Remember those Future Climate Refugees Coming North? Is it Happening Now?

//Remember those Future Climate Refugees Coming North? Is it Happening Now?

It was always a surprise to be in Vancouver’s downtown commercial areas and help tourists with directions in what would be the most blinding heat of a pre-Covid Vancouver summer.Tourists from the southern United States would almost universally respond how great it was to be out of the humid heat of their own hometowns.

Price Tags has already posted about the fact that projection models are showing the movement of millions of people to American northeast and northwest cities, with populations in places like Minnesota, Michigan and Vermont  growing by ten percent.  These areas will become more temperate and inviting. It’s expected that cities like Detroit, Rochester, Buffalo and Milwaukee will be sought after for relocating climate refugees for the “excess capacity in infrastructure, water supplies and highways”.

Access to fresh water, cooler temperatures and  less fire hazards were perceived as priorities. Add in the need for Covid pandemic physical distancing, and some of that migration has already started.

In the Pacific northwest median sales prices  in Bellingham Washington have increased 16.5 percent, and the number of homes sold has increased 26 percent. As one managing broker stated “People are relocating from areas like Seattle, Portland and California. I’ve helped several clients relocate from Seattle because they want to get out of the city.”

How far north will climate refugees travel to have “liveable” usable summers?

Propublica’s data in this article by L. Waldron and A. Lustgarten  suggests that climate “damage” will mean that the southern third of the United States will become so hot it will disrupt the economy “erasing more than 8% of its economic output and likely turning migration from a choice to an imperative.”

“Wet Bulb” temperatures when deadly heat and humidity combine will be in effect for one day out of every twenty in Louisiana. It is estimated that Maricopa County in Arizona will have six months of temperature days over 95 degrees fahrenheit or 35 degrees celsius.  Growing food will be challenging, and sea rise will transform the coast lines.

And there is a bigger question in the future of this climate refugee migration. Who will be migrating to a more temperate climate, and what happens to the people, due to economic or other factors, that are left behind?

Here is a short YouTube video that outlines Propublica’s findings.


  1. And the US is just one, albeit very large, country. Notwithstanding that more of them might have the means to move north, there is Mexico and all of Central and South America. There is little usable land to migrate south to seek cooler climates so north is going to be the trend. The equator is roughly half way between the Canadian border and the southern tip of South America. That puts 1.9 continents worth of people potentially knocking loudly on our door.

    Canadians have been truly naive if they thought a heating planet would just be a pleasant progression to a more habitable climate in their country. Look at the resistance among many to orderly migration to Canada now. Climate change induced hostility may well be the biggest part of the threat.

    1. Did anybody suggest it wouldn’t get ugly if we don’t finally take action and rapidly?

      Because it will get ugly in the north too. We are ultimately not that isolated for one thing. But the north will suffer from increasingly devastating wildfires besides the storms and flooding that impact everywhere. The north is heating at twice the global average so the ecosystems that help support northern lifestyles will be subject to accelerating harm if not collapse. Thawing tundra will add yet more problems and accelerate GHGs in the form of methane that will in turn accelerate northern heating even more quickly.

      But all of that is still going to look desirable to those who can migrate north from the sweltering heat and growing famines.

      Are we going to take this seriously? Maybe we can still avoid the worst.

        1. I don’t think doom is ensured – only that we’re all in it together. There will be no winners if there are major losers.

          1. The cohorts emitting the most GHGs do not behave as if we are all in this together and I see no real shift in their behaviour coming. So how will the arc of history bend toward justice — climate or otherwise?

          2. That remains to be seen of course. But those who do understand must lead by example until they become a large enough force to bend government policy and drag those who resist along. It is already happening – too slowly – but I see signs of acceleration. Last night Vancouver council voted in favour of a core area congestion charge as one of dozens of steps in their climate emergency plan. These initiatives are happening all around the advanced industrialized world.

    1. Well I completely agree that there are a lot of reasons our current global distribution of wealth is completely unhealthy.

      But I wouldn’t just paint every rich person as a villain. Some are working hard to find solutions and hopefully are mindful of their own personal GHG contributions. And some not so rich people are flying around without taking any responsibility and flinging their finger at future generations and anybody who cares.

      Most of us hover not so far outside of that richest 10%. Given our relatively bigger numbers we can still have influence. I get that things are looking bleak from some angles. But there are positive trends too. And I feel positive change can sometimes come blistering out of nowhere when things would have seemed bleakest. History is full of that. Most science still gives us three decades to have completely reversed course – a decade to have made massive change. It’s still doable though I suspect we’ll pass 2 degrees. So many smart minds working on it. Many solutions we don’t even know about yet.

      One thing we’ll know intimately is climate science. And that could prove very useful on a planet that does it’s own thing sometimes too.

      1. “But I wouldn’t just paint every rich person as a villain”

        Arguably, it’s not the players but the game to paraphrase a popular saying.

        There is no evidence to support any impetus for a complete overhaul of global culture within the time frame necessary. We should look toward the next iteration of human existence. It can’t exist within the current framework. These are unpleasant facts and ignoring them will make the pain greater later. But we can start by rethinking our attitudes about wealth and its entitlements. A few philanthropists are not enough to undo the damage to our planet.

        1. Maybe you are looking for answers in the wrong place? I too used to think the only way to battle climate change was for everybody (or at least most) to “get it” and start behaving differently. While a few do and will, it is clear that is not the answer.

