First published: Jul 28, 2022, 3:49pm EDT
Last edited: Aug 2, 2022, 12:09pm EDT

Anthropocene Calamity, part 9: Project Lifeboat

This is part 9 of an 11 part series. For the introductory post to set the tone, please see Holy shit things are super bad.

Armed with climate models, we can now make reasonable estimates: for a given area, is it hugely impacted by climate change? At least for North America, the answer for anything outside of the Rust Belt, weirdly, is probably yes, though some areas especially. Florida will be underwater, the American Southwest will be fighting over whatever snow runoff still makes it to the Colorado River, etc., etc. Note that my climate models don’t even really account well for wildfire risk, tornado risk, hurricane risk, etc.

So, are we evacuating these hugely impacted areas? Look, this sucks. It’s hard for people to move, to get new housing and new jobs, and some people can’t do this easily. But 70% of Saudi Arabia’s electricity is being used for air conditioning already and that’s definitely making the problem worse. Some areas are just too hard and too impacted to meaningfully save. Huge parts of the planet are going to become unlivable whether or not we put our collective heads into sand. Let’s save as many people as we can.

Are we making the future-not-terrible areas ready for a massive influx of people? We need strong support for immigration. We need farm-adjacent high density housing and sustainable infrastructure in these places. Luckily the Rust Belt still has an excess of infrastructure from manufacturing’s heyday and doesn’t (currently) have insane housing prices. People who don’t want high density housing in their backyard are everywhere, not just San Francisco, so that’s why we need YOU, YES YOU, to move to these places and start voting and putting political pressure in place for farm-adjacent high density housing in your backyard! Growing housing and population will also grow jobs in these areas.

In other words, we need to get to the lifeboats and also we don’t have enough lifeboats. We’re going to need to make lifeboats as we row.

So, what can you do? What are your next steps? There are at least four major groups of steps you can take, without waiting for government intervention, today!

Move from bad areas to good areas

If you are in a bad area, start planning a move to a good area. There are definitely areas on the line; we don’t all need to move to the Rust Belt, but likewise we should probably also not all be moving to Miami. If you’re in an area that might be okay, this section is less for you.

Move in or move with family and friends to reduce housing pressure. We want to keep housing demand as low as possible. In other words, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others (get yourself to a good area), of course, but don’t also take other people’s oxygen masks or housing opportunities.

Moving might be hard for you! Jobs, family, friends, yep. All the same, move as soon as you can.

Why should you move? It’s much harder to change the politics of a place you don’t live in, and we need to make sure the politics of climate-friendly destinations are full of people who are (1) taking this seriously and (2) care about climate equity and justice. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you’re getting yourself, family, and friends to safety before it becomes logistically harder to do so.

If you work remotely and are able to move, you cause localized economic growth in your new area. Assuming you work remotely and spend locally, you are bringing income to the area and, at least in the short term, this in aggregate will create more jobs in your area, allowing more people to move there.

Make sure to tell everyone who will listen that you are moving due to the climate! This is an easy opportunity to be the fire alarm. “Wait, seriously, we’re at life-up-rooting urgency?” is a thing you can get through everyone’s heads very easily! And yes, that’s where we are!

Just a note - the planet’s ecological demise is not some huge investment opportunity! We must keep housing as affordable as possible in the good areas to avoid turning this into an even bigger dystopia where only the wealthy survive. Investing in existing housing drives housing prices up by lowering inventory, so don’t do that. If you need to deploy additional wealth, focus on developing additional (high density) housing or investment in climate-robust agriculture! We’re going to need it!

Minimize your own global interdependence (and thus, carbon footprint)

Once you’re in a not-bad place, now it’s time to figure out how to sustainably reduce your joint probability of needing something you can’t get. If the climate emergency causes civilizational collapse, your chances (and carbon footprint) are much better if you can survive within your local community.

Here’s a decent rule of thumb to avoid macroeconomic instability: how much of what you depend on in a day is generated within a (long) biking distance from your home? It is good to be able to import from other regions if your region is impacted by extreme weather and suffering, but it is also good to be able to rely on your region if other regions are impacted!

My family and I recently moved from Salt Lake City to Northern Michigan (guess why?! See the next post!). Northern Michiganders talk about “shopping local” and Utahns talk about “shopping local” and there’s just no way these two groups have any idea what the other group is experiencing. In Northern Michigan, shopping local is literally buying almost all of your groceries from the farm stall up the road. We live in a rural area and probably only need bikes! Having grown up in Utah, it’s just incredible. In Salt Lake City, it’s much more abstract of an ideal; maybe your grocery store has a “Made in Utah” sticker on 10% of the stuff trucked in for you. You want the Northern Michigan version.

