Will Michigan become a ‘climate haven?’

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Should Michigan be preparing for a mass migration of people in the future because of the effect of climate change on other parts of the country?

News 8 spoke with experts behind one of the leading research projects exploring the idea of “climate havens.”

While many scientists are focused on the current consequences of climate change, Beth Gibbons, the executive director of the American Society of Adaption Professionals (ASAP), is looking into the future, specifically exploring whether extreme weather changes will eventually force people to relocate to climate-resilient areas.

Gibbons said these so-called climate havens tend to be places away from the extreme heat and the coast, making Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes region a top candidate.

“I call (it) a tantalizing idea,” Gibbons said. “That with an abundance of fresh water, with a climate that is relatively temperate compared to other regions and with a history of innovation (and) of great cities… you could imagine that the Great Lakes (region) would be a place that people would be moving to as a climate refuge.”

Based in Ypsilanti, ASAP and its network of researchers and practitioners are focused on ways in which people and places can begin to address the concept of climate migration.

“How do we prepare places that are receiving climate migrants to be sure they are prepared for population and economic changes for the future?” Gibbons said.

Still decades away from their research predicting any sizable migration shifts due to climate change, Gibbons said it’s important for places to begin having this conversation.

According to her, the city of Ann Arbor partnered with the research project early on. She said officials there are interested in considering the potential of a future influx in population when it comes to upcoming infrastructure projects.

“They want to know if they need to be updating their stormwater facility for what they have projected as their historic growth model or if they need to start thinking about new residents coming over the life of that infrastructure upgrade… a lifecycle that’s 50 to 70 years,” Gibbons said.

Officials with the city of Grand Rapids told News 8 there are no active discussions at the local level regarding climate havens.

“We are aware of the concept (and) are watching what other communities are doing and are doing some cursory research on our own,” Grand Rapids Sustainability and Performance Management Officer Alison Waske Sutter said.

So exactly how many new residents should Michigan expect as a result of climate migration? Dr. Matthew Hauer, a researcher working with ASAP on the project, hopes to have those numbers by the end of year. He plans to generate county-by-county data points by tweaking his existing demography model, predicting migration patterns based on rising sea levels, by factoring in other climate changes like extreme heat.

“There’s the extreme heat, there are wildfires, there’s drought,” Gibbons said. “So we’re trying to figure out what would be the threshold of where people are starting to move and then look at where people would move from and then what’s the likelihood of migration to the Great Lakes Region.”

Hauer told News 8 preliminary data suggests the Great Lakes region will see stronger migration patterns once other climate factors are applied to the model.

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