As you get older, your hometown will feel different. This applies to everyone. But for people living today, the changes will be impossible to ignore.
We normally measure climate change in terms of rising temperatures. But scientists say there’s another way to think about it: spatial displacement.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that by the year 2080, North American cities will basically feel like they’re about 800 km from where they currently are – in terms of drastic changes taking place in their climate.
This is an average result, based on projections for 540 urban areas in the United States & Canada, assuming carbon emissions remain at their current, dismal, business as usual rates.
But this 500-mile trek isn’t just a random cityhop in any direction. It almost universally heads south, where, at least in North America, places generally get warmer & wetter.
These “climate analogues” – which you can explore yourself on an interactive map designed by study co-author Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science – were designed to provide ” a more recognizable and location-based assessment of climate change”.
If you can truly call these “relatable” almost sci-fi like city swaps, that is. But in essence, Washington, DC will be more like a swampy Mississippi. New York will be more like northern Arkansa, and the Houston climate will cross-over into Mexican territory.
“We can use this technique to translate a future prediction into something that we can better conceptualize & connect to our experiences,” Fitzpatrick explained at the time.
“It is my hope people get that ‘wow’ moment, and it is sinking for the first time in-scale of the changes we expect in a single generation.
However, at the current rate of carbon emissions, many of the known transformations cannot be easily conceptualized, according to data.
In study, the researchers found that many places in North America today don’t have actually have climate analogues; their projected future climate is a dystopia we have never encountered before.
“For many urban areas, we found substantial differences between the future climate & best contemporary climate analogue,” the authors explained in their study, “under-scoring out that by 2080, many cities could experience new climates without modern equivalent in study domain.
Basically, unless we do something about it right now, North American cities – and cities around the world – are going to hot places they don’t really want to be going.
You can still drive to some of these places today. Some don’t exist yet.
But your hometown is definitely changing, make no mistake about it.
The findings are reported in Nature Communications.