What other region would put up with a moniker like “The Rust Belt”?
Would the West Coast be okay with “The Drought Belt”? How about “The Wildfire Belt” for the Mountain states? Or the “Flooded Cities Belt” for the East Coast?
But virtually every news outlet, including local ones, uses “Rust Belt” without a second thought. It’s time for them — and us — to stop.
Climate change is changing the game. Wild fire season, once confined to late summer and early fall, has already begun and not only in the Mountain West. Big fires are sweeping through western Nebraska as I write.
Meanwhile, hurricane season and the storms’ severity, frequency and geographical reach are all expanding. To quote the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: “It is important to note that while stronger hurricanes are more damaging, there are nearly 50 million homes and at least $1.4 trillion in assets within an eighth of a mile of the coast and a growing amount of property at risk in coastal areas. An important driver of the increased cost of hurricanes is increasing development in coastal areas. U.S. coastal populations grew by nearly 35 million people between 1970 and 2010. As more development occurs in harm’s way — regardless of climate change — the more likely the damage will grow.”
And if you think that’s bad, heat waves are actually the most deadly weather phenomena of all.
Add to all this the natural limitations of water scarcity and it all adds up to one thing: those so called “Rust Belt” states are going to be some of the best places to live over the coming decades as the effects of climate change grow.
To quote the online publication The Balance: “Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin figure to be very desirable in times of extreme climate effects. Besides their general freedom from nasty heat, these areas have the Great Lakes as a water source and one that doesn’t involve tsunamis, hurricanes, giant waves or sea-level-rise. The risk of floods that may exist may come from extensive rainfall. Cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit, and Madison, WI may be popular targets for relocation in the latter quarter of this century.”
Other analysis’ show a swath running from the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota through northern Wisconsin, the U.P., lower Michigan and out to Vermont as being the area most insulated from the worst of climate change.
The only thing I disagree with about that Balance paragraph above is the timing. The advantages of living in the Great Lakes states are going to be apparent long before the end of this century. Here in the north-center part of the country, we’re relatively insulated from the worst ravages of climate change. The wildfires of the West, the hurricanes and coastal flooding of the East Coast and the Gulf, the intense heat of the South (and last summer even the Pacific Northwest) — we’re immune from that stuff. To be sure, we’re not exempt from everything. More intense storms will continue to bring some tornadoes, damaging winds and occasional flooding in greater frequency and amounts than we’ve experienced historically. But compared to the absolute destruction of a wildfire or a hurricane, our problems will be a good deal more manageable.
I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an effort, here in the Upper Midwest, to tout the natural climate change advantages of our region. Because here’s the problem. Despite what should be the obvious advantages of the Upper Midwest, we’ve got a lot to overcome. For example, take a look at this video produced by Popular Science a few years ago. It concludes, whimsically, that we should all move to Michigan. But the tone of the whole production is that that’s either ridiculous or to be avoided at all costs. Michigan? I’d rather burn or drown!
For a deeper dive into the cultural resistance to the Midwest check out this article in the website FiveThirtyEight. Here’s their upshot: “The problem is one of both personal preferences and economics. We don’t all like the same weather. We seldom make investment choices on long time scales. We value things about our hometowns, other than whether they’re safe from a wildfire. It’s hard to predict which regions might win climate change when we don’t all agree on what “win” means.”
Which brings us back to this whole “Rust Belt” thing. Our region has a huge and growing natural advantage thanks to climate change and yet, unless we do something to shake off the negative image of the Midwest, people will resist those advantages. They’ll spend billions on flood walls and water projects and taxpayers will spend billions insuring homes in high-risk wildfire and flood zones, even if it’s obvious that the cheaper, more efficient solution is to pick up and come here.
As long as we blithely accept the image of “Rust Belt” we won’t make progress. Let’s object to that damn phrase every time we hear it or see it in print. Say it with me. We’re the Cool Belt.
Welcome to Midwest, a regular Sunday morning feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center.