Climate Migration in America
September 27, 2018
by Travis Dagenais
The Guardian has revealed a three-part look at climate change in the United States entitled “Americans: the Next Climate Migrants,” sourcing the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Jesse M. Keenan as a voice of expertise and reason on property, infrastructure, and other impacts incurred by climate-related issues, like rising seas and climbing temperatures.
Central to The Guardian‘s analysis is Keenan’s wide ranging work at the intersection of climate migration, urban development, and public policy.
“This is happening neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state,” Keenan tells The Guardian. “It’s such a huge spectrum of geography that we are going to have to make moral judgments about what to protect and what to let go. There’s not enough money to protect everyone. We need a complete mobilization, similar to the effort of putting a man on the moon, to adapt our coasts.”
“With property rights as strong as they are in the US, some people may choose to go down with the ship,” Keenan notes. “The question is whether they have the means and the options to do anything else.”
He mentions in general terms the area to head, broadly speaking, is north and maybe west, of a "Band roughly above the 42nd paralel" that forms the borders of NY and PA plus California, Nevada and Utah with with Oregon and Idaho.
While Keenan has studied Miami and its climate-influenced sea-level rise and California and its climate-stoked wildfires, among other case studies, he does observe regions of the US that might offer less climate vulnerability. In The Guardian, he notes that cities like Buffalo, and Duluth, offer superior qualities for future settlement as climate change accelerates.
“Their sources of energy production are stable, they have cooler climates and they have access to plenty of fresh water,” he explains. “They also have less vulnerability to forest fires, as compared to somewhere like the Pacific north-west. They also have a legacy of excess infrastructural capacity that allows them to diversify their economy in the future. Land prices are cheap and they have a relatively well-educated and skilled labor force.”
Regardless of specifics, though, Keenan notes the potentially enormous scale of human and population relocation that climate-change effects could incur. “Including all climate impacts it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something twice as large as the Dustbowl,” he says, referencing the 1930s calamity in which millions of people moved from the dusty, drought-ridden United States plains to the West Coast, especially California.
At the GSD, Keenan teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of urban development and climate adaptation. This fall, he is teaching a course on sustainable real estate, and in Spring 2019 he will lead his annual Harvard-wide course on climate change resilience and adaptation.
Keenan is currently serving as a Research Advisor for Climate Adaptation Finance to Governor Jerry Brown in California and is a Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco where he is leading efforts to advance investments in climate adaptation across the Federal Reserve system. Keenan is one of only two Harvard faculty who is a member of the recent empaneling of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the premier deliberative body for climate science under the United Nations. Keenan also supports the RAND Corporation’s congressional appointment to oversee the $40 billion reconstruction of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and is engaged in resilience design research with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Keenan will launch an initiative examining socioeconomic indicators for climate adaptation supported by the National Science Foundation in Spring 2019.
'We're moving to higher ground': America's era of climate mass migration is here
By the end of this century, sea level rises alone could displace 13 million people. Many states will have to grapple with hordes of residents seeking dry ground. But, as one expert says, ‘No state is unaffected by this’.
Illustration: R Fresson for the Guardian
by Oliver Milman
After her house flooded for the third year in a row, Elizabeth Boineau was ready to flee. She packed her possessions into dozens of boxes, tried not to think of the mold and mildew-covered furniture and retreated to a second-floor condo that should be beyond the reach of pounding rains and swelling seas.
Boineau is leaving behind a handsome, early 20th-century house in Charleston, South Carolina, the shutters painted in the city’s eponymous shade of deep green. Last year, after Hurricane Irma introduced 8in of water into a home Boineau was still patching up from the last flood, local authorities agreed this historic slice of Charleston could be torn down.
“I was sloshing through the water with my puppy dog, debris was everywhere,” she said. “I feel completely sunken. It would cost me around $500,000 to raise the house, demolish the first floor. I’m going to rent a place instead, on higher ground.”
Millions of Americans will confront similarly hard choices as climate change conjures up brutal storms, flooding rains, receding coastlines and punishing heat. Many are already opting to shift to less perilous areas of the same city, or to havens in other states. Whole towns from Alaska to Louisiana are looking to relocate, in their entirety, to safer ground.
