What is Climate Migration?

Panashe Real Estate

Climate change displaced more than a million people in 2017 alone, and as climate pressures increase, our nation as we know it is changing in a significant way. 

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana in late August 2017, it caused $125 million in damage, dumping more water out of the sky than any storm in United States history. The water poured down, highways turned into rivers, malls turned into lakes and wildlife made its way into people’s homes. 

As the disaster continued, tens of thousands of people fled. Some drifted away in canoes, others braved a dicey drive through water, and over 30,000 people ended up in shelters. People desperately headed up Interstate 45 toward Dallas, where parking lots were brimming with devastated people wondering if they would ever be able to return to the place they call home. 

This was not the only natural disaster that shook up people’s lives and livelihoods. A string of climate disasters occurred, including six big hurricanes in the Atlantic, wildfires on the West Coast, horrific mudslides, and record-breaking high temperatures throughout the country — killing over 300 people and causing $306 billion in damage. After Hurricane Maria hit, 300,000 Puerto Ricans fled to Florida. 

Disaster experts estimate that climate and weather events displaced over one million Americans from their homes in 2017. These numbers only skim the surface of the enormous emotional and financial toll on the survivors who have had to literally rebuild their lives from the ground up. 

An uncertain future

“Most people don’t realize how much climate change affects everything, from their property values to how hard people work,” says Solomon Hsiang, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Hsiang led a study that predicts that, as the climate warms, there will be “a large transfer of value northward and westward.” The wealthy will find their way, while the poor will likely be left in the dust. 

“If we continue on the current path,” Hsiang says, “our analysis suggests that climate change may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

Politicians inevitably make their promises to rebuild their cities, making them stronger and more resilient than before. However, climate change is upon us, and it will remap the world as we know it, 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 no time at all, places like Phoenix and Tucson will become so hot that just walking across the street could be a death sentence. Certain parts of the upper Middle West will transform into a permanent dust bowl, and South Florida and low-lying sections of the Gulf Coast will be submerged in water. 

One study in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts that as much as 30 percent of the world’s land surface could face desertlike conditions by 2050, including stretches of Europe, Africa, Asia, and southern Australia. These regions are home to over 1.5 billion people.

A study by a demographer at the University of Georgia, Mathew Hauer, estimates that 13 million people in the US will be displaced by sea-level rise alone by the year 2100. Hauer’s study predicts that nearly $2.5 million people will flee the region, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Greater New Orleans will lose up to 500,000, and New York City about 50,000. 

There are many unknowns in how everything will pan out, including unforeseen climate tipping points, technological innovations, and outbreaks of war and disease. What is certain is that climate change is altering more than our world’s physical boundaries — it is challenging the modern idea that we can engineer our way out of anything that comes our way. 

As sea levels rise and temperatures reach new heights, we will have to give up life as we know it in certain regions. Americans will learn that retreating is not cowardly, and our nation will see more and more refugees.

Insurance changes for homeowners

Climate change effects grow deeper than displaced families and destroyed properties. Homeowners in low-lying coastal areas will not be driven to action by rising water but instead will be swayed by rising homeowners insurance. 

The increase in homeowners insurance is inevitable. In a 2021 consumer report by the Center for Insurance and Policy Research, homeowners note that they think insurance companies are raising prices for two reasons: to increase profits and to accommodate the “increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.” Perhaps you and your loved ones will not experience the aftermath of major climate change in the next few decades, but homeowners insurance rates skyrocketing in low-lying coastal communities will surely spring folks into acting fast. Moving to a city with minimal fallout from climate change is beneficial for your safety and ultimately, your wallet.

Asheville, NC: A “safe city”

As pressures from our shifting climate encroach upon us, people are frantically searching for “safe cities” to move to. A safe city is one where the infrastructure is stable and various elements make it resilient to climate stressors. 

One such city is Asheville, North Carolina. “Asheville is becoming known as a ‘safe city,’” said Mary Spivey, community manager of The Collider, an organization for local professionals involved in climate services. “Many people are starting to migrate here and are using that term. Many others are claiming a spot so that they may come here when they feel they need to.” 

When Spivey says “many people,” she’s talking about much more than a handful. Asheville offers a mild year-round climate, stunning natural landscapes, plenty of recreational amenities, cultural treasures, wide-open spaces, and, until recently, relatively moderate living costs. 

As word of mouth got around how great life in Asheville is, visitors turned into residents and the population boomed. Between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Buncombe County’s population rose more than 10% to over 260,000 people. This percentage was double that of the state’s population growth and nearly 10 times the national average.

If you’re interested in relocating to Asheville, reach out to the esteemed agents at Panashe today.

 

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