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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Thinking of moving? You're not alone.

Uploaded: Oct 18, 2020
This would be funny if it weren’t also true. Just today (1), I got:
- A warning about extreme heat (a “Heat advisory”)
- A notice about “public safety power shutoffs” in Santa Clara County
- A cancelled morning hike due to a “Red Flag warning” day (fire danger)
- An email about “The Great Shakeout” (practice for earthquakes)
- A nice beefy property tax bill

All that was missing was an alert that our home value is dropping due to rising Bay waters, or maybe that taxes are going up due to the need to prepare for droughts. (Oh wait, isn’t that part of Measure S?)


SF Chronicle’s map showing fire risk areas and power outages on Thursday, October 15

In our house, air filters and uninterruptible power supplies are plugged in, ready to be used. We’ve got poles out so we can easily close our skylights. We pulled down our shades first thing this morning to keep it cool inside. I gave some extra water to a few plants and set up a protective screen for another. I know how to do this now. The question is, do I want to?

I bet a lot of you have friends who took an extended break from this area recently due to smoke or COVID or some combination. Did that inspire thoughts of moving? There’s a lot of inertia to packing up. People often don’t move when economists believe they “should”. A reporter who has done years of research on climate migration, Abrahm Lustgarten, lives in a high-risk fire area in Marin County, an “imperiled tinderbox” as he puts it. He asked Jesse Keenan, an expert on the effects of climate change on real estate markets, if he should be selling his house, and got an immediate “Yes”. But when he discussed the situation with his wife: “The facts were clear and increasingly foreboding. Yet there were so many intangibles -- a love of nature, the busy pace of life, the high cost of moving -- that conspired to keep us from leaving.”



I’m sure many of us feel similar inertia. I wouldn’t go anywhere until my daughter’s done high school. But after that? Is it a good time to be ahead of the curve? I love cooler weather and the outdoors, so New England or the northwest (the part not on fire) seem appealing. I’m also Canadian, which opens up more possibilities assuming I could swallow the exit tax. I expect all those places dread an influx of California refugees. But could it happen?

Climate migration is not just theoretical; it’s happening today. Drought is impacting rural livelihoods in places as far-flung as Guatemala, where people are moving north, and the African Sahel (2), where people are moving to cities and the coast. Storms and floods are causing urban migrations in India and Bangladesh. Migrations are starting to happen in the States as well. We tend to ignore climate impacts here, assuming that technology will keep us comfortable and productive. But the costs of that can be prohibitive. People are beginning to abandon coastal areas in Louisiana, moving to drier land in the interior. Real-estate prices in high-risk areas of Florida are dropping. Flooding along the Missouri and the eastern seaboard has led to contentious discussions about managed retreat. Lustgarten suggests that people move when they are forced to, for example when insurance coverage disappears, when decreased property tax reduces local services, when subsidies and loans dry up. He quotes Keenan as saying “Once this flips, it’s likely to flip very quickly.”

By some measures, it’s pretty good where we live. ProPublica shares some county-by-county data predicting the impacts of climate change in the next 20-40 years assuming the (highly unlikely) worst-case IPCC scenario. San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties are among the least impacted in California. San Mateo County is impacted by sea level rise, and Santa Clara County by fire. But places like Fresno County fare much worse, with impacts from heat, fires, and low-yield agriculture. Southern states including Florida and Texas are even worse off. Lustgarten writes “One influential 2018 study, published in The Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, suggests that one in 12 Americans in the Southern half of the country will move toward California, the Mountain West or the Northwest over the next 45 years because of climate influences alone.”

There’s no doubt that as people leave the Bay Area, others will move in. This region is, and will remain, more livable than many others. But the ProPublica data does not reflect air quality, or power shut-offs, or closed recreational areas, or cancelled outdoor activities, or the many other responses to changing climate that etch away at quality of life. By those measures, it’s for each of us to determine whether we stay or go. Has anyone been thinking about this?

Notes and References
0. Just in time for the holidays, Acterra is hosting an event with six local Bay Area chefs explaining how to prepare their favorite plant-based holiday dishes. In addition to live cooking demonstrations, the hosts will discuss practical tips and tricks on how to embrace a more plant-forward diet, reduce food waste, and work with an induction stove. See here for more information and to register.