          Leaving aside the equity issue, the problem is GHGs. There are so many technologies out there that can eliminate them altogether and three decades is not too little time. The only thing we do not have the tech for today is long haul large aircraft aviation and some manufacturing. Every type of land and sea transport could shift to 100% renewable with today’s technology. The entire grid could shift to 100% renewable with today’s technology. Building air conditioning can be cut by 90% and powered by clean electricity. It’s simply a matter of scale.

          “Simply” seems too simple, I know. But almost all of these technologies are either cheaper than the status quo or quickly becoming so. Even a greedy market will make the switch. In a couple of decades we may have found viable solutions for those remaining difficult sectors. But we can already suck that carbon out of the air. This can be done mechanically, with reforestation and especially with new soil management techniques.

          I’m not saying this will happen. Or maybe it will but way too late. But to say there is no evidence that we have the ability to change course is quite simply wrong.

          1. “But to say there is no evidence that we have the ability to change course is quite simply wrong.”

            I am glad I did not say that.

  2. “Leaving aside the equity issue, the problem is GHGs”

    If the past century has taught us anything it is that the two are inextricably linked.

    You won’t get GHG reduction without an honest appraisal of Western culture. And that means’ no more ‘Ice Picks’ and all that baloney.

    That’s the real issue and we are (as a culture) not willing to make the shift. Any other assessment ignores the evidence before us. So we are eff-ed if we stay this course. And that’s what we are doing.

    This is not a question of technology. That’s the thinking that got us here.

    It is purely a question of what we value in society. And we laud and lionize high-GHG emitters above all else. Little wonder we are awash in methane and C02. It’s all the b.s. we’ve been spreading about what constitutes a life well-lived.

    1. The reason I set aside the equity issue is not because I don’t understand the link but because I was making a comment and not writing a book. If we need to include everything that is intertwined in this problem then it would be a very thick book.

      I also used to believe that “technology got us here so it can’t get us out” meme. It would certainly be better if we also did explicitly reevaluate Western culture , improve equity and live altogether lighter on the planet. But the problem of GHG emissions is largely solvable with current technology. And I’m reasonably convinced that the very act of gravitating to renewables is an implicit reevaluation of the way we do things as a culture irrespective of its direct reduction in harm. By its very nature it embeds a sustainable circular economy into our consciousness. I don’t think that should be undervalued.

      You think we are determined to off ourselves. I don’t. I just think we’re lazy and easily swayed by simple stories that benefit a few. But I think those stories are beginning to fail.

      1. “You think we are determined to off ourselves”

        I wish people wouldn’t project. I think we are currently on a course toward disaster. Not an original thought. I think we are not changing course fast enough or significantly enough to avoid a great and painful restructuring of pretty much everything . Again, no new news here.

        My only contribution? Let’s be honest about the facts and stop lying to people. Let’s stop offering free passes to things that can’t remain if we are to keep the truly valuable things civilization can bring. A slightly newer perspective, but again not that original.

        I actually don’t think people are that lazy. I have a higher regard for humans, and if we are anything, it’s industrious. To what end is my question?

        One thing we can agree on. Stories are probably the solution. But not fairy tales.

        Technology might get us out of this. But not without a review of our relationship to it, which has devolved to unswerving belief in ‘progress’ which is turning out to be indentured service to gadgets.

        Above all, I have no illusions that I am above or free from these delusions. Understanding your madness is step one on the path to sanity.

        1. Fearful or reluctant to change would probably have been closer to what I meant than lazy.

    2. “Not only is it cheaper to build renewables now than build a fossil fuel power plant, it’s actually cheaper to build and generate renewables than it is to run existing power plants. So that’s where they’re having their moment. They’re now standing to displace a lot of existing fossil fuel plants.”


      I realize this would mean nothing if it’s just additional to fossil fuel. But why would anybody continue to operate the more expensive facility?

      1. Where will we build these solar and wind facilities and how long will it take.? Are they to be constructed where people live now, or where they will have to live in 50 years? For that matter where are the cities and towns and homes for all these people soon to migrate out of the hot zone? The math for a painless transition no longer adds up. And in that situation the human track record for tolerance and sharing is abysmal.

        One takes no glee in this position, but it holds together from the perspective of a dispassionate appraisal.

        1. While there are already signs of heat stress, this is a slow emergency. The migration north will be a century or more in the making. We can’t kid ourselves because just the beginnings of it will be pretty disruptive. But it’s still going to be a long process that allows time to move what needs to be moved.

          Solar panels and battery packs are way more portable than fossil fuel facilities and grids may not need to be immediately moved nor expanded because energy sources will be more distributed. That’s just one more benefit of renewables that will make them increasingly attractive. We have enormous amounts of underused roof space. We have enormous amounts of land.

          Windmills are much more difficult to move but orders of magnitude easier than fossil fuel facilities. Migration will be the final nail in those filthy facilities

          Most people are going to end up in cities or towns. Very little will be carved out of new territory – at least not for a long while. For good or bad that means cities will continue to evolve rapidly and the opportunities to improve our buildings and urban planning *can* leave us with a more resilient arrangement. That’s probably going to involve replacing sprawling single family with much more energy efficient missing middle as well as high density. Yes, there is a big environmental cost in the embodied energy to reconstruct, but vast swaths of, say, Vancouver are old homes nearing the end of their useful life. Replacing them with more single family homes is not lighter on the environment.

          It will not be painless. Nobody said it would be.

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