Snowbanks blocked Colleen Rooney’s view of the water when she and her husband first arrived at their new lakeside home in rural Vilas County last month.
“I actually had to hire someone to come take a skid loader and get the snow away from the garage so we could unload the truck,” Rooney said.
The mounds of snow stood in stark contrast to the hot, arid desert they had left behind in Las Vegas. She and her husband Jim had lived there since 2000, but Rooney said she was done with 115-degree heat.
“You just didn’t go anywhere when it was 115 degrees outside,” she said. “Just to walk from your car to a grocery store across that blacktop was brutal, so you’d go shopping after the sun went down.”
At night, the 67-year-old would jump into an inflatable hot tub filled with ice cold water just to cool off. Jim, 68, said temperatures had become more brutal.
“It’s getting to where they’re starting to get concerned about having enough water,” he said.
The Rooneys do not consider themselves climate refugees, but the rising temperatures and scarce water resources of the Southwest were a big part of the reason they moved to Wisconsin. Climate migration experts say the Great Lakes region will face lower climate risks than other parts of the nation. But that doesn’t mean Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest are immune to the effects of climate change, which is already affecting weather patterns here and across the globe.
It’s impossible to know exactly how rising temperatures and changing climate will affect where people choose to live or what it will mean for Wisconsin. But experts say there will be effects – and the experiences of people like the Rooneys are one sign that they are already being felt.
Globally, scientists predict up to 143 million people may be forced from their homes as climate change drives temperatures and sea levels higher. Those changes could be catastrophic for some island nations, and even coastal cities. And in the U.S., conditions like the brutal drought in the West that caused Lake Powell, near where the Rooneys used to live, to drop more than 150 feet over the last two decades could become more common.
In Wisconsin, the changing climate will mean more frequent and longer heatwaves, as well as more frequent and intense storms, including destructive storms that lead to flooding or downed trees. But it’s also possible that a state with a relatively cool climate and plentiful water resources could be protected from some of the changing climate’s worst effects…
…In a recent Senate budget committee hearing, Johnson questioned one of the authors of a study published last year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics about the projected effects of rising temperatures on the risks of excess deaths.
“In my own state, your study shows that we’d have a reduction in mortality of between 54 and 56 people per, I guess it’s 100,000,” Johnson said. “Why wouldn’t we take comfort in that?”
Michael Greenstone, one of the study’s authors and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, explained the effects of climate change will be “very unequal.” While the rate of deaths due to cold is projected to drop in Wisconsin, those rates will climb due to heat across the nation’s southern and western states.
“If you look more carefully at that, there are large swatches of the country where the damages will be much larger,” Greenstone said during the hearing.