But I don’t just mean groceries, I also mean energy, services, jobs. Is your electricity generated by a nearby solar farm, wind farm, or rooftop solar? If you have room for gardening, are you? Can you get egg-laying hens? The more food you generate for yourself, the more robust your entire community is. If you have a surplus, you can share, and if you live in an area where it is likely your neighbors have a surplus, they can share with you. Can you repair things that break by yourself? Is your region, or even better, your house, going to be able to provide for itself if it’s cut off from the outside world for a bit?

If your answer is “I need to import a lot,” you probably should consider reorganizing your life so you need to import less.

I’m not really advocating for underground nuclear bunkers and rugged individual self-reliance, but hey, if the cold war preppers were reacting to a reasonably likely threat at the time, we shouldn’t avoid reacting to an extremely likely threat! Is becoming prepper-adjacent a sign that we’re overreacting? The climate science is really clear about the risks to global crop and food production and extreme weather events. Just this week the weather forecast for the great plains is apparently getting nuked from top to bottom, and this could be the coldest year for the rest of your life! We need to take this really seriously. Things could get extremely bad and we have time now to plan.

Get a job in Climate!

Finding a community also working hard to address our most pressing issues is heartening and healthy for you! It feels good to make a difference and do meaningful work that matters! If you want to find a climate-motivated company that will pay your bills and is hiring, check out:

Many hire remotely, which may assist you in your move! Who knows, maybe you’ll find an innovative breakthrough that gets us out of this mess!

Note that for some roles, your maximum leverage may be to stay at your current job and advocate for green decisions, more than it is to leave your high leverage job and start at a new company.

Organize and get involved in local politics

Once you get your own ducks in a row, it’s time to raise a ruckus. A recent study found that “experiencing eco-anger predicted better mental health outcomes, as well as greater engagement in pro-climate activism and personal behaviours.” So get angry! Get into the fight! It’s good for you!

If you are in a reasonably climate-safe area, advocate specifically for lots of building and YIMBYism, or “Yes, In My Backyard.” If we don’t explicitly advocate for policies that drop the cost of housing, avoiding climate uninhabitability will be something only rich people can do, and despite what people say to shoot down YIMBYs, building works. Building is the best thing that consistently drops the cost of housing. From the Financial Times:

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of Califoria (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

Tokyo’s steady construction is linked to a still more startling fact. In contrast to the enormous house price booms that have distorted western cities — setting young against old, redistributing wealth to the already wealthy, and denying others the chance to move to where the good jobs are — the cost of property in Japan’s capital has hardly budged.

This is not the result of a falling population. Japan has experienced the same “return to the city” wave as other nations.

Tokyo does not have a skyrocketing housing cost problem, and the main difference is their enormous pace of building new living space.

What should the messaging be here? Folks that already live where I just moved seem to be pretty concerned about a growth and influx of people. They’ve been extremely welcoming, but also have an extremely low tolerance for traffic, if that makes sense. So far, I think the best messaging is this: be aware that an influx of people is coming no matter what. As the climate shifts it’s inevitable. What we have right now is the benefit of foresight and we can use this time to prepare. Now is the time to be thinking about infrastructure and city and traffic planning, to keep the pain to a minimum.

New housing should not use oil and gas, nor should it be car-dependent suburbia! Geothermal is becoming affordable, mini-split heat pumps are taking the world by storm, inductive stove tops are delightful, and solar panels are musts. Don’t skimp on high R-value insulation, and keep that biking-distance rule of thumb in mind!

Advocate for strong towns and resilient cities. We need development planning that has a primary emphasis on Circular economies and long-term sustainability.

And finally, we need a huge push to enable large amounts of immigration. We may soon all be climate refugees, and we need to welcome refugees with open arms. Luckily, unrestricted immigration is basically uniformly good in nearly every respect. Seriously, there’s a whole fantastic, highly rated book about it.

Okay, so, this is about the maximum extent of my strategy so far. There are quite a bit of action items in here. I have some ideas of what might come after but none that I’m sure of.

Either way, I did start acting! The next post reiterates some widely reported bad news for my home state of Utah. Part 10: A personal update.