Underprepared Sanctuaries: Are Proclaimed “Climate Havens” Ready to Give the Refuge We Think They Can?
By Meerub Nisar
Wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, droughts and extreme rainfall; natural disaster declarations in the United States have “skyrocketed since 2000 to nearly twice that of the preceding 20-year period” according to an article by JulieArbit, Brad Bottoms and Earl Lewis in The Conversation. This sudden increase has left cities hurt and damaged as they do not have the necessary resources, measures and history to fight through such climate change-induced events. As a result, a need to relocate has risen for people- all around the globe- caught amidst climate disasters. We are already seeing climate migrations, and resultantly, climate refugees. According to a NY Times article, “as many as 5,000 migrants moved to the proclaimed “climate haven” of Buffalo to escape Hurricane Maria”. A 2021 World Bank report approximated that “climate crises could drive more than 200 million people to move within their countries by 2050”.
Now, select cities and/or regions are being dubbed as “climate havens”: areas where you’ll be protected from extreme climates. Areas of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia, and Midwest, Northeast and the Great Lakes regions of the USA are examples of places where refuge from climate issues can be sought. This, however, doesn’t mean these areas are 100% immune; it means that as the world gets hotter and hotter, they will supposedly see less of an impact.
But realistically, having these potential “havens” means nothing yet, as most of the places are ill-equipped and simply not ready to become the centres of refuge that, as many claim, they could be. These places require impenetrable infrastructure, better heating and water resources, powerful energy grids and importantly, communities welcoming enough to adjust an influx of migrants. Newer, more advanced and reliable stormwater systems and sewage systems, and better transport systems need to be made. But all of this is easier said than done; all of these plans require long-term funding which, more often than not, they simply can’t get.
“Climate havens” need to have affordable housing, and missions to become sustainable. As an example, Duluth in the American Midwest has invested $200 million into shoreline protection and wastewater system improvements and Cincinnati plans to reduce carbon emission and take in climate migrants, according to a study by MIT researchers.
To add, as global warming worsens and climate change intensifies, issues it brings with itself will only worsen and get harder to manage. All nations will be impacted and no one place can be said to be fully “impact-less”. Socially and politically, this will shed light onto the systemic inequalities in vulnerability and preparedness in areas. Without a doubt, many developing countries, and the less well-off Global South, and even poorer areas in the same nation will be impacted harder.
Bottom line: There is an urgent need to brainstorm and then fund sustainability projects. There is an urgent need to force decision-makers to cut down on carbon emissions. There is an urgent need to reassess cities’ safety nets against climate adversity. There is an urgent need for change.