In 2017, a string of climate disasters – six big hurricanes in the Atlantic, wildfires in the West, horrific mudslides, high-temperature records breaking all over the country – caused $306 billion in damage, killing more than 300 people. After Hurricane Maria, 300,000 Puerto Ricans fled to Florida, and disaster experts estimate that climate and weather events displaced more than 1 million Americans from their homes last year. These statistics don’t begin to capture the emotional and financial toll on survivors who have to dig through ashes and flooded debris to rebuild their lives. Mental-health workers often see spikes in depression, PTSD and suicides in the months that follow a natural disaster. After Harvey, one study found that 30 percent of residents in flooded areas had fallen behind on their rent or mortgage. One in four respondents said they were having problems paying for food.
Politicians inevitably vow to rebuild, to make their city stronger than before. But in the coming years, as the climate gets hotter, the seas keep rising and storms grow more intense, those vows will become less and less credible. Climate change is going to remap our world, changing not just how we live but where we live. As scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, puts it, “There is a shocking, unreported, fundamental change coming to the habitability of many parts of the planet, including the U.S.A.”
In the not-so-distant future, places like Phoenix and Tucson will become so hot that just walking across the street will be a life-threatening event. Parts of the upper Middle West will become a permanent dust bowl. South Florida and low-lying sections of the Gulf Coast will be underwater. Some people may try to stick around and fight it out with Mother Nature, but most will not. “People will do what they have done for thousands of years,” says Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University. “They will migrate to better climates.” [Continue reading…]