are mourning losses. It’s hard to contemplate the future when the present is so urgent, so disrupted. The Mayday Experiment feels worlds apart from these horrifying realities halfway around the globe.

And yet...though terrorism seems an imminent, terrifying danger, as Bernie Sanders pointed out in the Democratic debate: Climate change is still our number one national security threat — and not at all unrelated to the terrorism that broke out  this past week or the waves of refugees currently surging through Europe and spreading through the world.

The world has always had refugees. In general, we think of them as people fleeing conflict and strife, grabbing few belongings and running for their lives. But in recent years, we have refugees within our own country due to climate change and natural disaster — families still displaced from Katrina and Sandy, people fleeing wildfires and drought. We don’t think of them as “refugees” because they haven’t crossed a national border, but the conditions of their lives are no different in many ways. Even the recent influx of people to Colorado from drought-stricken California can be seen as part of this pattern, and it will only increase from here as ocean levels rise and parts of the world become too hot to bear.

Which is what pre-dates the conflict in Syria. It’s no coincidence, as economist Jeffrey Sachs points out, that the “hot zones” in the world, areas experiencing violence and civil unrest, coincide with drought-ridden areas. Syria suffered decades of drought and water and food insecurity before people finally fled in the wake of horrific, genocidal violence on top of it all.

In the U.S., our entertainment may hint at water wars — from Chinatown to Mad Max — but for the majority of us, when we turn on a faucet water has come out. Despite growing up with watering days and rationing, there has always been water when we wanted it. Few of us in the West know the sheer desperation of not having water, the pain of forced dehydration, or the struggle to survive when food cannot be grown. But there are no guarantees that day isn’t coming.

At the moment, it seems impossible to even bring the country, much less the world, to do what we need to do to forestall the impending 2 degree rise in temperature that scientists agree would lead to irreversible climate shocks. Without unity around the world, any effort on one country’s part is almost erased by another country’s excesses. But how will we bring everyone together to do what we need to do?

Our next best chance is at the Paris Climate Summit in December, more formally known as the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Given the interweaving of environmental issues and current and future wars, this conference is every bit as much a peace summit as it is a meeting on how to address climate change.

The idea of building the tiny house came directly out of fears about climate change and an inability to decide where to settle, where to buy land that would be safe, and frustrations at the conversation surrounding these issues. But I had fears that where I could afford to go, I would be participating in more gentrification....Sometimes it feels as if my indecision may become a permanent but unwanted condition, especially if the City of Denver doesn’t see fit to legalize tiny homes the way Walsenberg has, or continues to bully the people directly addressing our housing disparity, like Denver Homeless Out Loud. Members of that group were recently arrested and had their tiny homes confiscated by the police in an action that went viral around the nation and sparked outrage at Denver’s cruel treatment of the homeless.

In light of this, I’m thankful that Governor John Hickenlooper decided that Colorado will open its arms to Syrian refugees. It is the right thing to do — and if we can show compassion to those from halfway around the world who have lost their homes, maybe we can learn to do it for our neighbors already here, who just spent a cold night on the streets.

Remember, someday the refugee may be you. We don’t know what the future holds, but we seem to be getting a taste of it over the last few years, from super-storms to drought to birds falling from the sky to food shortages and water wars. Can we come together and work to change this while there is still a chance, and avoid what is shaping up to be a dystopian future?

As I write this, my thoughts and heart are with the people of Paris. Beirut. Kenya. Iraq. Syria. But also the people of Denver, and the homeless seeking shelter from the first blizzard of the year. We are all potential refugees; we all need one another.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at
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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy