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Cities anticipate more climate migration

Earth is different than it once was. Climate change is not a future hypothetical, but a present and unfolding reality. Each summer will be hotter than the one before. Each winter will be colder. Hurricanes like Harvey and Maria will continue to escalate. Islands and coasts will continue to flood and be subsumed by rising sea levels. Americans are on the move.

Meanwhile, community activists in “climate-proof” Duluth, Minn., see an opportunity for expansion. Duluth is a port city on the shore of Lake Superior, and although nowhere on Earth will remain untouched by climate change, the city of 86,000 recognizes that they have it good.

Though the city is experiencing greater amounts of precipitation than ever observed, climate projections anticipate that the Great Lakes region will be one of the few places in the United States where the effects of climate change may be more easily managed.

As temperatures rise, Duluth’s climate will remain relatively mild. Projections suggest that by 2080, even under high concentrations of carbon emissions, its climate will shift to something like that of Toledo, Ohio, where summer highs max out in the mid-80s.

The region is cool, reducing the risk of wildfires. Its inland position reduces the effects of sea level and water table rise. Most importantly, it sits at the western end of Lake Superior, the greatest of the Great Lakes by volume. Freshwater access is key for any city looking to take in climate migrants.

Duluth’s infrastructure can accommodate 150,000 more people at present. The government of Duluth has yet to officially adopt the climate refuge plan, but it is gaining traction. Dr. Jesse Keenan, a lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is a respected and vocal advocate for the climate refuge plan. Dr. Keenan’s advocacy and research has caught the attention of Emily Larson, mayor of Duluth, who believes the idea is “something you want to be a part of.”

The plan requires that people actually begin moving to Duluth, and that the city and its populace are able to facilitate a peaceful and equitable integration. Many Duluthians acknowledge that this will be a challenge, and that mass migration to the city will raise ethical questions around access to high-demand resources.

Global human migration continues to rise. Its effects and realities will soon be felt more intimately here in the United States, as people from threatened and destabilized regions are displaced by storms, fires, freezing, and flooding. Domestic climate refugees and where they go will soon be one of the country’s central issues.

Buffalo, NY, 700 miles east of Duluth, has already taken in a wave of climate migrants. 10,000 Puerto Rican people have migrated to the city since Hurricane Maria devastated the island nation. Buffalo has an established Puerto Rican community, and Buffalo had advertised itself on Puerto Rican television in search of Spanish language teachers. Those who have migrated to Buffalo came because they knew they had a chance to make a life there.

Conversations around climate change tend to focus on potential solutions, fixes and global temperature timelines. This is important. At present, global temperatures are expected to rise 2 degrees Celsius by the 2030s.

The effects of climate change are not cosmetic, but fundamental. People are dying and will die as a result of the effects of our planet’s new climate. Our socio-political and infrastructural systems are inextricably linked to the conditions of our natural environment. Human society will need to undergo a paradigm shift to adapt to a new kind of existence on Earth. Climate change is immense, but it is not a distant phenomenon. It is personal.

What is more personal than home? When we can no longer live in the places we grew up in, when we can no longer visit them, and they no longer exist, what will we do? How will we think of the world before? How will we live in the world after?

Global regions similar to Duluth should expect a mass influx of population. As temperatures rise, people will move toward stable regions in the planet’s Northern and Southern hemispheres. For North America, that means more people moving to the American Midwest and Great Lakes regions. For Canada, it means an influx of climate migrants from the United States, coming to start new lives in cities and underpopulated, wild regions in its vast and unpopulated northern region. Alaskan real estate prices are going to go up.

In uncertain times, plan for uncertain futures. Expect to move. Expect to live in alien places and learn new ways of living. Earth is changing. Build something good.

Sources: The New York Times

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