Climate Change and The Great Lakes

Photo by Elizabeth Kay on Unsplash

As the Biden administration rolls out more policy proposals, and specifically wades into The Green New Deal and climate change mitigation, the Great Lakes region may take center stage.

An article from Fast Company late last week addressed this, and reminded me of something I had written on Medium prior to the pandemic hitting.

As Kelly Leilani Main and Greg Lindsay share, some 300,000 or more homes, with a value of $117.5 billion, will be at risk of chronic inundation from rising sea levels by 2045.

“[T]emperatures are rising, precipitation patterns are changing, and abnormal weather is the new normal,” they write. “The problem is that development is still booming in some of the areas of the country most at risk.”

Enter the Great Lakes region, which research suggests will not be hit as hard by the climate change emergency we face. It’s a relative claim, of course, as there will still be fallout. The region could experience increased flooding concerns, particularly in proximity to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and the increased temperatures could pose problems for agriculture and industry.

There is opportunity, though. As I wrote 16 months ago, “Many of the cities in the region were once booming population centers that have since been hollowed out, so there is plenty of room for in-migration. But years of neglect means ample new investment to repair, rehabilitate, and replace the necessary housing and infrastructure to support a wave of climate migrants would be required.”

Main and Lindsay make the same argument for infrastructure investments throughout the Great Lakes region, saying it is imperative to “make robust infrastructural investments in areas like the Great Lakes that are destined to be a refuge for people seeking relief from climate change.”

We’re way past the time to act on climate issues. Some effects are already here and will only get worse. The only sensible thing to do, as Main and Lindsay write, and as I wrote a year ago, is to focus our efforts on mitigation while also planning for a future in which climate change refugees aren’t just some theoretical concept.

We must prepare for the potential of another great migration, and the Great Lakes ought to be ground zero in those preparations.