By Oliver Milman
After her house flooded for the third year in a row, Elizabeth Boineau was ready to flee. She packed her possessions into dozens of boxes, tried not to think of the mold and mildew-covered furniture and retreated to a second-floor condo that should be beyond the reach of pounding rains and swelling seas.
Boineau is leaving behind a handsome, early 20th-century house in Charleston, South Carolina, the shutters painted in the city’s eponymous shade of deep green. Last year, after Hurricane Irma introduced 8in of water into a home Boineau was still patching up from the last flood, local authorities agreed this historic slice of Charleston could be torn down.
“I was sloshing through the water with my puppy dog, debris was everywhere,” she said. “I feel completely sunken. It would cost me around $500,000 to raise the house, demolish the first floor. I’m going to rent a place instead, on higher ground.”
Millions of Americans will confront similarly hard choices as climate change conjures up brutal storms, flooding rains, receding coastlines and punishing heat. Many are already opting to shift to less perilous areas of the same city, or to havens in other states. Whole towns from Alaska to Louisiana are looking to relocate, in their entirety, to safer ground.
A study published last year found that the economies of the southern states, along with parts of the west, will suffer disproportionately as temperatures rise. In what researchers called potentially one of the largest transfers of wealth in US history, the poorest third of counties are expected to lose up to 20% of their income unless greenhouse gas emissions are severely curtailed. Wealth, and potentially people, are expected to shift north and west.
Meanwhile, cities already struggling with heat will see wealthy residents head for cooler climes. Last year, 155 people died in Phoenix due to a particularly fierce summer. Increasing heat will start testing the durability of the populace, even those shielded by air conditioning. In the western states, wildfires are getting larger, razing homes in ever more spectacular ways and choking thousands of people with carcinogenic smoke.
Further to the south, at the border, there are suggestions that people from Central America are being nudged towards the US because of drought and hurricanes in their homelands, part of a trend that will see as many as 300 million climate refugees worldwide by 2050.
“People will get very grumpy and upset with very hot temperatures,” said Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago who co-authored the research on economic losses. “Even if you have air conditioning, some areas start to look less habitable. By the middle of the century parts of the south-west and south-east won’t look attractive to live in.
“That insidious climate migration is the one we should worry about. The big disasters such as hurricanes will be obvious. It’s the pressures we don’t know or understand that will reshape population in the 21st century.”
Continue reading at The Guardian…