Climate Change - the coming storm...

Best places to live considering climate change (Part 2)

In my previous post on the best places to live considering climate change, I talked about general geographic areas that are resilient to the effects of climate change. Truth be told, I began this series with the idea of finding some locations that were particularly resilient to the impacts of climate change. This turned out to be harder than I imagined because opinions on issues as granular as specific locations are nearly impossible to nail down.

When you are looking for the best places to live considering climate change, you will find differing opinions and conflicts galore. There are, however,  some common themes that repeat themselves over and over again when you drill down to specific locations. The differences of opinion regarding locations seem to depend on how each individual expert weighs these issues.

Geographic resilience vs political will…

I quickly discovered that some locations that should be ideal for climate change weren’t making the grade. The politics and financial resources of these regions also play a role in resilience. One issue may be that residents of more northern climes aren’t feeling the pressure of climate change in their day-to-day lives. This can make allocating limited resources towards climate change remediation politically problematic.  I’m of the opinion that for most cities and communities this will change as the impact starts to become apparent.

Coastal Erosion and hurricanes…

The Hudson River Valley before a major storm...
The Hudson River Valley before a major storm…

Another common thread that comes up over and over again is coastal erosion. I have a friend whose sister lives in Pensacola. Initially, her home was five houses in from the shore. 15 years later (roughly) the house now only has one house between it and the shore. Being almost on the beachfront may sound like a dream come true, but it’s actually a nightmare when you consider how it happened.  At the bottom line, the question remains, how long are you going to have a house at all before a weather system washes it away? Yet people still want waterfront properties.

This is something people really need to get past. Any fantasy I had about living on the water went away the day I saw the damage hurricane Sandy inflicted locally. I was out on waterfront properties doing damage reports for a BPO company and a got a front row seat on what wind and water could do. Some homes were fine. They were intact and pretty much unscathed. But just a block away, there could be total devastation. It didn’t take much to tip the balance between a good and devastating outcome. Although Sandy was a major storm, it was still just a category 1 hurricane.

No matter what your location, waterfront properties carry far more risk then they did in the past. The risk can be mitigated by things like elevation level and general topography. But you need to know this numbers and decided if you can manage the risk. Bottom line: Don’t commit to a dream home on a coastal shoreline without a full understanding of the risk. Better still, stay away from the shore and just visit. That way it’s yours to enjoy without the burdens and responsibilities of living there.

Flooding…

LI Sound – Post-Sandy. All is peaceful, but the storm surge did great damage…

Flooding isn’t merely limited to coastal areas. Regions with high water tables or adjacent to lakes and rivers are also vulnerable. Many areas are expected to have significantly increase precipitation. Locations that have a history of flooding problems should expect this problem to get worse. I live in a city that has a high water table. This is nothing new. Even as a child I can recall occasional flooding on the Bronx River Parkway. However, in recent years we’ve been getting a “storm of the century” that causes extensive flooding about every 3 years or so. These incidents are increasing in frequency and severity. Our area is not unique in this. Many areas along the northeast coast of the U.S. have been told to more storms that produce severe flooding.

Drought and wildfires…

Although some areas will have increased precipitation, areas that are already dry are going to have longer periods of drought. Dry areas of the country that rely on mountain snowpack melt for their water supply are going to face increasing shortages as that snow gives way to rain and precipitation in general decreases.

One of my best friends now lives in Albuquerque. Although she and her husband love it there, they see several problems looming. Droughts have always been a problem, but are getting worse. The same holds for wildfires that can produce choking amounts of smoke and pollution. The snowpack from higher elevations that are a big part of the water supply may become more problematic. These are also issues that are only going to get worse.

So while wet areas will get wetter. Dry areas will tend to get drier. The equilibrium that we have enjoyed for generations is being disrupted. Stable weather conditions are easy to take for granted until they are gone.

Fresh Water…

In a hot world, fresh water will be in short supply. Areas that are prone to drought will continue to get drier. Regions that depend on snowpacks for their water supply will face shortages. Even regions with high levels of precipitation will face issues due to evaporation. For these reasons, climatologists prefer areas that have an ample supply of fresh water. It is no coincidence that several climatologists favor the regions surrounding the Great Lakes in the U.S. and Canada.

Special Considerations for rural areas…

Living in a more rural setting has its appeal....
Living in a more rural setting has its appeal….

Although nearly 80% of the population appears to be migrating towards big cities, some people prefer a more rural existence. The nightlife and city streets hold no attraction for them. Most who choose the country life are either retired or able to work remotely. There is a significant subset of people who run their own businesses online that choose this lifestyle. After all, living further from a big city can reduce living expenses.

High-speed internet access…

High-speed internet access is a serious problem in various parts of the United States and (I believe) the more remote locations in Canada. Unlike the US, Canada appears to be more dedicated to correcting this issue. In the US, this is just a hot mess. Considering who is running our FCC, the politics and monopolies involved, I’m not holding my breath regarding remediation.  The bottom line here is that if you need high-speed internet, particularly for your job, be very sure about what kind of broadband is available.

