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It's Going to Get a Little Crowded...

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

tl;dr: You're going to get new neighbours soon

This might be a strange concept to grasp, but apparently people don't like living in places that cannot provide basic needs like shelter, food, and water. Obvious sarcasm aside, most people don't spend that much time thinking about the consequences of becoming climate refugees. They also don't think that they will ever be one. It is a reality that is not reserved for disaster movies, but something that will impact many people who perceived themselves immune to this problem.

Like almost all things, population growth is something that can bring enormous benefit and also significant problems. More and more developed nations are becoming increasingly alarmed at the negative growth rates of their populations. Negative birth rates are largely due to societal priorities moving away from marriage and children for working women, which is completely understandable. However, the overall global population is still relentlessly expanding at around 81 million new people per year. That is the equivalent of adding a new Germany. Large numbers sometimes tend to reduce someone's ability to comprehend the issue, so let's go a little smaller in scope.

There are over 6 million people that live in the metro Miami, FL area. Miami is an interesting location because it is under threat from rising sea levels AND increased tropical storm severity and frequency. Many people don't know that Miami is also under threat of fresh water scarcity. Miami was built on the Biscayne Aquifer, a 4,000 square mile limestone structure that filters rainwater and river water from the swamp into the ocean. This feature was one of the reasons why Miami could grow and flourish. It was relatively easy to access lots and lots of fresh water, and because the aquifer is so close to the surface, it was cheap to get to it. Its proximity to the surface is exactly why it could be destroyed. Flooding impacts this aquifer. Compounding this issue is the heavy metal contaminants that floodwaters inject into Miami's freshwater source. Harmful chemicals like arsenic, cyanide, mercury, nickel, lead, cadmium, etc. make it increasingly dangerous to consume without treatment. Treatment adds cost. That cost makes cheap water more expensive.

This is what makes the field of sustainability so interesting. While the first two threats of rising sea levels and horrible hurricanes are completely climate related, the Biscayne Aquifer risks are not. What threatens the ability to provide clean water to the residents is directly related to choices on how we live, what we produce, and the methods that we utilize in the interests of efficiency. Climate change is like the magician that causes you to focus on a certain aspect of the trick, while the other actions escape unnoticed. Sustainability looks into the areas previously minimized.

Miami is not alone when facing existential crises. Many cities are becoming challenging places to live. Did you notice that I didn't say are going to become? This is because the issues that impact viable existence are not in the future, they are today. We have seen climate displacement due to tropical storms before. New Orleans is still recovering from the population loss from Hurricane Katrina. As difficult as that situation was, we will see people be forced to leave their homes and communities for other reasons that are directly related to our inability to manage our resources in increasingly difficult situations.

This is not theoretical. The top five countries with the most displacements has the USA in it. This is not something that will be an outlier. More and more people in the US will have to seriously consider if living where they are at is possible. Cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix, and El Paso are facing critical water issues. The combined populations of these cities is over 31 million people. If they cannot continue to live where they are at, where do you think they will end up going? That's right, possibly in your community. This is just examining water access as the issue. There are other factors that jeopardize habitability that only compound this problem. The reality is that many cities are going to have to make some hard decisions. These decisions aren't about what to do in 2050, but what to do now in order to survive.

Sustainability work can't prevent all the bad scenarios from happening, but it can reduce the impact to prevent the fewest number of displacements possible. We've consumed too much, too fast, and too irresponsibly, and the bill has come due. Many people thought the price would be collected many years in the future. That is not the case. Unfortunately, where we stand today is that it won't just be a select few in certain regions that pay the price, it will be all of us. Every city, town, municipality needs to start work tackling the sustainability issues impacting their community. This is not a "we'll get to it when we can." This is right now. Tackling these issues is not about assigning blame or criticism for locations immediately impacted. No community is protected from sustainability threats, plain and simple. We all need to be working together to embrace sustainability concepts and principles in our lives. Because it's gonna get crowded if we don't.

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