• Home Home

Experts unpack notion that some cities are 'climate havens': 'It's an absurd concept with a grain of truth'

"You're escaping one type of vulnerability but maybe opening yourself up to another."

“You're escaping one type of vulnerability but maybe opening yourself up to another.”

Photo Credit: iStock

While some researchers, city planners, and news outlets have promoted certain cities as "climate havens" — natural refuges mostly unaffected by extreme weather — other climate experts disagree with the concept, saying there's nowhere completely safe from the rapidly changing climate. 

What's happening? 

As The Hill reported, several public officials and academics have touted areas of the U.S. — mainly in the Northeast and upper Midwest — for their climate resiliency. 

Some of the most commonly cited cities that are relatively safe from our warming planet include Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Detroit, Michigan; Duluth, Minnesota; Minneapolis; Madison, Wisconsin; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Even though environmental experts say these areas likely won't experience the worst impacts of our changing climate, that doesn't mean they're totally protected from natural disasters. 

"It's an absurd concept with a grain of truth," Neil Donahue, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Mellon College of Science, told The Hill

Since the Earth's climate is an interconnected, dynamic system, a weather event happening in one part of the globe can also have local impacts. For example, smoke from Canada's record-breaking wildfires in 2023 blanketed dozens of U.S. cities hundreds of miles away.

Many cities advertised as climate havens have also had their share of weather events, like when parts of Vermont received two months' worth of rain in just two days, and an intense blizzard smothered Buffalo with over four feet of snow, killing nearly 50 people. 

The Conversation explained that these climate haven cities are in states projected to have some of the greatest average annual temperature rises in the future.

Why is this concerning?

As The Hill explained, extreme weather will still affect many places labeled climate refuges but perhaps less than coastal or desert locations. However, people who move to these areas assuming they're safe from extreme weather may be unprepared should a natural disaster strike. 

"You're escaping one type of vulnerability but maybe opening yourself up to another," Dr. Susan Clark, an assistant professor of environment and sustainability at The State University of New York, Buffalo, told The Hill.  

Plus, as The Conversation reported, many of these postindustrial cities have aging infrastructure that already struggles to keep up with extreme weather events like snowstorms and flash flooding. With more people moving in, it will further strain overburdened resources. 

Not to mention, pushing the idea of certain areas being more desirable than others may discourage people from adapting where they are, which is often much cheaper and more accessible.

What's being done about it?

The U.S. government is taking steps to make cities more resilient against the changing climate. For instance, the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in 2022, provides tax breaks and rebates to homeowners who install solar panels, heat pumps, insulation, and more. 

In addition, the Biden administration has invested billions in clean energy deployment and reducing pollution in low-income communities

However, we can all make a difference by reducing how much pollution we produce. Simply walking places instead of driving, buying local, and growing your own food can help cool the planet. 

Join our free newsletter for easy tips to save more, waste less, and help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider