The Guardian has revealed a three-part look at climate change in the United States entitled “Americans: the Next Climate Migrants,” sourcing the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Jesse M. Keenan as a voice of expertise and reason on property, infrastructure, and other impacts incurred by climate-related issues, like rising seas and climbing temperatures.
Central to The Guardian‘s analysis is Keenan’s wide ranging work at the intersection of climate migration, urban development, and public policy.
“This is happening neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state,” Keenan tells The Guardian. “It’s such a huge spectrum of geography that we are going to have make moral judgments about what to protect and what to let go. There’s not enough money to protect everyone. We need a complete mobilization, similar to the effort of putting a man on the moon, to adapt our coasts.”
“With property rights as strong as they are in the US, some people may choose to go down with the ship,” Keenan notes elsewhere. “The question is whether they have the means and the options to do anything else.”
While Keenan has studied Miami and its climate-influenced sea-level rise and California and its climate-stoked wildfires, among other case studies, he does observe regions of the US that might offer less climate vulnerability. In The Guardian, he notes that cities like Buffalo, New York, and Duluth, Minnesota offer superior qualities for future settlement as climate change accelerates.
“Their sources of energy production are stable, they have cooler climates and they have access to plenty of fresh water,” he explains. “They also have less vulnerability to forest fires, as compared to somewhere like the Pacific north-west. They also have a legacy of excess infrastructural capacity that allows them to diversify their economy in the future. Land prices are cheap and they have a relatively well-educated and skilled labor force.”
Regardless of specifics, though, Keenan notes the potentially enormous scale of human and population relocation that climate-change effects could incur. “Including all climate impacts it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something twice as large as the Dustbowl,” he says, referencing the 1930s calamity in which millions of people moved from the dusty, drought-ridden United States plains to the West Coast, especially California.
At the GSD, Keenan teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of urban development and climate adaptation. This fall, he is teaching a course on sustainable real estate, and in Spring 2019 he will lead his annual Harvard-wide course on climate change resilience and adaptation.
Keenan is currently serving as a Research Advisor for Climate Adaptation Finance to Governor Jerry Brown in California and is a Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco where he is leading efforts to advance investments in climate adaptation across the Federal Reserve system. Keenan is one of only two Harvard faculty who is a member of the recent empaneling of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the premier deliberative body for climate science under the United Nations. Keenan also supports the RAND Corporation’s congressional appointment to oversee the $40 billion reconstruction of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and is engaged in resilience design research with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Keenan will launch an initiative examining socioeconomic indicators for climate adaptation supported by the National Science Foundation in Spring 2019.