I asked myself last week, if I had never seen a single newspaper article, magazine photo essay, or television news report on climate change would I, at some gut level, be aware of any particular changes in weather patterns here in southern New England. The answer was no. I recall the snowless period from the late 80’s into the early 90’s, before I was aware of global warming, and I thought about how different things seemed to be for a while; but then that flipped and we started to get enormous amounts of snow winter after winter. Whether in my imagination or not, I seem to remember more 100 degree days as a child and we almost never see that now.
My connections to nature have in my adulthood been, at times, limited, and in my youth they were not analytical. In the early 2000’s I did volunteer work planting trees all over the city, which is very connected to and limited by the dates when the ground freezes or thaws, and when trees leaf out, but that only lasted for a handful of years; not enough to create a baseline from which the norm could shift. Now my wife and I garden as we have for the last 9 years or so; in all honesty we are still so much on our own learning curve regarding planting times and harvesting that detecting anything larger or broader isn’t likely.
With all this, of course, we have read books and essays on the topic, we’ve seen news reports, and watched documentary films and we are concerned. With that in mind we do what most people do with a belief system: we remember the “hits” and forget the “misses” with regard to cold and heat, rain and sun, gorgeous days and natural disasters. When we talk about our many frugalities, mostly in the ways they save us money, we sometimes talk about the way they reduce energy use or our carbon footprint, again remembering our hits; “We don’t have a second car!” And overlooking our misses: “We do have a first one.”
I’ve been reading Giles Slade’s American Exodus and rereading John Michael Greer’s Dark Age America, and both paint a picture of climate migration in the future which stands in stark contrast to what we are actually seeing in terms of the behaviors of the well-to-do and the middle class. Their predictions do, however, correspond to what we see in one particular arena: the movement northward of increasing numbers of families from Central America and Mexico. What jumps out at me about that contrast is that one generalized prediction about climate mobility is that it will be the poor who are and will be stuck in place as climate disruption makes life increasingly difficult in certain locations as the wealthy, with great ease, abandon the less livable places for those with brighter prospects.
As it relates to Springfield, a city in a region on the border between those areas expected to see negligible or even net positive economic impacts from climate change, our middle class and wealthy populations are moving, if in small numbers, towards areas predicted to experience the greatest climate disruptions: Texas, Arizona, Florida and other low lying southeast coastal states, while we experience in-migration of people from Puerto Rico whom many would classify as climate refugees.
In April the Census Bureau is scheduled to announce its metropolitan and micropolitan population estimates for July 1st, 2018; the first of those estimates broken down by metro region since Hurricane Maria. In the state by state estimates Massachusetts showed the greatest population increase of any northeastern state, which was explained by most as being the result of Boston’s red hot economic growth. That is probably the cause of most of Massachusetts’ significant growth, but Hampden County was second only to the Bronx for María refugees in the United States outside Florida, and Springfield took in as many as 3x the number of school age students as any other district in the commonwealth.
The poor and refugees obviously have fewer resources than the well off, but they also may live in much less isolation from the natural world than I do. It’s fairly easy not just to adjust to, but also to ignore the impacts of weather on day to day life when you have a car, a pool, an air conditioned school, a climate controlled home. Some people I greatly respect, Andrés Duany for example, believe that within just a few years the impacts of climate change will be so obvious as to be undeniable. Others, the aforementioned John Michael Greer is one, believe that denial will actually increase as the effects become more ubiquitous. I wouldn’t claim to know, but I wonder if our wealth and technology continue to give us greater opportunity to avoid reality if this pattern of “getting while the getting is good” won’t persist on the part of the poor while the comfortable continue to ignore what is happening to their surroundings.
I find it interesting to watch. Things stay the same until they don’t I guess, and people will respond to a crisis when the crisis is upon them, but not before. I’m not implying I’d be any different. I don’t want to be in Florida or Texas, I don’t want to move to a city on the coast even. My house is 70 miles inland and 100′ above sea level, but if it were 7 miles and 10′ I wouldn’t be running for the hills either, I know that. What I wonder is if I’ll live long enough to see that moment when I ask myself the same question with which I started this essay, but the answer will be the opposite, and what will that look like, and how will we respond?