By now you’ve all probably heard about the terrifying new climate report from a bipartisan group of ex-cabinet officials that outlines the impending economic horrors associated with climate change, on top of the usual environmental ones. For example, due to rising sea levels, as much as $681 billion worth of Florida real estate could be underwater by the end of the century. Literally under water, not the metaphorical you-owe-more-on-your-mortgage-than-your-home-is-worth thing. Although as a consequence, that too, no doubt.
Extreme heat, rising sea levels, intensified storms, and shifting rain patterns could cost hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives nationally. But it’s interesting to note that here in Cascadia, not so much:
The Northwest is among the least exposed to climate-driven agricultural, mortality, energy, and labor productivity impacts; however, the region is likely to experience an increase of 3 to 8 times the number of hot days per year by the end of the century.
I hate the heat, so shifting from our current average of 5 days a year of 95 degree weather or warmer to an additional 18 to 41 such days a year by the end of the century would really suck. But it’s all relative. In the same time frame, the Southwest could be suffering as many as 110 extreme heat days a year, and the Southeast as many as 138!
As for sea level, the Northwest might actually see it fall a bit over the next few decades, or rise only slightly, thanks to the reduced gravitational pull from Alaska’s shrinking glaciers! (Really. I’m not making that up.)
Yeah, our own snowpack is predicted to decline as more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, but if we start planning now, that’s something we can manage. There’s plenty of opportunity for conservation, and a few more reservoirs could help even out the dry periods. Also, we could always tap in to the oft criticized Brightwater sewage treatment plant’s impressive greywater capacity (99.9 percent clean!) to help further reduce demands on potable water. (Thanks for planning ahead, Ron Sims!)
So compared to the rest of the country, we won’t have it so bad. And while it may sound cold-hearted to say so, that means global warming could give Seattle a competitive economic advantage.
Think about it. Where would you rather live or start a business? Relatively temperate 22nd century Seattle with our mild winters and mere three or four weeks of 95-plus-degree days? Or storm-battered, steadily-sinking Florida with its four and a half months a year of oppressive heat and equally oppressive humidity? And then there’s the arid Southwest, where summer temperatures already routinely exceed 110 degrees. Phoenix area boosters have long pitched their region as “the next Silicon Valley”—crank up the heat much further and they could achieve that vision quite literally as the surrounding desert melts into glass.
Look, I’m not making light of climate change. It’s a fucking disaster. But if you don’t think people are going to want to move to the Pacific Northwest to escape the brutal heat elsewhere in the country, you’re crazy. Rain or shine, Seattle’s weather is going to become one of its major selling points over the next half century. So if you think housing costs and traffic congestion are at crisis levels now, just wait and see how bad things get with a few million more people packed into the region.
Or rather, let’s not wait. Let’s plan.