Places that will become climate refuges

The Midwest may become the new hotspot to move

Buffalo, NY.
Buffalo, NY has long been considered a potential climate safe haven
(Image credit: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images)

Climate change is making more places uninhabitable and causing dangerously high temperatures, extreme weather and rising sea levels. With these outcomes, more regions are becoming uninsurable and are prompting people to relocate to more stable locations. Certain U.S. cities are emerging as potential climate safe havens because they are experiencing the effects of climate change at a slower pace. However, no locale is fully exempt from the effects, and as the conditions worsen, even safe havens will become dangerous to inhabit. These four cities could see a large influx of people displaced by climate upheaval.

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo, located in the northern part of the state, has long been a contender for a climate refuge. The city has "climate-friendly geography" and its population has "shrunk by the hundreds of thousands since the 1950s," making the city eager to welcome new residents, The New York Times reported. Buffalo's proximity to the Great Lakes allows it to stay cooler than many other areas. The city rarely hits 100 degrees Fahrenheit, CNN reported.  

Buffalo has been preparing to accept more climate refugees. The city "revised zoning codes in 2017 to encourage development in existing city corridors and began upgrading its dated sewage infrastructure," National Geographic reported. "Again, no one is immune, but I think when you look at some of the assets that we have in this region, it does give us the ingredients to, I think, chart a path in a climate-change world," Ryan McPherson, the University at Buffalo's chief sustainability officer, told Government Technology.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan

Also located on the Great Lakes, Ann Arbor will likely see a steep growth in population in the coming decades. Researchers have identified Michigan in particular as a "destination for people seeking to escape the storm-ravaged Southeast or the parched Southwest," Grist reported. The state has also experienced population loss over time which may be remedied by people relocating, Bridge Michigan noted.

Ann Arbor also created a "comprehensive city effort to manage stormwater and stay ahead of flooding as the climate warms and rainfall increases," Planet Detroit reported. Jennifer Lawson, Ann Arbor's water resources manager, told the outlet, "How can the city bounce back from impacts from large rain events? If we have flooded streets, if we have flooded parks? What can we do to lessen the impact on the community as a whole?"

Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth was deemed "climate-proof Duluth" in 2019 by a Tulane University professor because of its "ample supply of freshwater," its location "buffered from sea-level rise in the Upper Midwest" and temperatures "which run mild in the summer and colder than cold in the winter," The New York Times reported. "Duluth is embracing the idea of itself as a climate safe haven," CNN reported. 

"The idea that we are so ignoring the needs of our planet that people have to move is terrifying. It's dystopian," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson told the Times. She has worked to improve the city's carbon footprint as well as to build better housing for residents. "People need climate refuge, but there's the potential of a seismic conflict. So far, we're navigating it."

Columbus, Ohio

Architectural Digest named Columbus as the eighth most climate-resilient city in the country. "The city's climate is generally mild, with warm summers and cool winters, and its location inland makes it less prone to the devastating effects of hurricanes and other extreme weather events," a new report detailed. 

The Midwest has a number of potential havens because it "holds special appeal with its abundant fresh water, cooler summers and comparatively little risk from hurricanes and wildfires," Grist reported. But, while these regions are safer for now, combating the climate crisis is still critical. "How we respond as a species, as a society, as individuals, I think will really determine what is a 'refuge' for us and what isn't," Vivek Shandas, professor at Portland State University, told the outlet.

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