Children on Isle De Jean Charles, Louisiana, where only 20 families are left. Photograph: Amir Levy/AFP/Getty Images
The era of climate migration is, virtually unheralded, already upon America.
The population shift gathering pace is so sprawling that it may rival anything in US history. “Including all climate impacts it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something twice as large as the Dustbowl,” said Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard University, referencing the 1930s upheaval in which 2.5 million people moved from the dusty, drought-ridden plains to California.
This enormous migration will probably take place over a longer period than the Dustbowl but its implications are both profound and opaque. It will plunge the US into an utterly alien reality. “It is very difficult to model human behaviour under such extreme and historically unprecedented circumstances,” Keenan admits.
The closest analogue could be the Great Migration – a period spanning a large chunk of the 20th century when about 6 million black people departed the Jim Crow south for cities in the north, midwest and west.
By the end of this century, sea level rise alone could displace 13 million people, according to one study, including 6 million in Florida. States including Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey will also have to grapple with hordes of residents seeking dry ground.
“There’s not a state unaffected by this,” said demographer Mat Hauer, lead author of the research, which is predicated on a severe 6ft sea level increase. There are established migration preferences for some places – south Florida to Georgia, New York to Colorado – but in many cases people would uproot to the closest inland city, if they have the means.
“The Great Migration was out of the south into the industrialized north, whereas this is from every coastal place in the US to every other place in the US,” said Hauer. “Not everyone can afford to move, so we could end up with trapped populations that would be in a downward spiral. I have a hard time imagining what that future would be like.”
Within just a few decades, hundreds of thousands of homes on US coasts will be chronically flooded. By the end of the century, 6ft of sea level rise would redraw the coastline with familiar parts – such as southern Florida, chunks of North Carolina and Virginia, much of Boston, all but a sliver of New Orleans – missing. Warming temperatures will fuel monstrous hurricanes – like the devastating triumvirate of Irma, Maria and Harvey in 2017, followed by Florence and Michael this year – that will scatter survivors in jarring, uncertain ways.
The projections are starting to materialize in parts of the US, forming the contours of the climate migration to come.
“I don’t see the slightest evidence that anyone is seriously thinking about what to do with the future climate refugee stream,” said Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus of coastal geology at Duke University. “It boggles the mind to see crowds of climate refugees arriving in town and looking for work and food.”
Pilkey’s new book – Sea Level Rise Along Americas Shores: The Slow Tsunami – envisions apocalyptic scenes where millions of people, largely from south Florida, will become “a stream of refugees moving to higher ground”.
“They will not be the bedraggled families carrying their few possessions on their backs as we have seen in countless photos of people fleeing wars and ethnic cleansing, most recently in Myanmar and Syria,” Pilkey states in his book. “Instead, they will be well-off Americans driving to a new life in their cars, with moving trucks behind, carrying a lifetime of memories and possessions.”
Dejected with frigid New York winters, Chase Twichell and her husband purchased a four-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach in 2011, with the plan of spending at least a decade basking in the sunshine. At first, keeping a pair of flip-flops on hand to deal with the flooded streets seemed an acceptable quirk, until the magnitude of the encroaching seas became apparent when the city spent $400m to elevate streets near Twichell’s abode.
Twichell began to notice water pumps were spewing plastic bags, condoms and chip packets into the bay. Friends’ balconies started getting submerged. Twichell, a poet, found apocalyptic themes creeping into her work. Last year, she sold the apartment to a French businessman and moved back to upstate New York.
“It was like end of the world stuff,” she said. “It was crazy for us to have such a big investment in such a dangerous situation.” Her neighbours initially scolded her but now several are also selling up, fretting that the real estate and insurance markets for properties like theirs will seize up.
“It was horrible but fascinating to see it,” Twichell said. “It’s like we got to see the future and it wasn’t pretty. It’s like a movie where there’s a terrible volcano that is destroying everything, only it’s much slower than that.”
A sense of fatalism is also starting to grip some local officials. Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami, has seen a colleague, spooked by sea level rise, move to California and some neighbours sell their houses before an expected slump in prices. Stoddard and his wife regularly discuss buying a fallback property, perhaps in Washington DC.
“Most people will wait for the problem to be bad to take action, that’s what I worry about,” he said. “We can buy a lot of time, but in the end we lose. The sea level will go over the tops of our buildings.”
