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Some Northern Cities Could Be Reborn as 'Climate Havens'
By Marcello Rossi
As extreme storms, flooding rains and devastating wildfires make some parts of the U.S. more challenging to live in, what Americans consider a nice place to call home is shifting — and with that some Americans are moving, too.
That's why cities like Duluth, Minnesota, Buffalo, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio, are launching efforts to brand themselves as enticing relocation destinations for those seeking to escape the brunt of a warming climate.
Jesse Keenan, a social scientist and lecturer at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, said that Duluth and Buffalo have plenty of advantages in a warming world.
"These cities are well-positioned, as they have a cool climate that will remain relatively mild even as temperatures increase and easy freshwater access via the Great Lakes – and also face minimum risk of wildfires and coastal storms," he said.
Like some other cities in the industrialized northern U.S., often dismissed as "rust belt," all three urban areas have lost jobs in the past few decades as demand for manufacturing collapsed. And their populations declined as people moved on in search of better opportunities.
Keenan, recently the subject of a New York Times article on the issue, said attracting new residents from regions hard-hit by climate change could help the cities regain some lost economic strength.
But such a gambit would come with challenges. The cities have among the lowest in-migration rates in the U.S. And attracting people to a cold and snowy climate is no easy task.
Advertising themselves as "climate resilient" is only the first step, Keenan said. To appeal to those in other regions, the cities need to address major problems like the lack of jobs and affordable housing.
Earlier this year, Duluth hosted a conference where Keenan presented his concept for the city.
To show how vacant buildings and under-used infrastructure might be repurposed — Duluth is home to 86,000 but can accommodate double that — Keenan showed renderings of the city with 45,000 new housing units, an expanded hospital, a new train station, and a light-rail system. He even suggested a new slogan for the city: climate-proof Duluth.
"The idea of Duluth as a climate refuge is so new to us that we wanted to start a conversation dealing with the potential ramifications of being a climate refuge," said Patrick Schoff, a research associate at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. "I think there's a lot of potential here, including an economic upswing."
But some Duluthians are not convinced. City councilman Gary Anderson sees the potential development as a good thing, but he expresses concerns that inflows of climate migrants may exacerbate the city's struggle to provide affordable housing.
Karen Diver, a faculty fellow at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, points out that the city has struggled in the past to embrace people from diverse backgrounds, and adds that the area still has to make progress to be ready to meet changing needs.
Keenan, who is credited with inventing the phrase "climate gentrification," said those issues were all considered as he crafted his presentation.
"My plan doesn't cater only to those who are financially able to move," he said. "The whole idea is meant to be an opportunity for Duluth to repopulate and redevelop with affordable housing, better access to mass transportation, and other services and amenities."
Buffalo Is Known for Snow
Buffalo's identity is already tightly interwoven with its climate.
"Buffalo is known nationally and globally for snow," said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the mayor's office of strategic planning. "This reputation has had an impact on the desire for people and business to relocate to Buffalo."
But though Buffalo's climate has historically been a liability for growth, climate change has the potential to make it an asset for the former steel powerhouse.
"Buffalo and western New York [are] certain to be one of the most livable regions in the country as climate change continues to wreak havoc," said Crystal Surdyk, executive director of Designing to Live Sustainably, a local climate-focused nonprofit.
In February 2019, Mayor Byron W. Brown declared the city "a climate refuge" during his annual state-of-the-city address.
The city has already welcomed some who might be described as climate migrants, providing shelter to thousands of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in fall 2017.
"Many of these families have chosen to remain in Buffalo as they were warmly received and given support that has allowed them to make a life for their families here," Surdyk said.
Still, the prospect of accommodating Americans fleeing climate pressures brings some worries.
Surdyk is concerned that outside developers and investors already are buying-up urban and suburban properties in greater Buffalo. And while housing costs continue to grow — Buffalo ranks No. 7 in the nation for fast-rising rent — household income and the median hourly wage have not kept pace, she said.
"We are already experiencing the negative effects of rising rent levels," said Mike Riegel, the president of Belmont Housing Resources, a housing assistance agency in Buffalo. "Our Section 8 voucher-holders are taking a lot more time than in the past to find suitable housing in which to utilize their rental assistance."
Buffalo's historic building stock — what some consider among the best-preserved architecture in the U.S. — could also prove problematic, Riegel added.
"Energy costs in older housing units are very high, and upgrading to meet energy-efficiency requirements would exacerbate the rent-burden problem for low-income renters," he said.
Surdyk remains confident that encouraging climate migrants would help the city grow, but warns: "If we do not prepare for the potentially massive number of climate migrants and refugees, we will not only miss the opportunity to bounce back but the result could be catastrophic."
Choosing Cincinnati Could Be Savvy
Climate resiliency is also a growing focus for Cincinnati. The city's 2018 Green Plan notes that while Cincinnati isn't immune from climate change, it's "located outside the likely disaster areas" and is therefore "well situated to become a climate haven."
The plan highlights the importance of offering affordable housing, opportunities, and services to individuals who choose to relocate to the city, noting the "economic opportunities if Cincinnati is prepared to market itself" to businesses seeking to move from disaster-prone locations.
Oliver Kroner, Cincinnati's sustainability coordinator, says the idea to promote the city as a climate refuge came about with the recognition that some of the thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had moved there.
Like Buffalo and Duluth, Cincinnati has space for new arrivals. While the worst of its population decline seems to be over, the city has dropped to 300,000 residents, 40 percent less than its population in the 1950s. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are up to 48,000 vacant housing units across the greater metropolitan area.
Yet while climate change is likely to prompt some people living in risky locations to move elsewhere, they will not necessarily end up filling those empty houses. And the same goes for Buffalo and Duluth.
Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, says those with the capacity to move will look to places with strong economic opportunities, presence of family or friends, and high quality of life — consistent with existing mobility patterns.
"These 'Rust Belt' cities are well-situated," he said. "But if they want to attract those who are electing to move, then we need to see empirical evidence – not marketing and general claims – of how they intend to address a surge in population and avert the challenge of higher temperatures and other climate-induced stressors."
Marcello Rossi is a science and freelance writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Smithsonian, Reuters, Quartz, and Outside, among other publications.
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By Carey Gillam
Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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