1. I started writing this post a few days ago.

2. The African Sahel is the band of Africa just below the Sahara, going from Mauritania across Niger to Sudan.

3. Two good places to read about climate migration are ProPublica’s coverage and Quartz’s coverage. They talk not only about the impact on people who are forced to migrate but also about the impact on cities and people in areas less affected by climate, and how they can adapt to better handle an influx of climate migrants. Rolling Stone has a great article cautioning that a tendency to overstate the migration problem is feeding nationalism, pointing out (with many examples) that most migration happens within a country. And the Brookings Institution has a policy brief that highlights the lack of concerted effort, particularly by the US, on this issue.

Current Climate Data (September 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

August 2020 and September 2020 were the hottest on record in California. October is on the same track. It’s 95 in mid-October as I write this.

The Earth didn’t fare much better, with the warmest September temperatures since record-keeping started in 1880.

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Comments

 +   40 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:01 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

Any regional recommendations (as well as nice places to reside) in the continental United States that is free from
(1) earthquakes, (2) tornados, (3) hurricanes, and (4) winter blizzards?

Other criteria include (1) minimal traffic gridlock, (2) non-touristy, (3) non-redneck local political base, and (3) a pleasant year-round climate.

Seriously planning to exit the Edgewood Drive neighborhood & leave the maxed-out overdevelopment of Palo Alto to the plethora of nouveau riche 'newbies' in search of a delusional suburban Mecca.

Currently checking out small NorCal & SoCal beach communities that are still below the radar when it comes to weekend tourist traffic...an ongoing challenge.

Some other friends moved to Sedona, AZ, Taos, NM, & Telluride, CO decades ago & are now planning their exit strategies as every nice area/region ALWAYS seems to get ruined by newer, incoming residents & the tourist trade.

Might even consider Baja...eat spiny lobster & ceviche everyday (washed down with a few local brews) & work on a beat-up boat like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption.

Anything to get away from here.


 +   17 people like this
Posted by hanger-on, a resident of another community,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 10:43 am

hanger-on is a registered user.

Lee - thanks. You defeated every fantasy of the 'quitter/leavers' in one elegant post ('cept Baja.)

Anywhere one goes, that location has existing downsides and will be soon 'ruined' by the influx of noobs like yourself.

I'll hang and enjoy the relief from a slightly reduced population. Good luck!


 +   32 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 18, 2020 at 11:35 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Anywhere one goes, that location has existing downsides and will be soon 'ruined' by the influx of noobs like yourself."

^ A good point & one that I will take under advisement.

Historically, incoming 'noobs' have a peculiar way of ruining the 'quality of life' for legions of native/original inhabitants residing within ANY area/region.

The history of America & downgrade of everyday life was built & based on your insightful premise...just ask the Native Americans.





 +   19 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:02 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Another thing missing from your daily mail is your ridiculously high utility bill. Remember that Palo Alto has over-charged us by $20,000,000 each by that amount for the last several years.

What's happening to the citizen lawsuit over that? Will our city manager who used to manage the PA Utilities ever comment on that?

We're told to conserve water and energy and then when we do, they raise our rates claiming we're not using enough.

What's going to happen when everyone's buying their own generators and are forced to drive e-cars, give up their gas appliances and furnaces and we experience more and more shortages? Think they'll get around to fixing the grid by then or will it take them another few decades while everyone suffers? Or will they keep decommissioning all the gas-powered plants while we roast and /or freeze in the dark?


 +   30 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:32 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

> "...ridiculously high utility bill...Palo Alto has over-charged us..."

>"We're told to conserve water and energy and then when we do, they raise our rates claiming we're not using enough."

^ In Palo Alto you have to 'pay to play' (aka reside here) and even if you conserve energy, you will eventually pay more for utilities. Apologists call it inflation.

The city has many expenditures to cover including exorbitant employee salaries/pensions, police-related lawsuits,
and various specialized 'consultant fees'.

Everyday life in Palo Alto has become somewhat complex...thanks to the bureaucrats who seemingly believe they have a handle on things.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by PinkDolphin, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 12:28 pm

PinkDolphin is a registered user.

"I'm also Canadian, which opens up more possibilities assuming I could swallow the exit tax."

Sherry, what is the "exit tax"?


 +   16 people like this
Posted by There's no escape., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 12:57 pm

There's no escape. is a registered user.

