The successful resettlement of Puerto Ricans in Buffalo after Hurricane María shows how climate migration is an adaptation strategy that can benefit everyone: those who welcome refugees with open arms and those in desperate need of safe haven.
Six years after María laid waste to Puerto Rico, killing at least 3,000 and destroying tens of billions of dollars in critical infrastructure, thousands of islanders have made Buffalo, New York, their permanent home, writes Yale Climate Connections. Community leaders like the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York “led the charge, working with the city, faith-based groups, veterans groups, news outlets, and even a theater company” to help raise money and collect supplies, enabling Buffalo to offer a warm and sustained welcome to 5,000 climate refugees in 2017.
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Some returned to their home island, but thousands of others opted to put down roots, a decision reflected in Buffalo’s 2020 census, which showed an uptick in population for the first time in 70 years.
The new residents have enriched the city’s already vibrant Puerto Rican community while contributing to everyday life, with new businesses springing up, especially restaurants, Yale Climate Connections writes.
“They’re part of the fabric of western New York now,” Casimiro Rodriguez, Sr., the heritage council’s founder and president emeritus, told YCC. The former climate migrants “live in homes, they work, they’re taking care of their families, and in some cases, they’re helping their families back home that elected to stay.”
With the World Bank projecting in 2021 that more than 216 million people may be on the move by 2050—in desperate flight ahead of home-annihilating climate impacts—researchers and policy-makers are pushing to understand what this scale of migration will mean. Key questions include where people will move, how communities can prepare for new residents, and even what home really means to refugees.
Derek Van Berkel, assistant professor of data science, geovisualization and design at the University of Michigan, is working with colleagues, policy-makers, and practitioners to model various scenarios under which climate migrants come to a city seeking sanctuary.
Van Berkel described his modeling as something akin to a video game—“Sim City driven by the actual urban form in a city.” The scope of his work is defined by questions like: “What happens if 250,000 people come to your city?” or “What happens if 25,000 people come to your city?” The simulation model focuses on options for where people could live, including dense urban areas and suburbs, while addressing challenges related to infrastructure and other factors, writes YCC.
In a recent article in the journal Earth’s Future, Van Berkel and colleagues argue that preparing for climate migration is imperative for the Great Lakes region. The area is likely to be attractive to those fleeing climate impacts, they say, as it remains relatively safe from many of those impacts.
Emphasizing equity while planning ahead to welcome future migrants will be a boon for all, they write. “If migration is treated as an adaptation strategy—incorporated in community climate action and planning—rather than a hazard, there are several ways that such efforts can cultivate more desirable and just outcomes for both current and potential future residents.”