Planning to Move? Watch Out for Cities Affected by Climate Change

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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.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

3 Comments

  1. It is global warming because on average, the world is getting warmer. The regional manifestations of this will vary, as you noted, and will result in regional climate changes. But overall as it relates to the whole world, it is warming.

  2. I can recommend “Flood Maps”. This nice webtool shows on Google Maps which areas are affected if the level of water rises by x meters: http://flood.firetree.net/

    But of course, water levels is just one thing to watch out when talking about climate change.

  3. I was interested in the unexplained comment that Kahn believes that urban sprawl is the primary cause of climate change. While I think that might be true, it would have been helpful to explain which aspects of urban sprawl are leading to climate change. Long commutes to work and play come to mind. For that matter, it can be a journey of several miles by road to and from neighbors who are very close as the crow flies.

    Not only the use of the roads but also their construction and repair uses resources and adds to air pollution.

    So yes, I think that urban sprawl definitely contributes to global warming, but particular aspects of the sprawl pattern–driving being really required to arrive at destinations, low density and therefore more miles of utilities needed, and lack of street and walkway connectivity–need to be brought to the attention of the public within the context of global warming.

    As much as we at Useful Community Development think that sprawl is a very bad urban form, you also could blame poor construction practices, too much housing consumption, too many electronic gadgets, belated regulation of industrial air pollution, or non-greenhouse gas factors such as simply climate cycles for climate change. The public deserves a good dialogue about which causal factors are most important, and then to what degree we want to adapt, counteract as forcefully as possible, or migrate.

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