Climate migration: Planners say region could face higher taxes and overcrowding

Read the first article in this two-part series on climate change: “Taking stock on United Nations Day: Georgia’s path to reducing carbon emissions.”

By David Pendered

Streets were flooded in a neighborhood west of Skidaway Island, near Savannah, when Shipyard Creek reached its crest during Hurricane Irma in 2017. (File / photo used with permission from Anne Smith, a resident of the region.)

Climate change is likely to be more than an abstract concept in the Atlanta metro area. Higher taxes and an influx of residents are among the possible consequences when people move to escape problems elsewhere, say two planners.

Climate migration in the region would increase demand for supplies that are already problematic – from mobility to housing, from household energy to clean water and adequate wastewater treatment, from public schools to public safety. Taxes and fees may be increased to meet growing demand.

The scientific and political framework around climate change is the subject of COP26, the United Nations climate change conference currently taking place in Scotland. Georgia Tech scientist Kim Cobb is the lead author of an important international document that will be presented, the one the UN secretary-general said when published in August is a “code red for humanity. “.

Drought is another expected consequence of global warming. The dry spell of 2016 reduced water levels in the South Fork of Peachtree Creek. (File / Photo by David Pendered.)

Bruce Stiftel and Dan Reuter are among the planners who are assessing how Metro Atlanta can meet and respond to climate migration. Stiftel specializes in collaborative governance of environmental policy and is the retired founding president of Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning, where he remains professor emeritus. Reuter is a planning consultant known for the growth management policies he designed for a population boom of nearly 2 million during his nearly 20 years on the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Coastal flooding is an example cited by Stiftel as a projected consequence of global warming. As the floods become more pernicious, Georgian policymakers will be called upon to act.

“Fortify yourself or withdraw, and both choices are extremely expensive,” Stiftel said. “If we choose to fortify ourselves, it would be the biggest public works investment Georgia has ever made. If we retreat, we will have all kinds of questions about how to deal with relocation. “

Dan Reuter (Photo via danreuter.com.)

Tools to initiate resettlement away from rising flood waters are already installed along the Georgian coast. Sensors that measure sea level rise have been installed in Savannah, and NOAA has agreed to pay for them in other coastal areas of Georgia. Cobb leads the varsity team, and his hands-on approach to problem-solving has won the support of Randall Matthews, Assistant Director of Emergency Management for Chatham County.

“This program has been a partnership from the start,” Matthews said in August.

The relocation of coastal evacuees is one example of Reuters’ goal. He brings practical experience gained in helping to meet the needs of hurricane refugees on the Gulf Coast.

“I was at the CRA for Katrina, and a lot of people moved to Atlanta and never came back,” Reuter said of the Category 5 hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005.

A crib is part of the furniture thrown away from a house in Newnan during the March 25 hurricane that brought winds up to 170 mph. (File / Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

The Katrina scenario established that the Atlanta subway is a likely destination for some of those who may be fleeing the effects of climate change, Reuter said. Whether they’re responding to increasingly persistent flooding around cities like Savannah and Miami, fires in the West, or food insecurity in the northern triangle of Central America, the Atlanta metro is a destination. likely. The region has no plans in place for such an influx of residents.

“We understand the national growth here, that in Gwinnett County 11,000 children are born each year,” Reuter said. “As planners we need to think about climate change and how we will house millions of additional people who might move here from other parts of the country to escape drought, floods, forest fires, heat, hurricanes – take your pick. “

Reuters draws parallels between planning for a pandemic – such as COVID-19 – and climate migration. Both scenarios are expected. Planning for both was lacking. The results of the failure to implement comprehensive plans during the pandemic show the need for improved migration planning. Reuter presented the comparison most recently at the joint fall conference of the Georgia Planning Association and the Tennessee chapter of the American Planning Association.

“Let us all be aware of climate change, as we were of the possibilities of a pandemic,” Reuter said. “Be up to date with the science and what the experts are saying, as well as national and international organizations and some in Georgia. We are not engaged in this properly.

Bruce Styftel (Photo via planning.gatech.edu.)

Stiftel recalls that one of the reasons to stay engaged is that research presents a moving target.

For example, predictions of sea level rise are not set in stone. Cobb said last week at a UN event in Atlanta that sea level rise along Georgia’s coast could reach one meter. Cobb also showed a slide warning of a much higher potential increase globally by 2300 that read: “+ 6-21 feet in the highest emissions scenario, but +45 feet cannot. be excluded “.

The tornado that devastated Newnan and other parts of the Atlanta metro from near midnight on March 25 traveled 38.9 miles, was about a mile wide and peak winds of 170 mph, according to the National. Weather Service. (Image from weather.gov.)

Styftel said he has identified five major climate change issues that could affect Metro Atlanta:

  • Migration
  • Urban heat
  • Flood
  • Tax base and economy
  • Reduction of greenhouse gases

Styftel said he had hope that humanity could find solutions to global warming, through state efforts such as Drawdown Georgia and global efforts such as the COP26 initiatives. He explained in an email that followed a conversation. Here is the full message:

While the challenges of climate change for a city like Atlanta are immense, we have the opportunity to avoid adverse outcomes through the COP process and through the climate actions we take here. If COP26 is successful and the Nationally Determined Contributions are revised to put us on track for 1.5 ° C, then the Georgian coast will not be inundated and the urban heat in Atlanta will not increase to harmful levels. .

We have our own role to play in Atlanta, of course, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Drawdown Ga. Described these routes. We have a wonderful model of sustainable building in the Keneda Living Building on the Georgia Tech campus. The city of Atlanta has a resilience plan that incorporates many ideas for the future in housing, transportation and others. The Ray Anderson Foundation supports important pilot projects.

Many private companies are reducing their own carbon footprint. And, there are all kinds of technological innovations being developed that could make a significant contribution to GHG reduction and carbon sequestration, from solar, wind and tidal alternatives to electric vehicles and light personal transport.

But there is so much more we could do in terms of promoting transit-oriented development, cycling and pedestrian communities, improved transit, to the so-called ‘City of 15 minutes’. If these initiatives bear fruit as they should, the Atlanta of tomorrow will avoid the dire consequences of climate change, but Atlanta will also be a more livable city for a wider range of the population.

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