Charlie Buttrey

March 16, 2023

This winter, for the first time in three years (thank you, COVID), I had the privilege of coaching the Thetford Academy indoor track team. One of our athletes is a young woman whose family moved to Vermont from California. I am taken to understand that they had simply had enough of the floods, droughts and wildfires, all of which have been exacerbated by climate change.

The era of the climate refugee has begun. Vermont would seem to be a logical place for a climate refugee to land; our summers are not too hot, our winters (alas) are no longer bitterly cold, we don’t have to worry about the rise of coastal waters, and we have been spared — so far — from the cycle of drought and floods that have affected other areas.

But, for the moment at least, the hot spot for climate refugees appears to be Duluth, Minnesota.

According to THIS article in the New York Times, Duluth was dubbed “climate-proof” in 2019 by Tulane University professor Jesse Keenan during a lecture at Harvard.  Duluth has an ample supply of freshwater, and its location — particularly for those who can work remotely — makes it ideal for those finding a more climate-friendly place to live. The summers are not too hot and the winters are… okay, the winters are cold.

After its massive steel and cement manufacturing complex closed, followed by other factory closures, Duluth’s population shrunk from nearly 107,000 in 1960 to just 84,000 in 2008. But in the last five years, Duluth saw 2,494 new residents from out of state. According to the Times, real estate agents in Duluth say that nearly every out-of-town client now mentions concerns about rising temperatures and natural disasters as a motivation for their move.

Other cities are getting into the act. Buffalo, New York, for example, has leaned into the label of “climate refuge” with outreach and marketing campaigns. But Duluth’s mayor is not completely sold on the idea.  Says Mayor Emily Larson, “The idea that we are so ignoring the needs of our planet that people have to move is terrifying. It’s dystopian.”



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