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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Thinking of moving? You're not alone.

Uploaded: Oct 18, 2020
This would be funny if it weren’t also true. Just today (1), I got:
- A warning about extreme heat (a “Heat advisory”)
- A notice about “public safety power shutoffs” in Santa Clara County
- A cancelled morning hike due to a “Red Flag warning” day (fire danger)
- An email about “The Great Shakeout” (practice for earthquakes)
- A nice beefy property tax bill

All that was missing was an alert that our home value is dropping due to rising Bay waters, or maybe that taxes are going up due to the need to prepare for droughts. (Oh wait, isn’t that part of Measure S?)

SF Chronicle’s map showing fire risk areas and power outages on Thursday, October 15

In our house, air filters and uninterruptible power supplies are plugged in, ready to be used. We’ve got poles out so we can easily close our skylights. We pulled down our shades first thing this morning to keep it cool inside. I gave some extra water to a few plants and set up a protective screen for another. I know how to do this now. The question is, do I want to?

I bet a lot of you have friends who took an extended break from this area recently due to smoke or COVID or some combination. Did that inspire thoughts of moving? There’s a lot of inertia to packing up. People often don’t move when economists believe they “should”. A reporter who has done years of research on climate migration, Abrahm Lustgarten, lives in a high-risk fire area in Marin County, an “imperiled tinderbox” as he puts it. He asked Jesse Keenan, an expert on the effects of climate change on real estate markets, if he should be selling his house, and got an immediate “Yes”. But when he discussed the situation with his wife: “The facts were clear and increasingly foreboding. Yet there were so many intangibles -- a love of nature, the busy pace of life, the high cost of moving -- that conspired to keep us from leaving.”

I’m sure many of us feel similar inertia. I wouldn’t go anywhere until my daughter’s done high school. But after that? Is it a good time to be ahead of the curve? I love cooler weather and the outdoors, so New England or the northwest (the part not on fire) seem appealing. I’m also Canadian, which opens up more possibilities assuming I could swallow the exit tax. I expect all those places dread an influx of California refugees. But could it happen?

Climate migration is not just theoretical; it’s happening today. Drought is impacting rural livelihoods in places as far-flung as Guatemala, where people are moving north, and the African Sahel (2), where people are moving to cities and the coast. Storms and floods are causing urban migrations in India and Bangladesh. Migrations are starting to happen in the States as well. We tend to ignore climate impacts here, assuming that technology will keep us comfortable and productive. But the costs of that can be prohibitive. People are beginning to abandon coastal areas in Louisiana, moving to drier land in the interior. Real-estate prices in high-risk areas of Florida are dropping. Flooding along the Missouri and the eastern seaboard has led to contentious discussions about managed retreat. Lustgarten suggests that people move when they are forced to, for example when insurance coverage disappears, when decreased property tax reduces local services, when subsidies and loans dry up. He quotes Keenan as saying “Once this flips, it’s likely to flip very quickly.”

By some measures, it’s pretty good where we live. ProPublica shares some county-by-county data predicting the impacts of climate change in the next 20-40 years assuming the (highly unlikely) worst-case IPCC scenario. San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties are among the least impacted in California. San Mateo County is impacted by sea level rise, and Santa Clara County by fire. But places like Fresno County fare much worse, with impacts from heat, fires, and low-yield agriculture. Southern states including Florida and Texas are even worse off. Lustgarten writes “One influential 2018 study, published in The Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, suggests that one in 12 Americans in the Southern half of the country will move toward California, the Mountain West or the Northwest over the next 45 years because of climate influences alone.”

There’s no doubt that as people leave the Bay Area, others will move in. This region is, and will remain, more livable than many others. But the ProPublica data does not reflect air quality, or power shut-offs, or closed recreational areas, or cancelled outdoor activities, or the many other responses to changing climate that etch away at quality of life. By those measures, it’s for each of us to determine whether we stay or go. Has anyone been thinking about this?

Notes and References
0. Just in time for the holidays, Acterra is hosting an event with six local Bay Area chefs explaining how to prepare their favorite plant-based holiday dishes. In addition to live cooking demonstrations, the hosts will discuss practical tips and tricks on how to embrace a more plant-forward diet, reduce food waste, and work with an induction stove. See here for more information and to register.

