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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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.