Michigan and other Great Lake states are at less risk from the effects of climate change, such as flooding, fires, and strong winds, compared to the rest of the country, according to commentary published in Earth’s Future, a peer-reviewed journal, by Dr. Derek Van Berkel, an assistant professor for Environmental and Sustainability and other scientists.
The conditions in the Great Lakes area are stable enough amid climate change that residents could soon begin to see climate migration from people escaping parts of the country directly facing threats like rising sea levels.
“While we do not know if people will come, how many, who they might be and where they might settle, it is important that Great Lakes communities prepare and plan for a potential future that includes new residents,” Van Berkel said.
“This is necessary to prevent further negative impacts on the current residents of cities that may already be living in conditions that are unequal, unjust and vulnerable to climate and environmental impact,” he continued.
An abundant fresh water supply and mild temperatures were cited as reasons why Michigan, the Great Lakes area, and cities like Buffalo might stand to gain an influx of climate migrants in the near future.
However, the paper stressed that the migration isn’t a positive population rebound story. It’s a scenario which would burden Michigan’s current infrastructure while potentially exacerbating social and racial inequalities in the state.
“Without careful recognition of how responses to migration might further exacerbate inequality and climate vulnerability affecting [Great Lake Region] urban communities, cities may move even farther from realizing a sustainable and just future for both current residents and future in-migrants,” the paper’s authors said.
“In many cities, historical socioeconomic disparities have deepened prevailing vulnerabilities to environmental hazards, as demonstrated by the Flint water contamination crisis,” they noted.
Most of the neighborhoods in the Great Lakes area scored below average on both the national risk index and the national “social vulnerability average,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
200 million people are projected to migrate in the coming decades in response to climate change, according to a study by the World Bank in 2021.