Where Will America’s Climate-Change Refugees Go?

These cities are the most likely candidates, according to artificial intelligence

highway traffic into a city
The United States is forecasted to see mass migration from the coasts in the coming years.
Joey Kyber/Unsplash

According to a study published last week by three researchers in PLOS One, inland American cities should prepare for mass migration from the coasts.

Economist Juan Moreno Cruz, computer science assistant professor Bistra Dilkina, and engineering student Caleb Robinson used artificial intelligence to simulate how migration from rising sea levels would differ from baseline, “peaceful” migration, reports Gizmodo. Adjusted for increases in the American population over the years, the scientists concluded that certain cities across the United States will take on a disproportionate number of climate change refugees as the century rolls on.

Their algorithm predicts that “previously ‘unpopular’ migrant destinations (areas with relatively low numbers of incoming migrants) will be more popular solely due to their close proximity to counties that experience ‘direct effects.’” Specifically, cities like Atlanta and Dallas will take on the most migration, while suburban areas of the Midwest will also see a significant influx. It makes sense, as the East Coast is more vulnerable to flooding than the West Coast, and the populations of Miami and New Orleans are most at risk.

Cruz points out that when migrations occurs naturally, it’s a boon for economic growth in the chosen city or town. But when it occurs at a large scale, and is compelled by natural disaster, the impact can be devastating for communities that aren’t prepared. Which leads to a simple, however uncomfortable, conclusion: cities in America’s heartland must be as concerned about rising sea levels as families living in Boston or Charleston.

City planners, architects, local governments, medical professionals, the whole lot of them should be reading studies like this. Massachusetts and North Carolina will catch the initial headlines — flooding, soil contamination, ecosystems destroyed — but those stories will march west, as displaced people look for a new home. Sea levels have risen 6.5 inches since 1950, and half of that rise has occurred since 2000. It’s not good, and it’s better we know that and plan accordingly instead of sticking our fingers in our ears and letting Gen Z solve everything.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.