Climate Change and the US: Where to Move?

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This article published in the Guardian, while a bit sensational in tone, raises a question that many of us have been contemplating as the climate changes, weather becomes volatile, and policy actions fail to materialize: If certain parts of the United States become uncomfortable or uninhabitable, where will the occupants of those places migrate to? If our region of the country experiences untenable heat waves or flooding that we can’t properly insure our homes against, many of us may decide to move. But when we recognize that it’s time to pack up and go, how will we choose a destination?

For many of us, this remains a simple thought exercise. Our jobs, families and home equity determine our location for us, and we haven’t yet experienced any storms, fires or floods that have the power to permanently drive us out. But for those who live on vulnerable coastlines, the question takes on growing significance every year. And according to the researchers who contributed to the article, the answer can be summed up roughly in two directions: North and west.

Dangers Facing Southern and Coastal Homes

While Florida has experienced a sharp upward curve in population over the past few decades, most of the southern tip of the state will experience rising sea levels, increasing floods and a general increase in water-related damage and threats. Insuring homes in southern Florida will become more difficult and expensive, and most of what we now recognize as the coast will become submerged over the next ten years. The Gulf Coast will also become increasingly subject to flooding and storm damage, and the integrity of the coastline will become increasingly inappropriate for construction with every passing year as sea levels continue to rise. So Florida and Gulf Coast states are due for a population drift northward, in some cases to inland cities and in many cases out of the region altogether.

Why Go West?

Portland University climate change expert Vivak Shandas recommends destinations “above the 42nd parallel”, or the line that divides NY and PA in the east and Oregon and CA in the west. Moving north provides a buffer against blistering heat waves, and heading west can remove the threat of rising seas and property damage from elevated water tables. According to Shandas and also Jesse Kenan, a climate expert at Harvard, plenty of population centers inland and relatively close to the Great Lakes will offer a perfect refuge, especially those that fall east or west of the tornado corridors in the great plains.

Another things to consider: proactive municipal decisions that are likely to protect citizens from personal and financial damage. New York City, for example, appears geographically vulnerable (it’s a small island), but massive investments recently poured into infrastructure and flood protection are likely to minimize dangers over the long term. By contrast, unprepared urban areas will suffer a double impact as unrestrained flooding and storms drive residents away and weaken population and tax bases.

We don’t know what the future holds for population centers around the world, but the decision to move is often deeply personal. When the time comes to relocate, financial resources, family mobility, and destination choices will all play a critical role. Read more here.