In 2017, a wildfire came dangerously close to their neighborhood in Sonoma County. Then, two years later, while visiting Duluth on the advice of a coworker, another fire forced her parents to evacuate their home.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Welch, 40, told AFP.
Duluth, in the far north of the United States, is known for its extremely cold and snowy winters, driven by powerful winds blowing off Lake Superior.
But despite its harsh climate, this city of 86,000 is starting to make a name for itself as a haven for people fleeing the effects of climate change.
Wildfires, which scientists say have become more frequent and powerful around the world because of climate change, also convinced John Jenkins to trade the golden beaches of California for the icy shores of Duluth.
“The air smells clean. The water is one of the best in the world. It’s so clean, it’s pristine, it’s beautiful,” Jenkins, 38, told AFP inside the restaurant he bought and renovated in the city.
Even on winter days that drop below -29 °C, Welch and Jenkins don’t regret their decisions.
And the Jenkins family has only grown. Since he moved here with his wife, he has two children and many other family members have joined them.
Around the world, climate change has already displaced thousands of people involuntarily. But Jenkins and Welch may also like “climate migrants.”
They are part of a small but potentially growing group of people for whom climate change is affecting quality of life, job opportunities and housing prices alongside traditional factors where it is getting stronger.
The sun rises over the city of Duluth, Minnesota, on April 13, 2023. In the far north of the United States, Duluth, with a population of 86,000, is known for its snowy winters and almost sea breezes from the vast Lake Superior. Today, the city is talked about as a possible future “climate paradise”.
Jesse Keenan, an associate professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University, is responsible for much of the buzz surrounding Duluth these days.
An expert in urban planning and climate adaptation, Keenan started a few years ago on where climate-conscious Americans would like to live.
Thus, he identified several cities, including Buffalo in the upstate of New York (east), and Detroit in Michigan (northeast).
But Duluth, a historically industrial city with lots of high-quality, affordable housing, “has benefited from many years of investment by the state of Minnesota to try to foster a sustainable economy,” he explained.
The shores of Lake Superior offer another advantage.
According to Keenan, “Fresh water is the new oil.”
So far, many residents seem willing to have more neighbors if the newcomers can accommodate.
“I think it’s wonderful,” says Lezlie Ochs, a 65-year-old retiree. “But they have to get used to the fact that it’s cold here most of the time,” he remarked.
Local officials have taken a very different tone on the city’s growing popularity.
“It’s like we’re still putting on our oxygen masks. We’re not ready to help the passenger next to us, and yet the weather tells us to do so. And that’s a lot,” he exemplifies. Said through.
In addition, Larsen considers it a “predatory” to play a “marketing ploy” based on climate change in California or elsewhere, “I’m so sorry … but you can come here because it’s colder than the lake. ”
Keenan argues that this is the wrong way of looking at things.
He said, “Whatever you do, people are going to come one way or another.”
Larsen’s office declined to speak to AFP.
According to Keenan the challenge facing Duluth is “quite simple” and there are two options:
Either the city can “promote sustainable urban growth”, requiring investment in housing and transport, or growth – willing or forced – will develop in the traditional way, with a car-dependent expansion and the poorest residents eliminated Excluded from a kind of “climate gentrification”.
Duluth is a place for “climate optimists” who “believe we can do it, that we can decarbonize the world.”
But the experts also have their concerns.
“It’s a beautiful part of the country. And it’s a very sensitive ecological domain,” says Keenan, adding that without warning: a booming Duluth, “if it’s not done right, it could make things worse.” could.”