Can We Adapt to Climate Change Instead of Migrating?

A decision point approaches if climate trends continue their chaotic rampage. 

I’ve been keeping a close watch on U.S. migration trends related to climate extremes. The good news is that so far, there’s no sign of panic. To the contrary, Americans last year moved in droves to three of the least-resilient states in the nation: Texas, Arizona, and Florida. 

Forbes, for example, just published its “Best Places to Retire” guide for 2022, with not a single mention of climate-related threats. Occasionally, a mainstream news story highlights a single family that is uprooting to avoid wildfires, heat, and uncertainty, but they’re still considered outliers, not oracles. 

The reality is that most people don’t want to believe worse is coming. And who can blame them? They don’t want to leave their homes, their towns, their lifelong communities. 

So what will it take to endure and stay? Can we build homes, cities, and energy grids to adapt to what the Earth throws at us? 

Maybe. But there’s a huge caveat: Allowing our expansive, consumptive fossil fuel dependent lifestyle to continue will fast-track us past where technology can save us. 

Let’s say we do make the energy shift in time and reduce emissions. What are the building science priorities? First, we need to address the stuff that can kill us: extreme heat, poor air quality (largely from wildfires), long-term water shortages, and wobbling food security. 

We have tools to address many of these threats: 

  • insulation to tighten homes
  • heat pumps and geothermal systems for cooling
  • air filters and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) for air quality
  • ultra-low-flow fixtures, faucets, and appliances
  • leak detectors
  • xeriscaped lawns
  • greywater and rainwater systems
  • composting toilets

With solar arrays to power the whole shebang, we might make it. The building science is here. It’s operational and doable. 

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What’s less certain is food. It’s tough to grow most crops in 100-degree temperatures with minimal water. Even if we can adapt, we have to think about the quality of life that we need to stay sane. 

It’s tough to get excited about living indoors all the time. We might adapt, but we’d effectively end up living like colonists on a hostile planet. 0922gb_c1

Instead of using technology as a crutch to prolong our current version of normal, can’t we do both? Let’s adapt and change: prepare for the worst, but strive to head off that scenario. 

Let Elon Musk fantasize about leaving Earth for greener pastures in an alien galaxy. We can send him postcards from the planet we preserved, regenerated, and made whole by committing to do the work that’s needed, with ingenuity and deep reverence for our rare and special place in the cosmos.

Download the September/October issue of Green Builder and learn more about how building science can help us create a better future.

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