With Climate Change, There May Be No Best Place to Live
Climate change is having a breakout performance this year. Throughout the U.S., the slow-motion calamity long described in scientific studies and news articles has been visible to the naked eye or felt on tingling flesh — here too wet, there too dry, everywhere too hot. It’s only human to wonder where the higher, safer ground might be. Where to run?
The answer: No one really knows. It’s not just that the map of places prone to extreme events is expanding, making the question both more pertinent and more difficult. It’s that, even as the reality of global climate change becomes ever more certain, predicting its local effects remains anything but a sure bet.
The unreliability of micro trends within a relentlessly advancing macro trend of global climate change is a recurring feature of scientific discussions. Earlier this year I talked to hydrologist Lisa Micheli, CEO of the Pepperwood Preserve, a climate research project in Sonoma, California. Northern California’s drought has been severe and pervasive. In recent years, fire has twice scorched the preserve where Micheli works.
Yet Micheli made a point of noting that uncertainty, as much as anything, still calls the tune. As parched and smoky as the local climate is, it still has the potential to change radically from the path it has been traveling, ultimately becoming wetter instead of drier.