The Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana is disappearing due to land loss to the Gulf of Mexico.
CNN  — 

Think of “ghost towns” and images of dusty, lost-to-time towns, like those in America’s Wild West, may come to mind.

Indeed, in the second half of the 19th century, a slew of boomtown-gone-bust mining towns were deserted by residents as natural resources and economic viability dried up. Over time, some of these relics have found new life as fun and kitschy tourist attractions.

And while iterations of such abandoned settlements are found on every continent, with varying manmade and natural causes to blame, a new era of ghost towns is now emerging that, while eerie, feels far off from good touristic fun.

Climate change and ensuing environmental disasters – marked by an increasing frequency and intensity of destructive floods, droughts, storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures – are now fueling what experts say are just the first waves of places abandoned due to climate displacement.

“We are going to see a movement – it’s already happening – where people are moving away from these areas that are most impacted by storms, by rising sea levels and floods, but also by constant fire, smoke inhalation – all of that,” says Gaia Vince, author of “Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World.”

She cites recent examples like wildfires in Hawaii, California and Australia, and floods in Bangladesh, as some of the latest triggers for population displacements.

“How many people are going to return to Lahaina in Hawaii after the fires there?” she questions. “I don’t think it’ll be 100% of the population that left. Some people will not be able to.”

Abandoning a settlement is typically a last-resort scenario, made only once residents have exhausted all other options, say experts.

In some instances, resettlements have been aided or forced in “managed retreats” or “planned relocations,” in which financial and logistical support is provided by government agencies. Jack DeWaard, scientific director at international nongovernmental organization the Population Council, and an expert on climate and environmental migration and displacement, notes that this involves government entities “working collectively with communities to relocate them entirely.”

For the displaced, “the costs of migration, economically and psychologically, are substantial,” he says.

“They’re forced to leave their traditions, their network of family and friends, their ancestors’ graves, their language, all of that, because it’s become unlivable. That is very traumatic, it’s very difficult,” adds Vince.

More than 20 million people are forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather events each year, according to the United Nations. Researchers have projected that by the end of the century, somewhere in the range of 3 to 6 billion people will be “left outside the ‘human climate niche’” that best supports life.

“It doesn’t mean that 3 to 6 billion people will have to move, but it does mean a lot of people have to move,” Vince notes. This, she says, will disproportionality affect communities of color and/or those who are already facing poverty.

“Typically, migration and displacement, these are processes that are rooted in inequality,” explains DeWaard, who adds that the climate crisis is only “going to exacerbate the existing inequalities of today.”

‘An inherent fascination with ruination’

Through the lens of tourism, many areas that have been historically reliant on tourism economies will also be vulnerable to abandonment says Vince. She cites examples like Alpine ski resorts, where snowfall is no longer conducive to skiing, or traditional holiday spots like Spain and the Mediterranean that have been experiencing deadly heatwaves and wildfires.

“Tourists are going to choose other places,” she says. “They don’t want to sit in a heatwave, with having to be evacuated because of forest fires.”

But there is also a niche segment of so-called “dark tourism” that could arise around such climate change-born ghost towns.

“There is an inherent fascination with ruination, where ruins of the past often tell a story of our misdeeds and misfortunes,” explains Philip Stone of the University of Central Lancashire, where he runs the Institute for Dark Tourism Research. “Climate change will undoubtedly cause death of landscapes where