In today’s society, we constantly emphasize the need for urgent climate action. However, even with the most rapid and drastic societal changes, climate impacts resulting from past human activity are already occurring. In the past few weeks, for example, high temperatures caused widespread destruction worldwide. In early July the planet hit its “hottest day ever recorded” four days in a row. Scientists predict that we may break that record yet again as El Niño intensifies throughout this summer. Climate change ensures that our most severe weather patterns will become increasingly extreme and frequent in the upcoming years. In addition to cutting greenhouse gases, we must rapidly adapt our society to these impending norms.
But adaptation is challenging, and for many places it is already too late. Populations living in climate “hotspots”—often the countries and communities contributing least to the problem—are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and being forced to relocate. More than 100 million people have already been displaced from their homes due to climate change, and studies expect this number to grow to 1.2 billion by 2050. Communities globally must not only adjust to direct climate impacts but also create protective, resilient accommodations for migrants in need.
Specific communities and regions could serve as optimal destinations for climate refugees. These “receiver places,” due to their geography, infrastructure, and growth potential, will face relatively lower exposure to climate-related risks. In the United States, these receiver places are likely to concentrate in northern, inland areas with well-connected infrastructure, such as mixed-use planning, walkability, and efficient and accessible public transportation systems.
Last year, an organization called PLACE Initiative—which stands for Proactive Leadership Advocating for Climate & Equity—published a list of over 600 “receiver cities and towns” that may attract an influx of climate migrants. Many of these locations, such as Cleveland and Detroit, are former industrial hubs that have stagnated but are seen as ripe for new growth. In PLACE Initiative’s analysis, Minnesota and Michigan host the greatest number of potential receiver places; however, the Great Lakes region as a whole is likely to be an attractive haven due to its abundant natural resources and considerable distance from hazardous sea-level rise, storms, and dry desert heat.
It’s important to acknowledge that none of this is fixed. PLACE Initiative’s list is not exhaustive, and the communities listed, along with others, must make considerable efforts to improve their sustainability and resilience without exacerbating issues of justice and inequality. Public Square and Enterprise Community Partners offer examples of preparatory action:
Providing/improving cities’ access to funding and technical assistance from higher levels of government;
Creating preemptive stakeholder coordination protocols and partnerships;
Developing a streamlined, centralized system of services and resources for migrants;
Rezoning to include more “middle housing types,” i.e. accessory dwellings, duplexes, and triplexes;
Converting downtown and commercial areas from single- to mixed-use zoning;
Removing inefficient freeways that divide neighborhoods and converting them into buildable, walkable streets and public spaces;
Transforming car-centric areas into people-oriented spaces and expanding public transportation options.
These actions and others will prove crucial to society’s successful transition in a warming world.