Who gets to move?
When I'm feeling particularly anxious or depressed about the climate crisis, I google land for sale in northern Maine. I zoom in on parcels of land, plot them on maps detailing sea level rise and soil geography before zooming out to the closest town and what amenities it offers. It feels prudent. It feels like giving up.
Global warming will shift the liveable places of the planet. There is no way around that. We're at the edge of what will likely become the greatest wave of global migration the world has ever seen. Already people are fleeing drought-hit areas in Latin America, Africa, and Asia and here in the U.S., a land grab is underway in places like Minnesota, Maine and other northern states.
Last week, as I drove through the small towns that make up northern Maine on our way home from Nova Scotia, I wondered if we could live here. When do I sell my current house, which I love? Now, when it's more than doubled in value in seven years? Before my child starts elementary school and we get even more settled? Wait until she goes to college? How much time do I have before the people clamoring to live in my town right now realize what I have slowly come to terms with—my tiny part of the world is no longer saveable from rising waters? And while those of us that live here may mention simply moving to the second floor and carrying on, it's the type of thing you say because the reality is too horrific. Within my lifetime, we will lose streets and houses to the rising water; within my child's, we could lose one of the main commercial districts.
Is it ethical for me to move? To profit off a place that will one day not be liveable? To add to the problem of soaring real estate prices in Maine, which are already making it harder for locals to buy homes and even start businesses (something I've written about). It makes me uneasy. It feels a bit like profiteering. What's my moral responsibility? And how do I balance my duty to society at large with the desire and obligation I have as a mother to ensure the best possible future for my child? There are no easy answers, but they are questions many of us will have to answer in the coming decades.
In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a recently released study found that it would be cheaper for the county to buy properties threatened by rising waters and eroding shorelines than to do a beach nourishment project to protect them. They're still figuring out whether there is enough political will to buy the homes and who ultimately funds the buy-outs. There is, of course, no outrunning the climate crisis, so while many of us will have to move, we also have to consider the role we play in our communities — how we create community cohesiveness, how our communities will respond to disasters, how communities welcome new people.
We'd been home for less than 48 hours when my daughter asked if someday we could go back to the beach in Nova Scotia. Instead of answering, I asked questions. About her favorite parts, what she was already missing, and if there was anything we could do at home that would be similar. Attempting to figure out how to recreate what she loved at home while wondering how so many of us will recreate homes elsewhere.
Bridget Shirvell lives in Mystic. This was her most recent newsletter.
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