Sanitation is an immediate preoccupation for Stoddard, given the large proportion of residents who aren’t served by sewage works. “If you’re using a septic tank and your toilet starts to overflow into your bathroom because of water inundation, that’s a basis-of-civilization problem,” he said. “A medieval city wasn’t a nice smelling place and they had a lot of diseases.”
Those living near the coasts will face pressures of the gradual (sea level rise) as well as dramatic (storms) nature but people inland will also be harried to move by climate change.
Farming techniques and technology have improved immeasurably since the Dustbowl but rising temperatures are still expected to diminish yields for crops such as maize, soybeans and wheat, prompting the departure of younger people from farming. By 2050, Texas county, the largest wheat-producing county in Oklahoma, could spend an extra 40 days a year above 90F (32C) compared with now.
A firefighter monitors a backfire near Clearlake, California. The Rocky Fire burned over 60,000
acres and forced the evacuation of 12,000 residents. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A study published last year found that the economies of the southern states, along with parts of the west, will suffer disproportionately as temperatures rise. In what researchers called potentially one of the largest transfers of wealth in US history, the poorest third of counties are expected to lose up to 20% of their income unless greenhouse gas emissions are severely curtailed. Wealth, and potentially people, are expected to shift north and west.
Meanwhile, cities already struggling with heat will see wealthy residents head for cooler climes. Last year, 155 people died in Phoenix due to a particularly fierce summer. Increasing heat will start testing the durability of the populace, even those shielded by air conditioning. In the western states, wildfires are getting larger, razing homes in ever more spectacular ways and choking thousands of people with carcinogenic smoke.
Further to the south, at the border, there are suggestions that people from Central America are being nudged towards the US because of drought and hurricanes in their homelands, part of a trend that will see as many as 300 million climate refugees worldwide by 2050.
“People will get very grumpy and upset with very hot temperatures,” said Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago who co-authored the research on economic losses. “Even if you have air conditioning, some areas start to look less habitable. By the middle of the century parts of the south-west and south-east won’t look attractive to live in.
Prodded to name refuges in the US, researchers will point to Washington and Oregon in the Pacific north-west, where temperatures will remain bearable and disasters unlikely to strike. Areas close to the Great Lakes and in New England are also expected to prove increasingly attractive to those looking to move.
By 2065, southern states are expected to lose 8% of their US population share, while the north-east will increase by 9%. A recent study forecast that the population in the western half of the US will increase by more than 10% over the next 50 years due to climate migration, largely from the south and midwest.
But these population shifts are uncertain and are bound by a tangle of other factors and caveats. People will still largely follow paths guided by nearby family or suitable jobs. Even those who do want to move may find favoured locations too expensive.
Some will just grimly hang on. “With property rights as strong as they are in the US, some people may choose to go down with the ship,” said Harvard’s Keenan. “The question is whether they have the means and the options to do anything else.”
“People can usually cope with being a little less comfortable, but if you see repeated storms or severe damage to crops, that will trigger change,” said Solomon Hsiang, who researches how climate change will affect society at the University of California.
“There will be pressure to move a little north. It won’t be everyone, though, it won’t be like the great migration of wildebeest in Africa. Whole cities picking up and moving would be hugely expensive.”
A firefighter carries a woman from her car after it was caught in street flooding in Sun Valley, California.
Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images
Smaller towns are giving relocation a go, however. In 2016, the community of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana was the first place to be given federal money to replant itself. The population, situated on an island being eaten away by the sea, is looking to move to a former sugar cane farm 30 miles inland.
“We are called climate refugees but I hate that term,” said Chantal Comardelle, who grew up in the Isle de Jean Charles community.
“We will be the first ones to face this in the modern US but we won’t be the last. It’s important for us to get it right so other communities know that they can do it, too.”
About a dozen coastal towns in Alaska are also looking to relocate, as diminishing sea ice exposes them to storms and rising temperatures thaw the very ground beneath them. One, Newtok, has identified a new site and has some federal funding to begin uprooting itself.
A buyout of damaged and at-risk homes has already occurred in New York City’s Staten Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, while certain flood-prone houses in Houston, pummeled by Hurricane Harvey last year, are also being purchased and razed.
