HomeScienceFinding Climate Havens - The New York Times

Finding Climate Havens – The New York Times


This year’s heat can seem relentless, and appears to be only the beginning of a lifetime of hotter summers. It’s even hot in the oceans. And then there are the wildfires, droughts and floods, which have recently hit the seeming paradises of Hawaii and California.

The weather extremes are enough to drive some people to pick up their lives and look for more climate-friendly places to live. Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Tulane University living in low-lying New Orleans, is among them. “Another Katrina is going to happen,” he said, referring to the hurricane that struck the city in 2005. “I tell my students this: ‘Within your lifetime, Tulane will no longer be a university. Your alma mater will relocate or disappear because of where it is.’”

Are there places that are better suited to deal with climate change? Yes, experts say. The Midwest, inland Northeast and northern Great Plains are three examples in the U.S., and parts of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia could offer refuge internationally. These regions are not immune to climate problems; it’s called “global” warming for a reason. But they are expected to see less of the extreme weather that a hotter planet will bring.

Still, Americans are not moving to climate-friendly places today. If anything, many more have moved away. One of the fastest-growing U.S. cities is Phoenix, which has suffered temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for much of this summer. That trend could start to change as people endure more disasters.

How do you know whether a location is better suited for dealing with climate change than the place you live now? Experts point to two major factors.

The first is geography. Consider the Midwest: It is inland, away from the rising, hotter oceans and seas that will cause more floods and more intense hurricanes. Midwestern states are farther north than many others, with naturally lower temperatures. The Great Lakes and surrounding rivers provide reliable sources of water, preventing some of the worst effects of drought. These factors also apply to much of the Northeast U.S. and the northern Great Plains.

The second factor is the ability to take in newcomers, climate refugees or not. Does the area have enough affordable housing? Are residents welcoming to outsiders? Are local and state governments preparing for population increases? If the answer to at least some of these questions is yes, you may have found yourself a potential destination.

Some cities meet these standards. Detroit, Cincinnati and Buffalo, N.Y., are common examples. They are in regions with more climate-friendly geography. And they have one thing in common: Their populations have shrunk by the hundreds of thousands since the 1950s, leaving them with both a desire to bring people back and many empty buildings that could be turned into housing.

Similarly, much of inland New England and the northern Great Plains have climate-friendly geography and plenty of space for people to move into. (Montana has been called the “anti-California” for its recent efforts to build more housing.) As an added benefit, these regions also offer stunning vistas and many forms of outdoor recreation.

Experts emphasize that no place is invulnerable to climate change. Vermont is a potential climate haven because of its geography and desire to attract more people. But last month, record floods hit the state. Researchers linked them to climate change.

That disaster highlights an important point: Better is not perfect. Climate change has an impact everywhere, even if residents can take steps to mitigate the damage.

Many people also can’t, or won’t, leave their homes. Some, particularly in the poorer Global South, simply can’t afford to move to avoid potential disasters. And wealthier places are not always ready for extreme weather. Hawaii’s fires this month offer an example; a lack of preparedness and human errors, including possible mistakes by the state’s biggest power utility, likely made the situation worse.

The bottom line: The planet will continue warming in the coming decades, according to the most recent projections. Those rising temperatures will bring more extreme weather and more disasters. People will have to find ways to deal with those problems. In some cases, doing so may be as straightforward as installing air conditioning in more homes. But some might feel compelled to take more extreme steps, including leaving those homes behind.

Related: “Twenty years from now, a summer like this is going to feel like a mild summer,” one expert told my colleague Somini Sengupta. Read more about our future of climate extremes.

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