Story at a glance
- Some parts of the upper Midwest are being called “climate havens,” or areas that are less likely to suffer from extreme heat, sea-level rise and flooding as the Earth’s temperature rises.
- But experts agree that while some areas of the U.S. are less likely to be as harshly impacted by some consequences of climate change, no place will be immune.
- Instead, they say, Americans need to figure out how to make all parts of the country more resilient to the impact of climate change.
As the consequences of the planet warming grow ever more apparent, some cities are marketing themselves as “climate havens,” or refuges from extreme climate conditions.
But experts agree that no city, state or region of the country is truly immune from the climate crisis.
“It’s an absurd concept with a grain of truth,” said Neil Donahue, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mellon College of Science.
Some places in the United States will be less harshly impacted than others by many types of extreme weather events that are being made worse by climate change, according to environmental experts.
More inland parts of the country, for instance, won’t be as intensely affected by worsening hurricanes and sea level rise, experts said. And northern areas with more moderate climates won’t be as susceptible to extreme heat and forest fires.
Many of the cities that are labeling themselves — or being labeled — climate havens are in those areas. Tulane University associate professor Jesse Keenan told CNBC that Buffalo, N.Y.; Rochester, N.Y.; Duluth, Minn.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Detroit, Mich.; and Burlington, Vt., could provide such refuge in the future.
Some of those cities have also identified themselves as future climate havens.
In 2019, Buffalo, N.Y., Mayor Byron Brown called the city a “climate refuge” during his State of the City address. Brown’s office said the city has an opportunity to become such a refuge in a draft of his Four-Year Strategic Plan.
The city of Cincinnati, Ohio, labeled itself as a future climate refuge in its 2023 Green Cincinnati Plan.
“Although Cincinnati has its own climate vulnerabilities, it will likely emerge as a climate haven,” the plan reads.
While those cities are expected to be relatively secure from certain extreme weather events, however, many of them are vulnerable to others. For example, Buffalo, which has a reputation for being one of the snowiest cities in the U.S., could experience more intense blizzards because of climate change.
Buffalo experienced one such extreme blizzard last December, when a record-breaking storm with 70 mile-per-hour winds dropped more than four feet of snow over the Western New York city over four days. The blizzard left thousands without power amid frigid temperatures and killed at least 40 people.
Dr. Susan Clark, an assistant professor of environment and sustainability at The State University of New York, Buffalo, said she doesn’t like the term “climate haven” for this reason.
“It paints this picture that that we’re not experiencing that much change or impacts from climate change when we are when you actually look closely,” she said.
In Vermont, which has also been considered a potential refuge, flooding has become a bigger issue recently, potentially because of climate change. Heavy rains in early July dumped two months’ worth of rain over two days in the state, sparking catastrophic flash flooding and river flooding.
And nobody can escape the heat. While not every city is experiencing it at the same extreme level as, say, Phoenix, which suffered a month-long stretch of 110-degree temperatures this summer, everywhere is getting hotter as a result of climate change.
Even Minnesota, home to a few so-called climate havens, is getting warmer and wetter. Temperatures in the state have gone up by 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Like much of the country, the state is also bracing for a September heatwave after enduring hot weather earlier in the summer.
Earlier this month, over a third of Americans were under a heat advisory as a mix of high pressure and warm air created a heat dome over the center of the country.
Since no location comes without climate risk, experts urge caution when it comes to seeking out so-called havens.
“You’re escaping one type of vulnerability but maybe opening yourself up to another,” said Clark.
But experts also stress that there are ways to adapt communities to better weather the changing climate.
“The fundamental challenge we face is not that the climate is going to be ruined, but that we built civilization for a different climate than the one we have now and the one we are going to have in the future,” said Dr. Lisa Allyn Dale, a lecturer at the Columbia Climate School.
Dale added that governments everywhere, including in the United States, are rethinking how to build cities in order to better adapt to climate change.
Building more resilient infrastructure, investing in disaster risk reduction and reforming agricultural practices are just a few things that can be done to help work with climate change, she said.
“It’s hard for me to imagine any ‘haven’ that is free from climate risk,” she said, “so part of the challenge we face is modifying our built environment to better accommodate the new reality.”
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