Stop moving to the South and Southwest. This would be my advice to American’s who are only paying attention to the cheaper housing, warmer weather, low taxes (also low services). There are more important basic and necessary concerns that need to be taken into consideration when considering living in a different part of the country. Most marketing promotions say to move to Florida, Texas, Arizona followed by other coastal areas or Nevada and Utah.
I live in Los Angeles where it is expensive. My sons live in San Francisco and San Jose so I know too well the conversations that have to do with being able to leave the state and buy a cheaper house in these other states. Seniors move to Arizona or Florida and so do young people but they are moving into the eye of the storm and most likely over the next few years will be moving again to escape the burning temperatures, humidity, droughts, heavy rains and flooding and extreme water shortages.
In July I attended a conference at UC Santa Cruz and one of the speakers spoke of her car trips across the United States. She has accomplished 8 round trips and has noted over time the land, temperatures, various drought and flood water conditions. Her strong suggestion is that people need to give serious consideration to moving north of route 80 that travels east and west across the United States. Nothing surprising here. It is just that Americans think everything can be controlled by money, technology and science. Mother Nature beats it all and it is going to play out big time over the next 10 years and through the rest of this century. In other countries of the world, particularly in areas of the world where extreme drought or flooding is taking place, the population moves away from these areas. In the United States, the population moves towards these areas and then expects the government to pick up the tab to correct or save the land, water etc. It can’t and won’t be able to rescue many of these areas.
Already in the Southwest, particularly Arizona, Southern California, Utah, Nevada, Hoover Dam is about bankrupt (dry), the Colorado River is a trickle and yet Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities. Phoenix is marketed as an attractive place for creative people. It pitches itself as a sunny place, affordable and cleaner and safer than San Francisco or Los Angeles (less homeless). Great marketing campaigns that play out also in Miami and Austin, Texas–Tech hot spots and desirable for millennials. These places appear desirable and cheap because they have lots of land and few regulations or services.
These cities and states have the worst long-term climate outlooks. Currently, Phoenix daily averages (not the high) of 103, 106 during long summer months respectively. It is not unusual for airplanes to be stuck on runways due to the tarmac being too hot to take off. 128 degrees is not that rare. Las Vegas, one of the hottest cities in the US, depends on Lake Mead for its water. Lake Mead is now at its lowest level since the 30’s. Salt Lake City, another fast growing Western city is strongly affected by the drought and has one of the highest birth rates in the nation. It, too, is focused on promoting a tech-focused crowd. Miami is really in the danger zone of sinking and flooding. Rising seas and heat makes it the hottest major city in the US year round. Florida’s recent storm just wiped out Naples and Ft. Myers and other coastal towns and yet, you will see, they will rebuild in the same place.
For years, Americans have avoided confronting the changes in their own backyards. Where to live gets distorted by politics that play down climate risks but also provides expensive subsidies and incentives that defy nature. We basicially gravitate toward environmental danger, building along coast lines from New Jersey to Florida and the deserts of the Southwest. Farmers in Arizona still grow alfalfa, a water-rich crop, for cattle. Cotton is just now getting cut back. Lawns and golf courses are still green and denial is up there with superstition. In the deserts of Palm Springs, over 120 golf courses keep getting water and Disney is putting in a new water resort outside of Rancho Mirage. There is also a new surfing park that will be going in the desert and brags about the 6 foot waves that people can come and surf. By the way, did you know that a large swath of Arizona farm land is owned by Saudi Arabia which also has the water rights to the land. Much of the alfalfa goes to their cattle. Arizona is fed by the trickle of water coming from the Colorado River. By the way the Colorado River is the lifeblood for approximately 40,000,000 people. “In the upcoming decades, the chances of an extreme heatwave in Phoenix will beome increasingly likely. In such an event, water, transportation and energy infrastructure would crumble, creating the ‘Hurricane Katrina of Heat.'” Burgess Powell in The Environment
It is truly madness and it is very American to believe that if we throw enough money on it, it will spring into life. The government has kept reimbursing those who lose their homes to floods and hurricanes. I lived through one of these events in Houston many years ago. Our safety net was the top of the kitchen counters as the water was 3 feet deep in my house. We were rescued by a swamp boat. One of these was enough for me. Since moving from that house and returning to California, the street has flooded four more times and each time, the government flood program reimburses the home owner if they were smart enough to take out the insurance.
“The nation is on the cusp of a great transformation. Across the United States, some 162 million — nearly 1 in 2– will experience a decline in the quality of their environment, namely more heat and less water…….The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable…..Once you accept that climate change is fast making large parts of the United States nearly uninhabitable, the future looks like this: With time, the bottom half of the country grows inhospitable, dangerous and hot. Something like a tenth of the people who live in the South and the Southwest–from South Carolina to Alabama to Texas to Southern California — decide to move north in search of a better economy and a more temperate environment. Those who stay behind are disproportionately poor and elderly.” Propublica, Abraham Lusgarten.
Solutions: Less glamorous northern cities like Albany, Worcester and Pittsburgh need a successful marketing campaign making them the climate-proof cities of the future. Promote, promote, promote. Loosen restrictive building codes so more housing can be built. People have moved to cheap housing because of lots of land and few regulations (to a fault, considering the aftermath of the Texas storm.) By contrast California is estimated to need 3.5 million additional homes in 3 years. Just this week Governor Newsom signed two bills that will begin easing regulations and providing assistance for builders to build. Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are neither affordable nor climate change-resistant. As crazy as it sounds, consider these unglamorous cities of the North or Midwest. They, too, can become tech hubs and safe. Remember the descent into heat-fueled economic uncertainty and discomfort will be slow–-then all at once.