The Best Places to Live in a Future Troubled by Climate Change

Woman taking a selfie in front of the Boston skyline.

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We have passed the point at which climate change is an element of the distant future. Anyone under the age of seventy reading this will almost certainly experience greatly changing natural conditions due to climate change. Not only are some of today’s hurricanes and forest fires made worse by climate change, but the upcoming years will see widespread instances of larger weather catastrophes that will affect more and more people.

During the second half of the 21st century, temperatures will become unbearable in today’s hot regions, ocean levels will rise, making many islands uninhabitable, and the frequency of destructive hurricanes will make many of the world’s coastal areas very inhospitable places to live.

Our children and grandchildren will live in a world much different from ours, where permanent changes to climate will have altered population patterns and the way large groups of people get their food and remain safe from the elements. They will have somewhat limited options for where to live, so it’s not too early to consider how to find a safe place during a world tormented by a drastically-changed climate.

What Makes a Place Safe?

Rather than diving into a list, let’s first build an understanding of traits to look for in an area to build or buy a home and enjoy peace of mind.

  • A Cool Place: Projections are that by the mid 21st century, roughly 30 years from now, summer temperatures will be 6 degrees hotter in the middle of North America, from Tennessee to Nevada and Southern Wyoming to Northern Texas. Most of the rest of the country will be 5 degrees hotter than now. Days above 95°F will skyrocket as well, meaning great dangers of heat stroke and similar deadly conditions.
  • Away From the Ocean: With higher ocean levels, many coastal areas will experience an eroded and shrunken coastline. Flooding will be commonplace, and tropical storms and hurricanes will be more intense and deadlier than now. It is likely that entire towns will be destroyed by a catastrophic storm.
  • Access to Water: Paradoxically, while one doesn’t want to be near the site of a storm disaster, one doesn’t want to live in a desert, either. In such a situation, the increased heat parches the soil. When rain does come, it has no ability to sink into the cracked soil, instead of running into creeks or rivers. This means drought. Climate change wreaks havoc from all angles.
  • Elevation: While the late 20th century won’t find everyone heading for the hills, being at some elevation can be helpful both for beating the heat and for escaping flooding. Lower elevations, depending on the particular combination of conditions, can be acceptable.

Best Places to Live in a Future Troubled by Climate Change

With those concepts established, let’s look at cities and other geographical areas that your children and grandchildren will find most hospitable.

1. Boston, MA

This city is far enough North to remain free of extreme heat for almost the whole year. Perhaps more importantly, it definitely has access to water, since the Atlantic Ocean cozies up to the city in various locations. Now, as for the danger of the ocean, different cities are better equipped for it than others. What sets Boston apart is that its city planners have developed a very extensive plan that includes elevating roads, putting in marshes to absorb flood waters, beefing up wharves, and generally making waterfront areas more resilient.

2. The Great Lakes States

Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin figure to be very desirable in times of extreme climate effects. Besides their general freedom from nasty heat, these areas have the Great Lakes as a water source and one that doesn’t involve tsunamis, hurricanes, giant waves or sea-level-rise. The risk of floods that may exist may come from extensive rainfall.

Cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit, and Madison, WI may be popular targets for relocation in the latter quarter of this century.

3. Greenland

The keyword in the phrase “climate change” is “change.” One of the differences upcoming generations will experience is a greening Greenland. This large but sparsely inhabited nation will warm up somewhat, experiencing a melt in its permafrost and in glaciers around them. Anticipating this shift, the country already has no less than five hydroelectric plants to turn drippy warm ice into power. Not only will Greenland be an abundant source of water, but it will be using green power as well.

A 2013 projection tells us that Greenland will have some trees and even forests by 2100. It won’t be a bleak icescape and may be among the best places to live.

4. Denver, CO

One box Denver checks in a big way is that of elevation, which obviously keeps it safe from rising water, but also keeps things cool. Unlike other parts of Colorado, the city is above the fray of forest fires. But as is the case with Boston, Denver has an intensive gameplan for keeping safe. That’s probably as important a criteria as any. Along these lines, Ann Arbor, MI, in the previously-mentioned Great Lakes region, has a great plan and believes it can, as a city, be down to 0 fossil fuel usage by 2050.

5. Ireland

One of the big risk factors when it comes to climate change is a loss of agriculture. Any place that relies too heavily on agriculture is a bit unsteady and open to risk. While Ireland is known as being green, it really isn’t a center of agriculture. Less than 2% of its GDP comes from agriculture, and in that category, it is lower than any other country in Europe.

Not only is this the case, but Ireland is deeply committed to getting it right with the environment and heading into the second half of the century more than ready to face a crazy climate. Its National Development Plan comes with a commitment of €30 billion.

Honorable Mention

Honorable mentions go to places in central Canada (away from the coast), Scandinavian countries, and North-Central European countries such as Latvia and Estonia. In the U.S., upstate New York and Pacific Northwest locales like Portland and Seattle are also viable. Places that are in grave danger include any developing nations, including Haiti and some African nations. These countries are vulnerable to ravages of nature such as droughts and severe heat.

If one were to pick the single biggest factor in choosing a place to live in 2050 and later, it would be the distance from an ocean. Areas away from the coast but near lakes are ideal. Elevation can be helpful. As you can see, it’s more about choosing good combinations of factors rather than looking for a location silver bullet. 

As we get closer to the middle of the century, it will be crucial to evaluate individual cities on their strategic plans for addressing climate change. A location that can demonstrate it is keeping its infrastructure in optimum working order is the only place for your children and grandchildren.