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Thanks to the industrial revolution and short-sighted civilization planning, we are in the midst of a big problem that will affect everything: sea level rise, rising temperatures, drought and forest fires, natural disaster size, climate refugee movements, energy availability, and basic city functions. I’ve been researching this topic for some time since my M.A. with the United Nations in Environmental Security and Peace. Though the information on environmental security is still in its infancy, a smattering of articles (such as this, that and this one) have all pointed the same direction in the U.S. In the world, 75% of the most vulnerable countries to climate change are in Africa. The closest safe haven in North America is Canada. Developed nations score best, with Canada on top, followed by Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
But if you are looking a little closer to home here in the U.S, all eyes were on the Pacific Northwest. (We’ll talk about that past tense in a second.)
“The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades,” said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. “Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a relatively small factor.”
The reasons weren’t hard to find.
- Latitude above the 41st parallel decreases the risk of infectious disease migration of insects carrying malaria, Dengue fever and the like. (These are increasing along with increasing temperatures.) Oregon is above this line, though SF is not.
- Forget most of California and the Southwest (drought, wildfires). Ditto for much of the East Coast and Southeast (heat waves, hurricanes, rising sea levels).
- Steep cliffs by rising water.
- Less extreme heat, more fresh water.
- Smaller city sizes in the state of Oregon.
“Some of the world’s most densely populated and economically significant cities already fall within the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects’ category of exposure to “3+” (meaning three or more) major risks — ranging from droughts to earthquakes to volcanic eruptions. The list includes New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai and San Francisco.” (Reuters, 2013)
However, a recent New Yorker article just went viral faster than an earthquake basically reversed all this thinking of Oregon as a safe haven. It is an excellent read, even if it will cause nightmares. If you don’t have the time, here’s the basic horrifying gist:
- Big and Terrifyingly Big earthquakes are coming to the P. Northwest via the Cascadia subduction zone (otherwise known as the new nemesis of my waking reality).
- The V.B.O. (Very Big One) will send a tsunami onshore in 15 minutes. Meaning = You will have 15 minutes to live. This is about how long it takes me to water my plants.
- This would be North America’s worst disaster, and 13,000+ people would die.
- The odds of this happening are 1:3 or 1:10. YES, you read that right.
- It’s happened before (in the 1700s), and it’s supposed to happen again every 243 years. Guess where we are in that cycle? A horrifying 315 years in a 243 year cycle. OVERDUE.
- The Northwest is totally, woefully unprepared, despite the greentopia that is Portland. Just to give you a comparison: The recent offshore Japan earthquake and the tsunami it triggered killed more than 18,000, devastated northeast Japan, caused the Fukushima nuclear-plant meltdown and cost $220 billion. Japan is the most seismically prepared nation on earth. (Read that twice.) “If that was Portland,” quake expert Chris Goldfinger Told The New Yorker, “let’s just say I would rather not be here.”
The Fifth Sacred Thing was ahead of the curve when talking about COMMUNITY as RESILIENCE in the face of climate change.
But the search for safe zones is still on. Once upon a time, we were tribal and moveable. Has that time returned?
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