Under any model of climate change, scientists say, most of the country will look and feel drastically different in 2050, 2100 and beyond, even as cities and states try to adapt and plan ahead. Although few people today are moving long distances to strategize for climate change, some are at least pondering the question of where they would go.
"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."
Clifford E. Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a popular weather blog in which he predicts that the Pacific Northwest will be "a potential climate refuge" as global warming progresses. A Seattle resident, he foresees that "climate change migrants" will start heading to his city and to Portland, Ore., and surrounding areas.
Already, he said, Washington State is gearing up to become the next Napa Valley as California's wine country heats up and dries out.
In the Pacific Northwest, everything west of Interstate 5 covers some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.
FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.
The science is robust. We now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it.
The earthquake will have wrought its worst havoc west of the Cascades. The economy of the Pacific Northwest will collapse. Crippled by a lack of basic services, businesses will fail or move away. Many residents will flee as well. OSSPAC predicts a mass-displacement event and a long-term population downturn.
Danielle: How long have you been talking about moving to Seattle?
Jon: Heh. Over a decade now.
Jon: Shit, since I began talking about moving to Seattle, Jon Wilcox has moved to FIVE different cities – including Seattle.