Infrastructure…

This is huge, particularly in the United States. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave US infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2017. There are three givens here:

  • Generally, our infrastructure has not been well maintained
  • There will be more storms and wildfires that will put pressure on our infrastructure
  • In a disaster, more highly populated areas will be prioritized for things like power restoration and road repair

If you are in the US, ask any Puerto Rican how prompt the return of services was to their island and you will get an earful. Over a year later, the grid is still not fully functioning.  Smaller communities in the continental US are not likely to fare much better in a major emergency. Unless you can live comfortably off the grid for an extended period, you are going to have a long and uncomfortable wait for the restoration of basic services. If you have health issues or run a business from home and need online services, this becomes more than an inconvenience.

On a personal note, I lived through the Sandy aftermath in a fairly densely populated suburb of NYC. Even in my neck of the woods, the response was painfully slow. I was among the lucky few in my neighborhood that didn’t lose power. But many of my friends didn’t have power restored for well over 2 weeks. If that’s what happens in a major suburb of NYC, it doesn’t bode well for more remote rural areas.

The bottom line here is that sparsely populated areas are not going to be a high priority in a major climate change event. This is something to consider for the long haul.

Special considerations for urban areas…

The energy of city life attracts many downsizers...
The energy of city life attracts many downsizers…

Cities have special issues. If you consider surrounding suburban areas, almost 80% of the developed world lives in urban areas. That percentage is only going to increase over the course of time. The sheer concentration of people creates issues that rural and even fairly dense suburban areas don’t face.

Flooding and water runoff…

Cities always have more impervious surfaces than suburban and rural areas. Impervious surfaces and heavy precipitation don’t go well together. Sewage and runoff systems have to be in tip-top shape in urban centers or you are going to have big-time flooding during major rain events. As someone who lives in the northeast where we seem to have a 100-year storm every 2-3 years, I can promise you that this is important.

Buried power lines…

This isn’t something that I read about. But from personal experience in a NYC suburban area, I can tell you that this is very important. If you live in a neighborhood where the lines are buried, you are very unlikely to experience a prolonged blackout following a major storm. If the power lines are exposed on poles, you could be in for a week or more in the dark. Beyond the power lines themselves, the age of the electrical grid is also significant in terms of efficiency and cost. These are personal observations only and want to qualify it in that way.

Public Transportation…

Public transportation can make or break life in the city. I suppose this issue could be lumped in with general infrastructure. I include it here because nothing can be more miserable than having a poorly maintained public transit system in a large city. This issue is particularly acute in the US because we don’t think of transportation as something to be maintained for the commons. Europeans will scoff at us for this and so they should. But if a public transit system isn’t self-sustaining, politicians tend to defund it.

This means that even if your local area is walkable, you may still find yourself car-dependent for anything beyond everyday errands. How realistic car-ownership is, depends on your location. In NYC, I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot-pole. Expensive as heck and be prepared to fork out for parking fines. Some cities have enough parking for everyone, but that’s getting harder and harder to come by as developers balk at putting in enough of it for new developments. So, needing a car is going to get increasingly expensive even in smaller suburban cities.

The heat island effect…

Another issue is that even though most people in the developed world live in cities, few get passing grades from climate scientists. This holds for cities in what should be very good locations.  It also seems to hold true for cities that have been proactive in their responses to climate change. Even though the expansion of walkable cities is vital to dealing with the effects of climate change, few get high ratings for resilience by climatologists. The primary reason for this is the heat island effect.

Densely packed areas create their own greenhouse effect. Heat is absorbed into buildings with dark roofs. Impervious asphalt retains heat instead of reflecting it back. All you have to do is stand over a subway grate in NYC to literally feel the heat impact of mass transit systems.

Heat islands are a factor in cities all over the developed world. For example, although U.S. summers have been getting hotter since 1970, cities have been getting even hotter. For example, Washington DC can be up to 21F hotter than the surrounding suburbs. On an average summer day, it is 4.7F hotter.  As a result, it has about 17 more days over 90F weather/ year. Those aren’t trivial differences and they are seen throughout the U.S. and the rest of the developed world.

It should be added that heat island conditions also lead to an increase in pollution which can be deadly to those with asthma or heart conditions.

Summing it all up…

There are many factors that need to be considered when relocating. Climate change is a new wild card in that scenario. It has become increasingly relevant since significant changes are coming faster than was predicted even a few years ago. When looking for a place to call home that is resilient to climate change, you need to think about what is important to you. Personally, given what I saw following Sandy and what has been reported from Puerto Rico, I feel it is important to stay near populated areas that will be given priority in the event of an environmental emergency. I’m not specifically talking about a large metropolis like New York City or San Francisco. But an area with significant infrastructure and a big enough population to be a priority in a major emergency is probably a wise move.

 

 

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