Other communities in the Massachusetts interior will also become climate havens in the coming decades, whether they plan for it or not. Now is the time to plan.
Tens of millions of Americans are expected to become climate migrants by the end of the century, coming from coastal, southern and western regions where threats of storm surges, increasing heat and wildfires increase every year. Bay State, with its cooler temperatures, natural resources and strong economy, has already grown faster than any other state in the region over the past decade. Climate migration will only accelerate this trend.
For example, in 2017, when the devastation of Hurricane Maria drove more than 100,000 people from Puerto Rico to the mainland, more than 6,200 migrated to Massachusetts. Only Florida and Pennsylvania received more. The following year, more than 6,800 additional Puerto Ricans settled in the Bay State.
But only 5% of that migration went to Boston. By comparison, 20% went to Springfield and 15% landed in Worcester – which was already the fastest growing city in New England.
Add the fact that the Commonwealth, too, is warming and sea level rise is already affecting its coastlines, and these effects will worsen. If residents of Boston and other affected communities want to stay in the state, many will move west.
Nationally, sea level rise is expected to displace 13 million Americans by the end of the century. This number does not include other climate-exacerbated disasters like storms, wildfires, drought and extreme heat. The number also does not include migrants from Central America, the African continent and elsewhere fleeing increasingly unsustainable environmental impacts.
Planning for climate migration is much more complex than simply finding ways to increase the stock of affordable housing, although this is a fundamental part of it. Communities must also ensure that their transport systems and public services are ready to cope with the population explosion. They must be proactive in attracting businesses to ensure employment opportunities for new residents while expanding local tax bases to support increased demand for municipal services. They must ensure that their own climate mitigation plans, which can include everything from green energy generation to sustainable street design and urban reforestation, consider rising populations.
Odell said Worcester had taken a leap forward in this planning due to its recent population boom – a 14% increase from 2010 to 2020.
“The fact that we have been able to absorb this natural growth while managing the continued growth we have had is a good sign that we can manage future growth, whether driven by economic opportunity or climate change,” said Odel.
Cities and towns, of course, cannot plan climate migration in isolation. The Federal Infrastructure Act includes nearly $50 billion in climate resilience funding for local communities. Earlier this month, the state released a draft climate change assessment, which lists the potential increased costs of responding to climate migration as one of the “most pressing” environmental impacts on the country. ‘State. Federal and state authorities must work with communities to provide them with the resources they need.
Municipalities can also take notes from other communities that have successfully implemented climate refuge plans, such as Buffalo.
Like Worcester, Buffalo’s population had already seen a recovery after decades of decline, thanks in part to a plan to double its affordable housing stock and thanks to partnerships with nonprofit groups like Be In Buffalo to help to attract business and revitalize the city’s downtown core.
After Hurricane Maria, the city saw more residents leave Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Despite the drastic difference in weather conditions, many of these residents remained in the famous snowy town.
Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of Buffalo’s office of strategic planning, said the fact that the city is already planning and managing growth with a social justice lens also makes it easier to welcome incoming climate migrants.
“We recognize the potential for relocation” of Buffalo’s longtime residents to accommodate population growth, Mehaffy said. “So we want to be intentional about how we anchor housing affordability and growth in a way that will also close the racial wealth gap and achieve equity.”
For communities in Massachusetts that don’t have a climate protection plan in the works, time is running out. Odell said he learned first-hand that advanced planning is far more effective than reactionary, piecemeal policymaking. Other communities should learn this lesson now.
Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.