Climate change is already forcing millions of people around the world to leave their homes to seek refuge from rising sea levels, devastating droughts and other effects of global warming. But that migration is also happening within the United States, as extreme weather makes some parts of the country virtually inhospitable, according to a new analysis.
About 3.2 million Americans have moved due to the increasing risk of flooding, the First Street Foundation said in a report which focuses on so-called “climate neglect areas”, or places where the local population declined between 2000 and 2020 due to risks related to climate change.
Many of those areas are in parts of the country that have also seen increased migration over the past two decades, including Sun Belt states like Florida and Texas. These communities are at risk of falling into an economic spiral as population loss causes a decline in property values and local services, the group found.
“There appear to be clear winners and losers regarding the impact of flood risk on population change at the neighborhood level,” Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications research at the First Street Foundation, said in a statement.
He added: “The downstream implications of this are huge and impact property values, neighborhood composition and commercial viability, both positively and negatively.”
where people move
Areas of climate neglect exist across the United States, including in some of the country's fastest-growing metropolitan areas, according to the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.
About 513 counties saw their populations grow at a faster-than-average rate over the past two decades, but they also included neighborhoods that lost population in high-risk flood areas, the analysis found.
Most of these areas are concentrated in three regions:
- Texas Gulf Coast
- Mid-Atlantic region between Washington, DC and New Jersey
- Most of the Florida coast
The most affected municipality is Bexar County in Texas, which includes San Antonio. Between 2000 and 2020, the county added more than 644,000 new residents, but still lost population by about 17% of its population. census blocks, according to First Street. (In urban areas, census blocks are smaller areas that look like city blocks, although in rural areas they can be quite large and defined by natural features such as rivers.)
Other counties with the highest proportion of population migration due to flood risk include Will County, Illinois, and El Paso County, Texas, according to the study.
The Midwest could be hit hard
The analysis also examines which regions of the US could face climate migration in the coming decades, and, perhaps surprisingly, Midwestern states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, face some of the greatest risks, the study found.
This may seem counterintuitive, Porter noted in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. But the reason is due to the expectation that coastal areas will likely remain attractive, despite climate risk, for people seeking better jobs.
“In many coastal cities, we see that the pull or 'pull' of the region's amenities and economic opportunities is stronger than the 'push' of flood risks, he noted. But 'downward migration' is likely to occur.” in the Midwest and Northeast because these regions don't have the same appeal to people who are moving, he noted.
Extreme weather conditions, in the form of increasing flooding and massive wildfires, are hitting homes especially hard. Across the United States, nearly 36 million properties…– face rising insurance prices and reduced coverage due to high climate risks, First Street found in an analysis earlier this year.
News USA Today has a skilled online editor and content writer, boasting six years of experience in Media and Broadcasting. News, Finance, Sports, Travel, and Entertainment.