In all, Hauer projects that 13 million Americans will be forced to move away from submerged coastlines. Add to that the people contending with wildfires and other risks, and the number of Americans who might move — though difficult to predict precisely — could easily be tens of millions larger. Even 13 million climate migrants, though, would rank as the largest migration in North American history. The Great Migration — of six million Black Americans out of the South from 1916 to 1970 — transformed almost everything we know about America, from the fate of its labor movement to the shape of its cities to the sound of its music. What would it look like when twice that many people moved? What might change?—How Climate Will Reshape America, Abrahm Lustgarten, New York Times Magazine
After publishing yesterday’s mention of climate crisis refugees before bed, I woke today up to see a New York Times Magazine story on the effects of climate change in North America. The report relies on detailed new modeling that accounts for effects beyond temperature and sea level, including agricultural production, wildfires, and livability for the human body when heat and humidity are combined.
Agriculture and livability in the south and southwest suffer the most in these maps. The prairies of the north and of Canada become far more livable. It’s hard to look at these forecasts and not think in terms of the centuries-long tensions between the north and south: free labor vs. slave labor, coördinated national government vs. states rights, regulation vs. anything goes, climate consensus vs. climate denialism. History repeats itself. Or not. The existing regional divisions in economics and politics are legacies of slavery and the resistance to reconstruction. There’s no repetition, just a long chain of repercussions. Climate change is different. Ideology can’t change it. But stories in the New York Times won’t change the culture of the powers in the south resisting action on climate change, either. Real-world consequences will.
The story goes in to the effects on property insurance, the numbers likely to move to southern cities and northern states, and the expansion of poverty among those who remain in the rural south. The full piece is worth reading.
My speculative fiction from a few years ago described a welcoming D.C. of 2215 that accommodated — and was built on the culture and strengths of — climate refugees from near and far. This report backs that prediction (the migration part; the reporting says nothing of how welcoming cities will be). I also hinted at a world of coöperation in those stories by avoiding all mention of nations and borders and including 22nd century immigrant families as characters. It might be hard to imagine welcoming international refugees when both Bangladesh and Florida are underwater, and the politics of immigration have become so toxic. Fiction plays by different rules (borders are hard to enforce when teleportation is cheap and widely available), but four years later I believe even more that addressing the global climate emergency will bring about more coöperation in the long run, not less. But it starts with having someone in charge who sees the rest of the world as human and in this together with us.