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Wilder Fires and Rising Waters, Climate Impacts Coming to America’s Door

Wilder Fires and Rising Waters, Climate Impacts Coming to America’s Door

Pair of new studies show how American climate refugees will ‘reshape’ population landscape of the nation

The Chelan Butte fire encroaches on homes in coastal Washington state. (Photo: Ben Brooks/cc/flickr)

The Chelan Butte fire encroaches on homes in coastal Washington state. (Photo: Ben Brooks/cc/flickr)

Americans in many cases have been slow to acknowledge the real threats posed by global warming. But two new studies out Monday found that people living throughout the United States could soon see their communities forever altered by higher seas and raging forest fires.

While the United States has lagged in taking dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or transform its power grid to accommodate renewable energy sources, other nations have taken the lead. Further, studies have historically shown (pdf) that Americans are generally reluctant to perceive climate change as anything more than a moderate risk, seeing it as something that impacts people in more vulnerable, developing nations.

The idea of a person becoming a climate change refugee seems similarly foreign.

However, Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the University of Georgia, estimates that by the end of the century as many as 13.1 million Americans could too find themselves displaced due to rising sea levels. His research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change and suggests those migrants will be forced to move to inland cities, ultimately “reshaping” the population landscape.

The report notes that unmitigated sea-level rise (SLR)—primarily seen as “a coastal issue”—is “expected to reshape the U.S. population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants.” For instance, if seas rise the expected 1.8 meters by 2100, Texas could see a surge of nearly 1.5 million additional residents. Specifically, inland cities including Austin and Houston, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia could each see more than 250,000 people migrating from the imperiled coasts.

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