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Americans: The Next Climate Migrants. ‘We are moving to higher ground’
By the end of this century, rising sea levels could only displace 13 million people. Many states will have to deal with hordes of residents seeking dry terrain. But, as one expert puts it: "No state is not affected by this."
After her home flooded for the third year in a row, Elizabeth Boineau was ready to flee. He packed his belongings in dozens of boxes, tried not to think about the mold and mold-covered furniture, and retired to a second-floor condo that should be well beyond the reach of torrential rains and rough seas.
Boineau is leaving behind a beautiful early 20th-century home in Charleston, South Carolina, with the blinds painted in the city's eponymous shade of deep green. Last year, after Hurricane Irma dumped 8 inches of water into a home that Boineau was still mending from the last flood, local authorities agreed that this historic portion of Charleston could be torn down.
"I was splashing in the water with my puppy dog, everything was ruined," he said. “I feel completely sunk. It would cost me about $ 500,000 to build the house, demolish the first floor. Instead, I'm going to rent a place, on higher ground. "
Millions of Americans will face equally difficult decisions as climate change evokes brutal storms, torrential rains, setbacks from coasts and beating the heat. Many are already choosing to relocate to less dangerous areas of the same city or to shelters in other states. Entire cities from Alaska to Louisiana are seeking to relocate, in their entirety, to safer ground.
The rate of population shift harvesting is so extensive that it can rival anything in the history of the United States. "Including all climate impacts, it's not too far-fetched to imagine something twice the size of the Dustbowl," said Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard University, referring to the 1930s upheaval in which 2.5 million people moved from California's dusty, drought-plagued plains.
This massive migration will likely take place over a longer period than the Dustbowl, but its implications are profound and opaque. It will create a completely different reality for the US. “It is very difficult to model human behavior in such extreme and historically unprecedented circumstances,” Keenan admits.
The closest analog might be the Great Migration, a period spanning much of the 20th century, when about 6 million blacks left the Jim Crow South for cities in the North, Midwest, and West.
By the end of this century, rising sea levels alone could displace 13 million people, according to one study, including 6 million in Florida. States that include Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey will also have to deal with hordes of residents seeking dry terrain.
"There is not a state that is not affected by this," said demographer Mat Hauer, lead author of the research, which is based on a sharp 6-foot rise in sea level. There are established migration preferences for some places: from South Florida to Georgia, from New York to Colorado, but in many cases people will be uprooted to the nearest inner city if they have the means.
"The Great Migration was from the south to the industrialized north, whereas this is from every coastal place in the US to every other place in the US," Hauer said. “Not everyone can afford to move, so we could end up with trapped populations that would be in a downward spiral. It's hard for me to imagine what that future would be like. "
Within a few decades, hundreds of thousands of homes on America's shores will be chronically flooded. Towards the end of the century, a 6-foot sea-level rise would redraw the coastline with familiar parts, such as South Florida, bits of North Carolina and Virginia, much of Boston, all but a strip of New Orleans, missing. Warm temperatures will fuel monstrous hurricanes, such as the devastating triumvirate of Irma, Maria and Harvey in 2017, followed by Florence this year, which will disperse survivors in jarring and uncertain ways.
Projections begin to materialize in parts of the US, shaping the contours of climate migration to come.
"I don't see the slightest evidence that anyone is seriously thinking about what to do with the future influx of climate refugees," said Orrin Pilkey, emeritus professor of coastal geology at Duke University. "It is mind-boggling to see crowds of climate refugees arriving in the city and looking for work and food."
Pilkey's new book - Sea Level Rise Along Americas Shores: The Slow Tsunami - envisions apocalyptic scenes in which millions of people, mostly from South Florida, will become "a stream of refugees moving to higher ground ”.
"It will not be the scruffy families who carry their few possessions on their backs, as we have seen in countless photos of people fleeing wars and ethnic cleansing, most recently in Myanmar and Syria," says Pilkey in his book. "Instead, they will be wealthy Americans driving into a new life in their cars, with trucks moving back in time, carrying a lifetime of memories and possessions."
Gripped by the freezing New York winters, Chase Twichell and her husband bought a four-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach in 2011, planning to spend at least a decade basking in the sun. At first, keeping a pair of flip-flops on hand to deal with flooded streets seemed an acceptable whim, until the scale of the invading seas became apparent when the city spent $ 400 million to elevate the streets near Twichell's abode. .
Twichell began to notice that the water pumps were throwing plastic bags, condoms and packets of chips into the bay. Friends' balconies began to submerge. Twichell, a poet, found apocalyptic themes creeping into his work. Last year, he sold the apartment to a French businessman and moved to upstate New York.
"It was like doomsday things," he said. "It was crazy for us to have a huge investment in such a dangerous situation." At first, her neighbors scolded her, but now several are also selling, worried that the real estate and insurance markets for properties like hers will take advantage.
"It was horrible but fascinating to watch," Twichell said. "It's like we can see the future and it's not pretty." It is like a movie in which there is a terrible volcano that is destroying everything, only it is much slower than that.
A sense of fatalism is also beginning to affect some local officials. South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard has seen a colleague, spooked by rising sea levels, move to California and some neighbors sell their houses before an expected drop in prices. Stoddard and his wife regularly discuss buying reserve property, perhaps in Washington DC.
"Most people will wait until the problem is bad to take action, that's what I worry about," he said. "We can buy a long time, but in the end we lose." The sea level will rise above our buildings ”.
Sanitation is an immediate concern for Stoddard, given the large proportion of residents who do not receive sewer services. “If you are using a septic tank and your toilet starts to overflow in your bathroom due to flooding from the water, that is a basic problem of civilization,” he said. "A medieval city was not a pleasant place and they had many diseases."
Those living near the coasts will face pressures from both gradual (sea level rise) and dramatic (storms) nature, but people inland will also be affected by climate change.
Agricultural techniques and technology have improved immeasurably since the Dustbowl, but rising temperatures are expected to lower the yields of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, prompting young people to exit agriculture. By 2050, Texas County, the largest wheat-producing county in Oklahoma, could spend an additional 40 days per year above 90 ° F (32 ° C) compared to today.
by Oliver Milman
Original article (in English)