But the cost of doing this for all at-risk Americans would be eye-watering. Estimates range from $200,000 to $1m per person to undertake a relocation. If 13 million people do have to move, it seems fantastical to imagine $13tn, or even a significant fraction of this amount, being spent by governments to ease the way.
“As a country we aren’t set up to deal with slow-moving disasters like this, so people around the country are on their own,” said Joel Clement, a former Department of the Interior official who worked on the relocation of Alaskan towns.
“In the Arctic I’m concerned we’ve left it too late. Younger people have left because they know the places are doomed. These towns won’t be relocated within five years and I’m sure there will be a catastrophic storm up there. My hope is no lives will be lost.”
Ultimately, the US will have to choose what it wants to defend and hope its ingenuity outstrips the environmental changes ranged against it. Not everyone will be able to shelter behind fortifications like the ‘big U’ planned to defend lower Manhattan. Wrenching decisions will have to be made as to what and where will be sacrificed.
“We won’t see whole areas abandoned but neighborhoods will get sparse and wild looking, the tax base will start to crumble,” said Stoddard, mayor of South Miami. “We don’t have the laws to deal with that sort of piecemeal retreat. It’s magical thinking to think someone else will buy out your property.
“We need a plan as to what will be defended because at the moment the approach is that some kid in a garage will come with a solution. There isn’t going to be a mop and bucket big enough for this problem.”
Where should you move to save yourself from climate change?
Heatwaves, hurricanes and floods will make some places in the US inhospitable
Climate change is fueling heatwaves, hurricanes and floods, gradually making certain places in the US challenging, if not outright miserable, to live in.
Scientists, and some members of the public, are starting to question where in the US will remain comfortable to call home.
The answer, broadly speaking, is north and maybe west. Florida has seen a population boom in recent decades but the southern portion of the state is on course to be submerged by rising seas. The Gulf coast will get supercharged hurricanes, while the south-west and south-east US will be baked by increasingly hostile heat.
“Areas towards the north and away from the ocean and that central corridor where you get tornadoes probably look best,” said Vivek Shandas, an expert on climate change’s impact on cities at Portland State University. Shandas recommends looking to live in a “band roughly above the 42nd parallel”.
Places close to a reliable source of water without being flood-prone as the seas rise are attractive, such as areas near the Great Lakes and the Pacific north-west. “Seattle doesn’t break 90F that often so it’ll be nothing like Phoenix in terms of tolerability of heat,” said Shandas. “Places like Portland, Oregon, and Boise, Idaho, will be relatively safeguarded, apart from a bit of wildfire smoke.”
There will be bastions elsewhere. “Cincinnati, for example, is surprisingly good,” said Shandas. “It’s close to the Great Lakes, away from hurricanes, away from the eastern seaboard. It will get more heatwaves, but then again we all will.”
Boise, Idaho: another place which could be shielded from the worst of climate change. Photograph: Troy Maben/AP
Much of the east coast will look dicey if the seas rise at such a pace that they’ll be 6ft higher by the end of the century, but plenty will rest on local decisions made to shield residents from flooding. New York City, for example, is flanked by rising water and is already stiflingly hot in summer, but a multibillion-dollar strategy to build flood defenses and buy out vulnerable areas should help stave off the worst impacts.
Climate resiliency is a growing focus for many towns and cities that fret about expensive clean-up costs from disasters, shading people from the heat or dealing with an eroding tax base should residents decide to uproot and head somewhere safer.
The scope of these climate considerations is vast, touching on everything from transport links to the availability of flood insurance. Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard University, said that he likes Western NY (Buffalo), and Northeastern, MN (Duluth), as climate refuges as they tick many of the appropriate boxes.
“Their sources of energy production are stable, they have cooler climates and they have access to plenty of fresh water,” Keenan said.
“They also have less vulnerability to forest fires, as compared to somewhere like the Pacific north-west. They also have a legacy of excess infrastructural capacity that allows them to diversify their economy in the future. Land prices are cheap and they have a relatively well-educated and skilled labor force.”
These safe havens are more of a fantasy wishlist for many moderate-to low-income people as property and rental values rise in desirable areas. Others won’t want to leave more vulnerable parts of the US due to more umbilical links, to family and jobs and a sense of home.
