Artwork by Arthur Rackham (1918). From English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Fairy Tale Homes
Goldilocks, as every child knows, was scouting for a new house when she happened upon a two-story cottage in a secluded, wooded neighborhood, and decided to look it over. As with any prospective buyer, she was faced with various lifestyle choices: is it too cozy? Too cavernous? Will it be too hot or too cold? Can I find a mattress that’s neither too hard nor too soft? Finding a home that is ‘just right’ has never been simple but, by today’s standards, Goldilocks had it easy.
This century demands an entirely different set of criteria:
- How frequent and severe will hurricanes be?
- How likely is massive flooding or inundation over the next 50 years?
- What about regular atmospheric rivers, like the Pacific Northwest?
- Is it certain water will be available by 2030 and beyond?
- Are millions of climate migrants going to compete for space?
- And, yes, will rising temps and more-frequent, more-intense thermal periods render it too hot?
This is not an idle exercise. In 2020, the Ecological Threat Register reported a tenfold increase in natural disasters between 1960 – when there were 39 such incidents – and 2019, which endured almost 400. With oceans rising, deserts metastasizing, populations rising, and the number of climate-refugees exploding, locations that are safe from the various ramifications of global warming are becoming as scarce as they will be in high demand.
But where on Earth will it be safe to live? Inquiring minds – especially those used to the Hamptons, Los Cabos, Trancoso, and St. Barths; or who winter on atolls off Tahiti – want to know. For those without riches? Buckle up: it may get rough.
A modern Goldilocks must triangulate climate-safe landing spots, and to do so she will need, as The Balance suggested, this set of simple criteria:
It Should Be Cool…
Temperatures are rising, and heat waves will intensify and lengthen, so starting with a place that stays cool makes sense
Settle on a Hill…
A nice meadow, ridge, or timbe stand halfway up will keep you cooler, flood-free, and hey, what a view! Avoid areas prone to mud or rockslides, plant plenty of shade trees, and you’re set
Access to Water is a Must…
Desertification continues spreading worldwide (map above) so potable water for people and agriculture will be major issues, even in parts of the world where such was abundant before. A lake, an aquifer, enough rainfall, or a tame river will be ‘just right’
Avoid the Coasts…
Inundation will dominate headlines in coastal areas around the world throughout the century. Cyclones, rain, storm surge, erosion, and salt damage will increase dramatically, and few coastal areas will escape unscathed. A homestead in rolling hills or landlocked woodlands checks this box
There are a limited number of places that fit all these criteria. Those cited most often lie within a slender band of the temperate zone whose northern boundary runs east from the Canadian prairies to the Nordic peninsula; and to the south, from North America‘s Great Lakes to Latvia and Estonia. Above that zone, though warming is rapid, the growing season is not yet fully reliable, and wildfires are problematic under global warming. South of that zone, the worst manifestations of climate change – cyclones, sea-level rise, unbearable ambient temperatures and heat waves, drought, fire, and more, will be at their height.
Futurist Khanna dubbed this band the New North, “a collection of geographies such as the Great Lakes region and Scandinavia that are making significant investments in renewable energy, food production, and economic diversification.” But of course, they are also cool, hilly, have enormous reserves of fresh water, and are either inland or have long head starts dealing with coastal-protective infrastructure. As their northern range thaws, they will also have vast new agricultural, mineral, and oil reserves even as the southern regions’ resources – agriculture in particular – face harsher growing conditions than before.
Within this northern zone lie several glamorous locations like Copenhagen, Reykjavik, and Toronto. Less exotic spots, like Duluth, Buffalo, and the Estonian city of Narva – current population only 55,000 – have room for expansion.
The aurora borealis dazzles in the skies over Reykjavik, Iceland, January 2015.
Photo by Sergejf. Source: Wikimedia Commons
As noted above, some locations outside this belt have not, up to now, been able to support large populations. Ironically, a potentially useful effect of climate change is that, while it is broiling and stir-frying the middle latitudes, it is likewise opening areas to the north and south that were previously too cold, ice covered, or stormy. Places like Siberia, Greenland, the Norse countries, Iceland and even, perhaps, portions of Tierra del Fuego, are warming quickly, and are soon to become more fecund. If the winds hold true, they will soon also be far more populated.
To be clear, this opening of the cold lands is not to be desired in the normal course of events. Their climate was more appropriate to the mammoth than to man, and so they’ve remained largely pristine. Billions of tons of carbon are sequestered in tundra, forest, and peatlands, and many species fostered there will likely perish if humanity clusters there more thickly. But the reality of our failure to confront carbon emissions sooner means billions more people will have to move… somewhere. The thawing of the formerly frozen north and south is happening and will result in significant human immigration.
Consider Vladivostok, a port city just over 400 miles (680 km) from Pyongyang, but with strong infrastructure and only 600,000 inhabitants. This and many other places in the New North will likely be hotly sought after as milder temperatures move in to stay. Some like Duluth, with a mere 85,000 residents, are actively using this status to court climate refugees in order to boost that number and gain significant economic growth. As the New York Times explained, “they sense an opportunity in climate change,” and they are determined to make the most of it.
The Red Bridge, Novosibirsk, Siberian Federal District, Russia.
Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk / Unsplash
Indeed, Khanna asserts, both Russia and Canada would “benefit massively from doubling or tripling—or, in Canada’s case, quintupling—their populations. Climate migrants wouldn’t be moving into barren spaces: Russia has more than a dozen cities of under one million people whose death and emigration rates far exceed the birthrate.”
Siberia, for example, the classic frozen ‘waste land,’ is seeing a significant shift towards a livable climate. “It’s a process that is likely to accelerate,” notes the New York Times. And a Russia that has long struggled to grow enough to feed even its own people, “hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.”
The Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada check all the climate boxes above. The area holds a fifth of the world’s fresh surface water; it’s far inland and virtually immune to sea-level rise; it is generally a few degrees cooler than coastal or southern cities with plenty of rainfall; and while areas such as Chicago are postage-stamp flat, most are well above the level of their respective lakes.
Old and new construction in Nuuk, Greenland, August 2019. Photo by amanderson2.
Source: Wikimedia commons.
Finally, Greenland may be the world’s largest island but, with less than 57,000 people clustered along portions of its coast, it may yet become a thriving, highly populated human colony. Tierra del Fuego, too, is losing much of its glacial ice, and warming should permit more people and crops.
Will that be enough space? Will there be enough new or underexploited land to accommodate everyone? It remains to be seen. Billions will be affected. Whole populations are slated to move. Everyone will need a place. As futurist Khanna put it, people in the New North and other safe zones may find relative climate peace; but “they should expect a few hundred million new neighbors, too.”