Zo one of the great mysteries is why Americans are becoming more inclined to move to places climate scientists are increasingly inclined to warn about. A few days ago, the First Street Foundation released a comprehensive study that models how heat risk will change in the United States over the next 30 years: how hot it can get in different regions, how often it gets very hot, and how long it lasts heat phases on?
A partial finding is that much of Florida, the southern tip of Texas and southern California will experience 90 days or more of temperatures exceeding 38 degrees Celsius as early as next year. After that it gets steadily warmer. The threshold of 38 degrees is relevant because longer periods with outside temperatures above body temperature make you ill. The model considers the period of 30 years because mortgage loans usually last that long.
Texas is highly attractive
Ironically, most of the fastest growing cities in the USA are located in the heat regions identified by the model. This emerges from the UN report “World Urbanizations Prospects”, which was published in 2018 and extrapolates the development for the years 2020 to 2025. The front-runner in terms of immigration is The Woodlands, a community of 120,000 residents founded on the drawing board in the mid-1970s, 45 kilometers north of downtown Houston. Twice in a row, location service provider Niche has voted it the most livable community in the United States, most recently in 2021. The First Street model puts the heat risk for The Woodlands as follows: 54 percent of homes will be exposed to extreme heat within the next 30 years be, that is, temperatures of more than 38 degrees for a month or more. The weather service provider Weatherspark is already writing about the city: “The summers are hot and oppressive.”
Why do people want to move here? From 1940 to 1970, migration in the United States went in only one direction: millions of blacks moved from the Southern states to the big cities of the Northeast, leaving behind political discrimination, economic disadvantage and the occasional lynch mob. In the 1980s, however, this trend reversed. Gilles Duranton, urban studies researcher at the Wharton School, enumerates the reasons for this. The south gained the reputation of being more business-friendly than the north, where trade unions were particularly influential in the old industrial metropolises. Many southern states restricted the power of the unions and successfully lured factory start-ups, including from the auto industry, which lured with good wages. Oil industry corporations in particular have relocated their headquarters to the drawing board commune of The Woodlands. In addition, at least in the metropolises of the South, the racists have lost political weight.
But by far the most important factor, according to Duranton, is the cost of real estate. In large cities such as Boston, New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, hardly any additional living space is currently being created. In contrast, in the greater Houston area, “you can buy land and then build pretty much whatever you want,” says Duranton. There is also a lot of land around San Francisco, but nothing is allowed on it.