“As we saw after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria, communities that are able to move can do so, especially if family and friends do the same,” said Shandas. “Those with less resources are left behind.”
Climate gentrification: the rich can afford to move – what about the poor?
As people flee intense heat in Arizona for gentler climes, rental and property values soar. But what about those left behind?
Rick Richo carries water to his home from a nearby water filling station during the midday heat in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photograph: Joshua Taff for the Guardian
by Oliver Milman in Flagstaff, Arizona
Only half-jokingly, some residents of a progressive city 300 miles north of the Mexican border have adopted the “build the wall” slogan in the face of a wave of newcomers. But these perceived interlopers are starkly different from Donald Trump’s imagination.
They are American, mainly white and are fleeing the unlivable heat.
Arizona’s vast sweep of landscapes stretches from the scorched western movie backdrop of the Sonoran desert in the south, past rusty red sandstone outcrops further north in Sedona until you ascend to Flagstaff, a pleasant city carved into the largest expanse of ponderosa pine trees in the world, at an elevation of 7,000ft.
Flagstaff, population 70,000, has long been a destination for people in southern Arizona looking for a cooling respite in summer or a spot of skiing on the nearby San Francisco Peaks in winter.
But rising temperatures, driven by human-induced climate change, mean that many in Flagstaff fret they are now being overrun by those fleeing sweltering cities such as Phoenix and Tucson. A pattern of climate-driven gentrification is taking hold across the US, as those who are able to retreat from floods, storms, heatwaves and wildfires shift to safer areas, bringing soaring property and rental values with them.
“As it gets hotter, we are getting a lot of climate refugees,” said Coral Evans, Flagstaff’s mayor. “We don’t mind people moving to Flagstaff at all. But about 25% of our housing is now second homes. The cost of living is our number one issue.
“We don’t talk much about what climate change means for social justice. But where are low-income people going to live? How can they afford to stay in this city?”
There are usually a tangle of reasons – jobs, love, education – as to why people decide to move, but Flagstaff’s agreeable climate is jostling towards the front. Last summer, Phoenix was so hot that road signs and mailboxes melted. Planes couldn’t take off or land. On a recent July day this year, when Phoenix hit 116F (47C), Flagstaff, a two-hour drive and a world away, was 80F (27C).
Phoenix, Arizona, with its downtown lit by the last rays of sun at dusk. Photograph: Dreamframer/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Amanda Ormond moved to Phoenix in 1985, first working in bars after leaving college before becoming a clean energy consultant.
Ormond recalls stuffing her children into thick coats when trawling houses for trick or treating at Halloween. By the time the family moved permanently to Flagstaff three years ago, wearing anything warmer than shorts and T-shirts at that time of year was unthinkable. It will get worse – Phoenix, the fastest-warming large city in the US, could spend close to half of its year in over 100F (37C) heat within 30 years.
“If you choose to live in the desert you have to learn how to live in the desert,” Ormond said. “You worry about your car breaking down and so you have tons of food and water in it.
“But the heat used to break around September. Now, it’s October, sometimes November. We literally have six months of above 90F (32C). Mentally, you need a break. You can’t leave your house. It’s fatiguing.”
Ormond still owns her house in Tempe, which adjoins Phoenix. “We had this home and when I look around I think, ‘I just can’t see how this is gonna be a good investment for 20 years with climate change.’”
Phoenicians able to move, or even vacation, in cooler climes such as Flagstaff are usually older and wealthier. Those who still work can often do so remotely. The influx has aroused concerns in Flagstaff, where rents and property values have soared.
“The tenor in the town is ‘Stop building. Build a wall,’” said Jenny Niemann, a climate and energy specialist at the city of Flagstaff. “People joke about that. But I think it’s fair to say the town feels incredibly stressed by the increasing prices, as well as the development.”
While the western US is increasingly baked by heatwaves and choked by smoke from wildfires, the pressing concern in eastern states is that their coasts are being redrawn by sea level rise and pummeled by ever-stronger hurricanes. More than 300,000 homes near US coasts face being chronically flooded within 30 years.
This unfolding scenario is reshaping previous lines of segregation in coastal cities. As investors shift capital to higher ground and shoreline properties become costlier in terms of insurance and repairs, low- to middle-income people are squeezed out from both areas.
