Climate migration is about to become a serious headache for the United States and its federal and state governments.
Migration is kicking off with sea level rise but that will be just one cause. Heatwaves and drought, particularly in the southwest, are expected to drive the population ever northward. While this is going on, America is expected to be dealing with an influx of climate migrants trying to leave Central America. How will a debt-ridden country struggling to cope with its own IDPs, Internally Displaced Persons, deal with migrants from other countries attempting to move in.
Millions of Americans will confront ...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.
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.
...“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.”
Dystopia? Sadly, Yes.
A sense of fatalism is ...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.
...“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.
“That insidious climate migration is the one we should worry about. The big disasters such as hurricanes will be obvious. It’s the pressures we don’t know or understand that will reshape population in the 21st century.”The Rehabilitation of the "Rust Belt"?
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.
... “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.
...“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.”"We need a plan." Yes, indeed, don't we all?
As the American nation and each of its states will be affected, we won't be immune to it either. For our governments, Liberal and Conservative, it's "out of sight/out of mind," their standard practice of dereliction. Look, they'll unashamedly screw us over trade. How do you think they'll view us when they're getting squeezed by their homegrown internally displaced person migration?
BTW, if you think this is a futuristic problem, think again.