1. I started writing this post a few days ago.

2. The African Sahel is the band of Africa just below the Sahara, going from Mauritania across Niger to Sudan.

3. Two good places to read about climate migration are ProPublica’s coverage and Quartz’s coverage. They talk not only about the impact on people who are forced to migrate but also about the impact on cities and people in areas less affected by climate, and how they can adapt to better handle an influx of climate migrants. Rolling Stone has a great article cautioning that a tendency to overstate the migration problem is feeding nationalism, pointing out (with many examples) that most migration happens within a country. And the Brookings Institution has a policy brief that highlights the lack of concerted effort, particularly by the US, on this issue.

Current Climate Data (September 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

August 2020 and September 2020 were the hottest on record in California. October is on the same track. It’s 95 in mid-October as I write this.

The Earth didn’t fare much better, with the warmest September temperatures since record-keeping started in 1880.

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 +   15 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:01 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

Any regional recommendations (as well as nice places to reside) in the continental United States that is free from
(1) earthquakes, (2) tornados, (3) hurricanes, and (4) winter blizzards?

Other criteria include (1) minimal traffic gridlock, (2) non-touristy, (3) non-redneck local political base, and (3) a pleasant year-round climate.

Seriously planning to exit the Edgewood Drive neighborhood & leave the maxed-out overdevelopment of Palo Alto to the plethora of nouveau riche 'newbies' in search of a delusional suburban Mecca.

Currently checking out small NorCal & SoCal beach communities that are still below the radar when it comes to weekend tourist ongoing challenge.

Some other friends moved to Sedona, AZ, Taos, NM, & Telluride, CO decades ago & are now planning their exit strategies as every nice area/region ALWAYS seems to get ruined by newer, incoming residents & the tourist trade.

Might even consider spiny lobster & ceviche everyday (washed down with a few local brews) & work on a beat-up boat like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption.

Anything to get away from here.

 +   7 people like this
Posted by hanger-on, a resident of another community,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:43 am

hanger-on is a registered user.

Lee - thanks. You defeated every fantasy of the 'quitter/leavers' in one elegant post ('cept Baja.)

Anywhere one goes, that location has existing downsides and will be soon 'ruined' by the influx of noobs like yourself.

I'll hang and enjoy the relief from a slightly reduced population. Good luck!

 +   13 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:35 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Anywhere one goes, that location has existing downsides and will be soon 'ruined' by the influx of noobs like yourself."

^ A good point & one that I will take under advisement.

Historically, incoming 'noobs' have a peculiar way of ruining the 'quality of life' for legions of native/original inhabitants residing within ANY area/region.

The history of America & downgrade of everyday life was built & based on your insightful premise...just ask the Native Americans.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
4 hours ago

Online Name is a registered user.

Another thing missing from your daily mail is your ridiculously high utility bill. Remember that Palo Alto has over-charged us by $20,000,000 each by that amount for the last several years.

What's happening to the citizen lawsuit over that? Will our city manager who used to manage the PA Utilities ever comment on that?

We're told to conserve water and energy and then when we do, they raise our rates claiming we're not using enough.

What's going to happen when everyone's buying their own generators and are forced to drive e-cars, give up their gas appliances and furnaces and we experience more and more shortages? Think they'll get around to fixing the grid by then or will it take them another few decades while everyone suffers? Or will they keep decommissioning all the gas-powered plants while we roast and /or freeze in the dark?

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
3 hours ago

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

> "...ridiculously high utility bill...Palo Alto has over-charged us..."

>"We're told to conserve water and energy and then when we do, they raise our rates claiming we're not using enough."

^ In Palo Alto you have to 'pay to play' (aka reside here) and even if you conserve energy, you will eventually pay more for utilities. Apologists call it inflation.

The city has many expenditures to cover including exorbitant employee salaries/pensions, police-related lawsuits,
and various specialized 'consultant fees'.

Everyday life in Palo Alto has become somewhat complex...thanks to the bureaucrats who seemingly believe they have a handle on things.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by PinkDolphin, a resident of Crescent Park,
2 hours ago

PinkDolphin is a registered user.

"I'm also Canadian, which opens up more possibilities assuming I could swallow the exit tax."

Sherry, what is the "exit tax"?

 +   2 people like this
Posted by There's no escape., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
2 hours ago

There's no escape. is a registered user.

I don't think we can move to escape climate change and its impacts. This is a global problem that we are, each of us, contributing to. Its effects are everywhere.

The question is, what will we each DO to change its course?

I am biking for shorter trips in town (under five miles), changing everything I can about my home and lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint.

Please join me. We still can minimize the climate change impacts that our children and grandchildren and we will have to face in coming years. Let's not be complacent any longer and do what's necessary to preserve the health of precious planet.

There is no escaping this, so let's face this problem and solve it. If we don't, how can our children and grandchildren ever forgive us?

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