Illustration for article titled Where Will the Climate Refugees Go in 50 Years?

As sea levels and temperatures rise over the next fifty years, coastal cities in the U.S. may become a lot less inviting to their millions of inhabitants. But where will all those sopping wet, overheated urbanites go? Some scientists say the answer is simple and predictable.


They'll go to the Pacific Northwest.

Jennifer Kingston writes in the New York Times:

Under any model of climate change, scientists say, most of the country will look and feel drastically different in 2050, 2100 and beyond, even as cities and states try to adapt and plan ahead. The northern Great Plains states may well be pleasant (if muggy) for future generations, as may many neighboring states. Although few people today are moving long distances to strategize for climate change, some are at least pondering the question of where they would go.

"The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades," said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. "Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best," he added. "You see a lot less extreme heat; it's the one place in the West where there's no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it's a relatively small factor."

Clifford E. Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a popular weather blog in which he predicts that the Pacific Northwest will be "a potential climate refuge" as global warming progresses. A Seattle resident, he foresees that "climate change migrants" will start heading to his city and to Portland, Ore., and surrounding areas.

"The Pacific Ocean is like our natural air conditioning," Professor Mass said in a telephone interview. "We don't get humidity like the East Coast does."

As for the water supply? "Water is important, and we will have it," Professor Mass declared. "All in all, it's a pretty benign situation for us — in fact, warming up just a little bit might be a little bit welcome around here."

Already, he said, Washington State is gearing up to become the next Napa Valley as California's wine country heats up and dries out.


All of this sounds very calm and hopeful. There's even wine at the end of the journey north! But when millions of people are displaced from their homes, economic and social upheavals are inevitable. Coastal cities need to be building this inevitable climate transformation into their urban plans right now, so that residents have a place to go inland rather than leaving the area entirely.

Read the rest at the New York Times

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