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America’s climate havens of the future

An aerial view of the Isle of Jean Charles in Louisiana on August 24, 2022. They are considered the first American climate refugees since 2016. (Cécile Clocheret/AFP via Getty Images)
An aerial view of the Isle of Jean Charles in Louisiana on August 24, 2022. They are considered the first American climate refugees since 2016. (Cécile Clocheret/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate change is going to impact where humans can live.

“There could be as many as 13 million climate migrants in the United States this century,” Matt Hauer, a demographer at Florida State University, says. “That’s just from sea level rise, not hurricanes, wildfires, heat, drought, you name it.”

People in the South and West of this country are already experiencing those hurricanes and wildfires, but mostly staying put.

“Where people live is very sticky,” Beth Gibbons, executive director of the nonprofit American Society of Adaptation Professionals, says. “They’re reluctant to move … but the day is going to come that they are not going to be able to stay there.”

So where will they go?

“Northern cities need to plan for the arrival of migrants who are being driven to places which they perceive as … potential havens for them and their families,” Gibbons adds.

Those cities will have to build more schools, hospitals, fire stations and lots more affordable housing.

Today, On Point: America’s climate havens of the future.


Maria Agosto, she left Puerto Rico and moved to Buffalo, New York in 2017 after Hurricane Maria.

Matt Hauer, demographer at Florida State University who studies climate migration. (@theHauer)

Beth Gibbons, executive director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals.

Also Featured

Missy Stultz, sustainability manager for Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Amy Condorodis, real estate agent in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Transcript: A Family’s Journey From Puerto Rico To Buffalo, NY

In the decades to come, cities and towns in American’s northern tier are expected to become home to millions of new residents from the South and the West of the country.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, thousands of residents left the island and resettled as far north as Buffalo, New York.

One of them is Maria Agosto. She left Puerto Rico with her husband and four children and started a new life in Buffalo.

Below, Maria shares her story:

KIMBERLY ATKINS STOHR: Maria, tell us what it was like during Hurricane Maria, and what began your family’s journey North. Where were you while you were waiting to see if you were even able to go back to your house?

AGOSTO: We was in San Juan and the Arcadia of the Judy. … It was many people. It was more than 300 people that was there. They put us in different areas. … They have to put us just in one area, because the building … [had] broken windows, glasses. … It was so terrible … that even it was safe in that place we was.

ATKINS STOHR: Puerto Rico has experienced hurricanes before. This time, it destroyed your home. Tell us, what made you think that you would leave, not just temporarily, but leave Puerto Rico permanently?

AGOSTO: Because when I go back to my house, and just when we get inside the running station and I start to see the beginning, I just had to cry. We don’t take the kids. We leave the kids in the area … they keep us safe. They always have person to take care of the kids. They, you know, they have a good organization in the area. So they tell us, you guys could go and check your area, but don’t take the kids with you. Because we don’t know what we’re going to find when we go to the area we live. So when I go with my husband … it was still full of water. Now we have to leave the car parked.

… The water reached me to the half of my body. We don’t know when we continue walking, what we was touching. Because it was very black, the water. … One time I get to the front of my house, I just touch gray. When we get to the point to open the door, and I see myself at my house inside, I just start to cry.

ATKINS STOHR: Tell us how you got from that devastating moment to Buffalo, New York.

AGOSTO: They were asking, How many people would like to travel to USA to make a different life? … I tell [my husband], let’s try another life. More for the kids, more for the school. But in that point … I only have two kids with me. The other two was with the father in Fajardo, and we lost all their communication. No cell phone was working. … So I say, I know that my other two kids were okay. So we have to get this opportunity.

… So I put my name on the list. It was a very, very big list. And I say, God’s going to help us. That’s what we’re saying, God is going to help us. So it passed two weeks. And this person come back. There was person from an American airline. They come back with person from the government and everything. They start calling names and … I hear my name. I just had to scream and cry and run to the tables.

ATKINS STOHR: I’m going to move you ahead to when you finally arrived to Buffalo, because that’s a much different place than Puerto Rico. You have the winters. Your kids are in a new school. Tell us about how you adapted to that new life.

AGOSTO: We adapt very quick. …  I get here in November. In January, I get my first job. My husband get first job in March. And at that point, we started getting everything for us.

ATKINS STOHR: And do you think that there will be more people who make that move from Puerto Rico?

AGOSTO: Yes, I think so, yes. A lot of people, if they decided to come to Buffalo, they could make it work. I always say, if you feel that you can make it, you can make it. You have to just make the decision, I’ll make it. Once you make that decision, you can make anything in your life.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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