People aren’t acting like climate change is very dangerous

No, I don’t mean that people are still driving SUVs and going on plane trips; the tragedy of the commons means that it’s perfectly rational under many circumstances for individuals to continue to use a resource even if it’s potentially better for everybody to stop using it. I mean that Americans aren’t moving or settling in places which will be particularly advantaged by climate change in the next few decades.

Since I think water resources are an underestimated long-term environmental issue and because I think climate change is a real if sometimes overestimated set of independent dangers, I think it’s a mistake to move so much of the American population away from the Great Lakes (World’s Greatest Supply of Freshwater) and into the drought-and-hurricane-and-insect-borne-diseases belt further South. It’s true that the Rust Belt and the rural Northeast have had economic problems that coastal cities and the South haven’t had, but this is as much an effect as a cause of population loss, both because of reduced aggregate demand in places that lose population and because places that lose population are probably experiencing negative selection for human capital and experience atrophied skills and worsened social outcomes for those who remain– for example, counties with population loss from 2000 to 2005 had larger jumps in overdoses from 2005 to 2015:

popandod

Obviously, I don’t think it’s the US Government’s responsibility to ensure that nowhere in the US loses population or that people never move to drought-stricken or hurricane-prone areas- though California’s huge population growth from immigration and increasing water woes are somehow almost never discussed at the same time, nor the growth of the Florida immigrant population and the risks from sea-level rise. But the costs of climate change don’t all point in the direction of global action and global coordination, which is likely to be partial and inconsistent no matter who is president, but much more pointedly towards how we manage ecological risks and the distribution of the US population within the country.

3 thoughts on “People aren’t acting like climate change is very dangerous

  1. In a world of limited resources, I would prefer my tax dollars related to preventing catastrophes go to pandemic research or mapping asteroids, rather than climate change.

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    1. I think there’s a fairly strong case for better coastal protection, for example, regardless of how much worse you think storms are going to get. There’s a lot of different forms adaptation can take. Mitigation is a little different; I can make an argument for taxing fossil fuel emissions for the same reason you tax anything- you want the money- but how much difference it will make is arguable. I’ve yet to see a realistic proposal for how international treatymaking on climate change is supposed to work.

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  2. A native Michigander (Detroit, proper), I still think that the Great Lake State is one of the naturally best places on the globe for humans to thrive. The ability to profitably produce a staggering variety of grains, fruits and nuts, sand, stone, oil, gas, and water inexhaustible. The trouble is grey, dreary months of January and February, and a poisonous culture. Some day it will turn, but not right yet. I am in Florida now, but will move as soon as the time is right. I will probably die first.

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