In the far north of the United States, Duluth, with a population of 86,000, is known for its snowy winters and near snowdrifts from the vast Lake Superior.
Standing on the cold shore of Lake Superior, the ice melting in the upstate Minnesota sun, Christina Welch recalls why she traded the vineyards of northern California in the American West for the icy city of Duluth.
In 2017, a wildfire came dangerously close to her neighborhood in Sonoma County. Then two years later, while he was visiting Duluth on the advice of a colleague, another fire forced his parents to leave 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 very cold and snowy winters, caused by the strong winds that blow from Lake Superior. But despite the harsh environment, this city of 86,000 has begun to make a name for itself as a haven for those fleeing the effects of climate change.
Wild animals, which scientists say have become more numerous and powerful around the world due to climate change, even persuaded John Jenkins to trade gold from the coasts of California to the icy shores of Duluth.
“The air smells clean. The water is the best in the world. It’s very clean, pristine, beautiful,” Jenkins, 38, told AFP inside the restaurant he bought and renovated in the city.
Even on winter days that dip below -29 degrees Celsius, Welch and Jenkins do not regret their decision. But the Jenkins family just grew. When his wife moved here, he had two children and several family members joined them.
Around the world, climate change is inadvertently displacing thousands of people. But Jenkins and Welch could also be considered “climate migrants.”
They are part of a small but potentially growing group of people for whom climate change, along with traditional factors such as lifestyles, work opportunities and house prices, will influence where they stand.
Jesse Keenan, an associate professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University, answers a lot of the buzz around Duluth these days.
A specialist in urbanism and climate adaptation, Keenan started a few years ago where climate-conscious Americans want to live. Thus many cities, including Buffalo, New York and Detroit in Michigan were brought into turmoil.
But Duluth, a historically industrial city with many upscale, affordable housing, “has benefited from many years of investment by the state of Minnesota. That is to try to promote a sustainable administration,” he explained.
The shores of Lake Superior offer another advantage. “The new water is the new oil,” according to Keenan. So far, many residents seem willing to have more neighbors if they can accommodate the immigrants.
“I think it’s strange, but they’re used to it being cold most of the time around here,” said Lezlie Oachs, a 65-year-old retiree.
“DULUTH IS A PLACE OF ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMISTS”
Local authorities took a markedly different tone about the city’s growing popularity. “It looks like we’re still wearing our oxygen masks. We are not ready to help the passenger beside us, and yet the weather calls us to do so. As it is with real estate, for that is what has been said.
In addition, Larson thinks that the “predator” is running a “marketing ploy” based on climate changes in California or elsewhere by saying, “Yes, I’m sorry, but you can come here because it’s cooler near the lake.”
Keenan argues that this is the wrong view of things. “People are going to come here and there no matter what you do,” he said. Larson’s office declined to speak to AFP.
The attack against Duluth “is very simple” and there are two options, according to Keenan. The first is that the city can promote “sustainable urban development” with the investments it requires in housing and transportation. The second has to do with willing or forced growth.
“Dying will only grow with car-dependent expansion and the poorest residents being excluded in a kind of climate of gentrification.”
Duluth is a place of “climate optimists,” people who “believe we can, we can decarbonize the world.” but even the most skilled man has his care.
“It’s a beautiful part of the country. And it has a very sensible economy,” Keenan insists, who, however, warns: they sounded Duluth, “if it’s not done well, it could do worse.” And not.