A recent study of the greater Miami area shows this process is already under way – properties at high elevations are experiencing rising values, while those situated just 3ft above sea level have declined in value, even when other factors are accounted for. This trend has largely taken hold since 2000.
“It’s a pretty clear signal and there’s evidence it’s happening across the US,” said Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard who authored the Miami report. “The very wealthy can afford to throw money away but moderate- to low-income people can’t, so there’s an inequality to living immediately on the coast.”
According to Keenan, climate gentrification is not just a supply problem – real estate developers actively marketing elevated areas as safe investments – but also a demand one – buyers are starting to swarm to higher ground.
“This is happening neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state,” he said. “It’s such a huge spectrum of geography that we are going to have to make moral judgments about what to protect and what to let go. There’s not enough money to protect everyone. We need a complete mobilization, similar to the effort of putting a man on the moon, to adapt our coasts.”
Residents of Little Haiti, Miami. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Residents of the Miami districts of Liberty City and Little Haiti, traditionally African American and Hispanic areas, are seeing their neighborhoods transform around them. The districts, which sit a relatively safe 15ft above sea level, are currently having holes punched into them by bulldozers to make way for half a dozen apartment developments.
“We are already seeing low-income homes and businesses being evicted, the new developments are popping up everywhere,” said Valencia Gunder, a Liberty City resident turned activist who grew up hearing warnings about gentrification that are now being realized.
Previously blighted by poverty and crime, Liberty City is now seen as an attractive base for those worried their beachfront properties will soon be swamped. In 2000, no one in Liberty City paid more than $1,000 a month in rent – now it’s roughly one in six. Property prices have also risen sharply.
“People are being forced out to places like Georgia and Alabama, where it’s more affordable,” said Gunder. “It’s becoming so expensive. These developers aren’t making Liberty City better for the people who already live here.”
Even cities with cerebral approaches to climate change are at risk of upheavals that cut deepest in poorer, minority communities. Norfolk, Virginia, has reacted to some of the fastest sea level rises in the world with an ambitious plan that cedes some territory to the tides, while breaking up some housing projects and relocating residents. Local activists worry this will mean low-income, black communities will be displaced as their coastal neighborhoods are gentrified.
“This is a red alarm issue,” said Mustafa Ali, who spent 25 years at the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of environmental justice. “We need to make better decisions around resilience and vulnerable communities need to be brought into that conversation. A whole lot of folks are being left behind.”
In Flagstaff, the city is already straining to keep up. “Town gets crazy on the weekends when it’s 115F [46F] in Phoenix,” said Nicole Antonopoulos, Flagstaff’s head of sustainability. “Are we building our systems in a manner that can support a massive influx? No. Can our existing infrastructure support that? No.”
Flagstaff also faces its own climate change threats – increased wildfires in the surrounding Coconino national forest, the associated risk of flooding rains washing freely down treeless slopes on to the city, pressure on the water supply. Growing numbers of homeless people are traveling to Flagstaff to camp in the woods, heightening local fears over unintended conflagration.
Antonopoulos, who has helped develop a draft climate plan for Flagstaff to confront this new reality, recalls the sky turning black from ash after the nearby Schultz fire, in 2010. “I was walking to work with a bandanna on and literally chunks of burning trees were falling everywhere,” she said. “When we’ve got climate refugees it’s going to put more stress not only on our infrastructure but also our natural resources.”
The hand of climate change is everywhere – from water availability to insurance markets to housing pricing – while rarely being identified as a culprit. As temperatures continue to escalate, prior inequities are likely to be exacerbated, injustices risk deepening.
“Whether it’s happening already is unclear but I think more and more people are going to be moving because of climate change,” said Brian Petersen, a climate change and planning academic at Northern Arizona University.
“The people marginalized already in society will bear the brunt of this. Poor people in Las Vegas or Phoenix who can’t get away from the heat are not going to be leaving to go to beautiful, expensive mountain towns.”
Even those who do make it to Flagstaff and other refuges, such as Oregon or near the Great Lakes, won’t be shielded from the transforming climate. Enough future warming has been locked into the world’s climate system to touch everywhere on Earth.
“At some point, Flagstaff’s going to be in the rear-view mirror,” said Petersen. “We’re going to be going to farther north places or other continents.”