Planning to Move? Watch Out for Cities Affected by Climate Change
If you are planning to move in the near future, you might want to consider not just the economic, cultural and civic advantages of your new choice, but the likelihood that it will be affected by some of the changes predicted by global warming.
Though let’s call it climate change, since that is what it really is. Not an overall warming of the globe, but isolated areas of warming or cooling, drought or increasing rainfall, and sudden sharp temperature and pressure fluctuations like the inland hurricane that swept the eastern half of the U.S. continent from Canada to North Carolina in late October.
According to UCLA economist Matthew Kahn, the changes won’t actually destroy Earth, but they will change it, significantly in some cases. And what humanity needs to do is learn to adapt. Think cities under the sand in desert climates, and houses on stilts in areas with increasingly heavy rainfall. Or imagine cereal crops (corn, wheat, rice) engineered to tolerate drought, or cloned to be perennial, thus eliminating tilling the soil (which can worsen erosion in drought conditions).
According to Kahn, urban sprawl is the primary cause of climate change. Yet, as climate changes and humans are forced to adapt, changing patterns of settlement, architectural styles, consumer culture, even urban infrastructures like drinking water, will ameliorate some of the problems.
But not without losing some notable metropolitan areas. In San Diego, California, for example (or Phoenix, Arizona, or Dallas, Texas), the influx of sunbirds that transformed each of those cities into a megalopolis will turn the paradigm on its head when summer temperatures are 13 degrees higher, drinking water runs short, and electricity to run air conditioners becomes prohibitively expensive.
Still, the news isn’t all bad. Detroit, ravaged by the recession and bereft of its auto industry, is turning into a city of vegetable gardens. In fact, one entrepreneur wants to turn it into a giant vegetable garden, so that even as new industry (largely renewable energy) emerges, the state will become a “green” spot in several senses.
In fact, when climate change drives up temperatures in the southern U.S., Detroit might become the new worker’s paradise; clean, green, cool and wet.
Meanwhile, areas like New York, coastal Alabama, Delaware, and Maryland – already perilously close to sea level – face the prospect of flooding along settled coastlines and hurricane storm surges that move ever farther inland as oceans rise, destroying more and more property and forcing people to higher ground.
The same will happen in Manhattan, Kahn says. This “island”, the financial center of New York (and the nation), is already dipping its toes in the Atlantic with a high point of 265 feet. Toward mid-century, firms will likely begin to move their operations to higher ground, possibly in Newark or even Passaic.
Kahn’s predictions are made more germane by a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, where drought specialist Aiguo Dai used computers to model a much drier U.S. as the 21st Century moves forward.
If correct, the models indicate that the entire continent, with the exception of patches along its northern border and the Pacific Coast, will become parched, with the worst areas, surprisingly, occurring in the heartland (also known as the Grain Belt) from Indiana north into Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, Canada, which are also preeminent grain-growing regions.
People will suffer. Bread will be more expensive. Food may have to be grown and eaten locally. As Richard Seager of Columbia University’s Earth Observatory noted recently, climate change is not just about temperature, but water. And water is an integral factor in energy.
Those who suffer most, however, will be mute. Humans can move at will, and have the technical capacity to adapt to their environment ad hoc. Plants and animals, which can’t speak for themselves or protest their fate, are able to adapt only over multiple generations. As a result, some (and perhaps many) species will be lost, and even using tools like NatureServe’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index may not enable us to pinpoint the most vulnerable before they are history.
Article by Jeanne Roberts, appearing courtesy Celsias.
photo: Ken Lund.
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