I don't think we can move to escape climate change and its impacts. This is a global problem that we are, each of us, contributing to. Its effects are everywhere.

The question is, what will we each DO to change its course?

I am biking for shorter trips in town (under five miles), changing everything I can about my home and lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint.

Please join me. We still can minimize the climate change impacts that our children and grandchildren and we will have to face in coming years. Let's not be complacent any longer and do what's necessary to preserve the health of precious planet.

There is no escaping this, so let's face this problem and solve it. If we don't, how can our children and grandchildren ever forgive us?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:26 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@NoEscape -- I entirely agree. You can't move away from climate change. Even if you were to go to a mythical place where the climate didn't change, it would be impacted by people moving there. Everywhere is impacted. And even if you take a place that won't get too warm, like Canada, the rate of climate change there is faster than most other places, so there is going to be a lot of economic and environmental destabilization.

Things are changing everywhere, but in different ways. You have an option to choose which kind of change you want. As you point out, *wherever* you go, you will need to reduce your carbon footprint. That's one argument for staying in California, actually. The state's policies will lower our footprints faster than if we were to live in many other places.

@PinkDolphin: The "exit tax" is where the US basically pretends that you die when you leave, and taxes you on your gains accordingly. The first $725K are omitted, and the whole thing is kind of complicated in my book. More here.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Former Resident, a resident of another community,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:12 pm

Former Resident is a registered user.

We left two years ago. Won't say where. Still in earthquake country. Definitely dealing more with rednecks (very purple county). But SO GLAD to be out of California.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Steven Goldstein, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 19, 2020 at 10:44 pm

Steven Goldstein is a registered user.

Don't be critical of "rednecks"

They were union workers that went on strike, if you look at the history.

They were miners that were fighting against bad work conditions.

The term has been corrupted


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:22 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Don't be critical of "rednecks"

>"The term has been corrupted."

^ Perhaps due to characteristics of the 'red state' voting blocs.

Speaking of history...they also composed the 'hardhats' during the Nixon administration.


 +   17 people like this
Posted by Local shopper, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 12:37 pm

Local shopper is a registered user.

I also find the tone referring to "rednecks" quite rude and condescending. This is why other states despair when they see Californians coming.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 1:53 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Whoa, if anyone wanted confirmation about the "You're not alone" part, check out this Washington Post article. This is more about COVID escapism than climate, though they may be picking Montana over, say, wide-open spaces in Arizona because of climate change. The Mountain West is changing.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Martin Engel is a registered user.

Please forgive my dark perception, but I do have the conviction that, on this planet, as they say, we can run but we can't hide. On so many levels and for so many reasons, there's really nowhere to turn anywhere on this earth. And, it's the only earth we can have.

It's bad and getting worse. Most of us are getting dumber. The few of us who are getting smarter and have acquired more control, are doing more harm. The more we know, politically, economically, scientifically, the more harm we appear to be doing to our collective selves. Even as we spin utopian fantasies for our future, we construct dystopian realities for our civilization and our descendants.

Humanity's time on earth has been far, far too brief for the amount of development and evolution that we have ourselves consciously created. We remain barely mentally and culturally adequately evolved apes who have, so to speak, devised nuclear weapons that we are eager to deploy. We are consuming our Spaceship Earth, destroying it, and oppressing/exploiting each other to all of mankind's detriment. We would have been far better off had we remained the pre-anthropological primates that lived in the forests.

Put another way, God's creation of mankind was incomplete. Figuratively speaking, we were (and remain) buggy software. We were multiplied before we were sufficiently developed and beta-tested. Despite the relatively rare exemplary models of us throughout our history that were so creative, so humane, so beneficial, most of mankind never overcame our instinct for destructiveness and incapacity for ultimate survival.

In our inadequate and incomplete development, there became too many of us, thereby multiplying and accelerating our ultimate demise and highly likely extinction. In the meantime, we are witness to that deterioration of our environment and our Society/Civilization at our own hands.

As e.e. cummings put it so ironically, “listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go"


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 20, 2020 at 10:55 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"We remain barely mentally and culturally adequately evolved apes...Put another way, God's creation of mankind was incomplete."

^ Creationism & Evolution (Darwinism) both walking hand in hand together?


 +   5 people like this
Posted by TimR, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 9:33 am

TimR is a registered user.

