New Report Documents How Climate Migration Could Reshape U.S.
By Kenny Stancil
Potentially millions of people in the U.S. will be displaced as the climate crisis makes certain regions increasingly uninhabitable, prompting new migrations that will reshape the country, a new report shows.
The story published Tuesday is the second installment in a series on global climate migration that stems from a collaboration between ProPublica and the New York Times, with support from the Pulitzer Center.
While the first article in the series focused on the movement of climate refugees across international borders, the latest story focuses on how climate migration within the U.S. will reshape the country.
As report author Abrahm Lustgarten explains, "In much of the developing world, vulnerable people will attempt to flee the emerging perils of global warming, seeking cooler temperatures, more fresh water and safety."
But here in the U.S., many people have for years "avoided confronting these changes in their own backyards," he writes.
"The decisions we make about where to live are distorted not just by politics that play down climate risks, but also by expensive subsidies and incentives aimed at defying nature," Lustgarten adds in the report. "People have largely gravitated toward environmental danger, building along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and settling across the cloudless deserts of the Southwest."
In light of a summer in which millions of people have endured the devastating combined effects of a pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, and heatwaves, the journalist wonders: "Might Americans finally be waking up to how climate is about to transform their lives? And if so—if a great domestic relocation might be in the offing—was it possible to project where we might go?"
New: Wildfires rage in the West. Hurricanes batter the East. Droughts and floods wreak damage throughout the nation… https://t.co/O5Oftmfe2p— ProPublica (@ProPublica)1600160952.0
America's climate crisis is here. And it will change how — and where — people live. Supported by @pulitzercenter,… https://t.co/IKiadqgXs1— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1600187345.0
Lustgarten argues that the U.S., where 162 million people—nearly one in two—will "most likely experience a decline in the quality of their environment" in the coming years, is "a nation on the cusp of a great transformation."
"The changes could be particularly severe" for 93 million Americans, and "if carbon emissions rise at extreme levels, at least four million Americans could find themselves living at the fringe, in places decidedly outside the ideal niche for human life," according to the analysis.
The story is accompanied by a set of maps depicting likely shifts in the niche of human habitability, and the scenarios "suggest massive upheavals in where Americans currently live and grow food."
Several factors are driving changes in the suitability of different environments, researchers note. These include extreme heat and humidity—the collision of which will create what scientists call "wet bulb" temperatures that will "disrupt the norms of daily existence"—as well as larger and more frequent wildfires, rising sea levels, declining crop yields, and economic damages related to higher energy costs and lower labor productivity.
According to the analysis, the greatest climate risk exists in counties throughout the Southeast and the Southwest where the perils are likely to intermingle and generate "compounding calamities."
"The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting," the report states. Public officials in Florida "have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable," explains Lustgarten. Furthermore, "the nation's federal flood-insurance program is for the first time requiring that some of its payouts be used to retreat from climate threats across the country."
If "it will soon prove too expensive to maintain the status quo"—as Lustgarten argues it will—then what might we expect?
The author paints a grim picture of the possible consequences of mass relocations between now and 2070, arguing that such a population shift is:
likely to increase poverty and widen the gulf between the rich and the poor. It will accelerate rapid, perhaps chaotic, urbanization of cities ill-equipped for the burden, testing their capacity to provide basic services and amplifying existing inequities. It will eat away at prosperity, dealing repeated economic blows to coastal, rural and Southern regions, which could in turn push entire communities to the brink of collapse.
Mobility itself, global migration experts point out, is often a reflection of relative wealth, and as some move, many others will be left behind. Those who stay risk becoming trapped as the land and the society around them ceases to offer any more support.
While a growing number of citizens consider climate change a top political priority, Lustgarten argues that "policymakers, having left America unprepared for what's next, now face brutal choices about which communities to save—often at exorbitant costs—and which to sacrifice."
Lustgarten devotes considerable attention to what he describes as the negative effects of the country's property insurance system, which has distorted perceptions of risk and incentivized real estate development in locations vulnerable to disasters. The experts he talked to anticipate shocks to the financial system and the upending of "entire communities" once "all the structural disincentives that had built Americans' irrational response" to the threats posed by climate change begin "reaching their logical endpoint."
"Until now," the report notes, "market mechanisms had essentially socialized the consequences of high-risk development. But as the costs rise—and the insurers quit, and the bankers divest, and the farm subsidies prove too wasteful, and so on—the full weight of responsibility will fall on individual people."
"And that's when the real migration might begin," says Lustgarten.
Past experiences with socio-environmental disasters in the U.S. raise concerns about the welfare of people who are displaced as well as those who are left behind. When the Dust Bowl "propelled an exodus of some 2.5 million people" from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, "they were funneled into squalid shanty towns" in California, the author writes.
Experts told Lustgarten that similar problems are likely to arise in the 21st century, as hundreds of thousands of climate refugees move to cities already struggling with poverty, inequality, and "long-neglected" infrastructural systems "suddenly pressed to expand under increasingly adverse conditions."
In the 1930s, "Colorado tried to seal its border from the climate refugees," the report notes. And "the places migrants left behind never fully recovered."
Barring a reorientation of economic priorities and resources through far-reaching legislation like the Green New Deal, Lustgarten suggests that the decisions made by policymakers "will almost inevitably make the nation more divided, with those worst off relegated to a nightmare future in which they are left to fend for themselves."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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