Many scientists believe early humans left Africa due to climate change. So we're all very used to it by now. The only constant is change.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 10:38 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@TimR, you know that's not true, right? Change may be constant, but the rate of change is nothing like we've ever seen. Nothing on Earth is used to this.


Source: NASA


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Many scientists believe early humans left Africa due to climate change."

^ There was a major drought that took place in Africa nearly 2 million years ago which in turn triggered a mass human migration to various regions in the Middle East, Europe & Asia.

Whether the drought was due to climate change is for the physical anthropologists & meteorologists to establish as the last time I checked, Africa can still get pretty hot at times.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 23, 2020 at 10:57 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Right. Africa gets hot. People migrate when the going gets tough. While sometimes species go extinct (e.g., most of the hominid species from 2M years ago), not all do. Hey, some people survived the Vesuvius eruption in Pompei in 79AD.

And so we conclude ... what? Once again, @Lee, your reasoning confounds me. You repeat these denialist tropes that make no sense. You want to lean right into global warming because some people might survive?

Denial is *by far* our most expensive option right now, not to mention the most damaging. It's much smarter to look ahead and act accordingly, which increasingly more leaders are doing. Care to share why you prefer to hang back, @Lee and @TimR?


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 23, 2020 at 12:59 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"While sometimes species go extinct (e.g., most of the hominid species from 2M years ago), not all do. Hey, some people survived the Vesuvius eruption in Pompei in 79AD."

^ There's a HUGE difference between an EVOLUTIONARY human extinction that occured 2 million years ago & contemporary humans fleeing a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.

Concurring there was probably some global warming going on locally in Pompei & Herculeum while a volcano spewed it's fumes &olten lava BUT all things considered (and I am not a denier of global warming) until we reduce global population & a reliance on modern day conveniences, we too are doomed to eventual extinction.

The problem is that most people do not want to make present day sacrifices to curtail global warming/climate change & even people residing in 3rd world countries aspire to a contemporary lifestyle epitomized by the perceived 'rich and/or famous' in the western world...with the possible exception of Islamic fundamentalists & remaining primitive cultures (who have not yet been exposed to the decadence & pervasive wastefulness of modern day life.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 23, 2020 at 2:42 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

The people that I know who are fleeing California are NOT leaving due to wildfires, heat, pollution or risk of earthquakes. Rather, they are fleeing the high cost of living largely due to maneuvering by our politicians. California's high taxes, rents, utilities, tuitions, state fees, etc. -- they are now outpacing the quality of life here.

I've spoken with dozens of people who are leaving. Most are moving to states with no income taxes and lower costs of living.

This is where California should be a beacon of hope for dealing with things like the climate. Instead of punishing residents, the state should offer subsidies to transition traditional energy companies into clean energy companies. Fossil fuel companies can diversify into clean energy companies if the state stopped trying to vilify and punish them (for which we all pay the rising costs).

There needs to be some sort of financial incentive for this to work. A sudden mandate by politicians would send a seismic financial shock through the state. Rather, it needs to be a planned "carrot in front of the mule" method of transition -- one that doesn't favor small risky ventures over the industry might of energy companies.

I know one family that is moving to Texas. COVID-19 revealed to their employer that most of the jobs can be remote and still run effectively. So, why would they want to face California taxes, rents, permits, etc.? The company might very well move their offices from San Francisco to Texas too. Either way, the family is moving there by the end of the year.

If California isn't proactive, the flow of educated workers leaving to greener pastures will increase.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 23, 2020 at 3:12 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"If California isn't proactive, the flow of educated workers leaving to greener pastures will increase."

^ Quite possibly but there appears to be a sizable number of newer 'replacement' residents in the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos & Mountain View many of whom are highly educated & well-paid professionals (i.e. software development & medical fields) from India & mainland China who can afford to reside here & afford the high cost of local residential real estate.

And unless major employers (i.e. Google, Apple, Facebook + various hospital associated medical centers) are ALL willing to relocate to Podunk USA, chances are that the housing needs & traffic gridlock within the SF Bay area will remain just as they are...or worse.



 +  Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 24, 2020 at 6:54 pm

Palo Alto is a registered user.

I was born and raised in Palo Alto and have finally left for good. I have tons of good memories of the place that I called home.


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