What's the best place in the U.S. for sustainable survival over the following century? I'm assuming a moderately-bad climate change scenario (over 2 degrees Celsius), with increasing renewables and lower carbon emissions in developed countries offset by increasing carbon levels from developing countries for at least the next decade. We'll have a lot of semi-irreversible feedback loops (changing color of water in Arctic, permafrost melt) and moderate ocean rise (under 10 feet, so nowhere near the 100+ ft max that is possible). Any reduction in CO2 levels (caused by better human tech/renewables/CO2 capture) probably won't begin to lower the heat until the next century... based on my understanding of the length of CO2 feedback loops.
Those parameters are my best informal guess for the world's climate in the next 82 years. I'm not a climate scientist, just someone who reads a lot and tries to be realistic. Feel free to pick your own variables and factor those assumptions into your models.
You can practice permaculture anywhere outside of the Poles. However, I think it's gonna get a lot harder to do so over the next few generations, at least in a semi-affordable manner. Hence my interest in targeting locations for an effective, low-impact multi-generational intentional community/homestead.
The current East Coast heat wave produced deadly, record-setting 100+ temps all the way through New England (except for the Maine coast). I imagine these "waves" will soon become the summer norms. A weakening jet stream allows heat waves to extend further north on the eastern sea-board, though a weakening Gulf Stream might cool the coast. However, I still feel like New England is marginal. Ithaca is interesting, but their summers could become like Virginia's (or worse) pretty soon. The West is burning, ash is falling over San Francisco. Midwest temps fluctuate more then the NE coast, and the Midwest is drying out. The temperate rainforests of NC could be an option, but fire is another concern.
My vote is for the Olympic Peninsula, based on rainfall, cool summers, and moderate winters. The eastern part of the state keeps burning longer, but perhaps the mountains/water will keep that from the western parts. I believe much of the peninsula is fairly elevated. I imagine their climate will change a lot over the next century, but they are at least starting from a very temperate place. The only real problems I'm aware of are Tsunami risk and the dry summers... and land prices aren't super cheap either.
What do you think?
Learning by doing: forest conversion, raised beds, pollarding.
I have given some thought to this in a general-anxious-person way. I worry about trying to focus on temperature changes because as the climate changes… well, that's just it — it's changing, and in different directions all over. While the Olympic Peninsula gets a lot of rain right now, should the jet stream shift, that would change in a big way. But again, I'm no climate scientist… I just know that there's a million and a half variables at play and the only thing we are certain of is uncertainty.
My vote is in the foothills of one of the cascades, near to fresh water. I have a house outside of Mt. Shasta, and I think it's near perfect. Shasta sits at 14,000ft, which allows it to collect snow nearly year round (even when it's 100˚ at my house, snow will fall during a summer thunderstorm near the summit). That snow melts and filters through volcanic rock over thousands of years and pops up in the foothills as thousands and thousands of cold, clean water. Water is life, and access to clean drinking water is becoming more and more scarce.
One trend I've seen mentioned is how colder climates are warming up, like where I bought my property was zone 5/5b 15-20 years ago and is now zone 6/6a. I think a tougher consideration is how rainfall might change over time, and I would guess that planning decades out isn't possible for that. I would avoid areas currently marginal for growing food, as it could get tougher rather than easier. While my property is in a lower rainfall area, the water table is relatively high so drilling a well deep enough to have some cushion doesn't break the bank.
This is something I've thought about quite a bit too. I like the Ozarks where I'm at a lot, it has a lot of good features, but I am worried about how hot the summers will get in the future and increases in droughts and flooding in this place that's already a land of extremes in many ways.
I consider climate change a very real and serious issue, but I'm also skeptical of specific predictions regarding its effects because of how complex the climate system really is. However based on what's been happening so far and paleoclimate evidence of the far past during times when CO2 levels were higher, I think we can expect significantly higher sea levels (although much of that rise will likely happen even farther into the future than 2100), warming most pronounced at higher latitudes, overall warmer averages most everywhere (but erratic cold snaps as well in many places because of jet stream changes). The changes in rainfall patterns are even trickier than temperatures to try to forecast. Warmer overall means an intensified water cycle, and more average precipitation overall. However that extra precipitation will likely be very unevenly distributed both geographically and temporally, much of it falling in heavy downpour events, and increasing temperatures also means increasing evaporation rates and increasing chances of flash droughts.
Looking at the lower 48 states from a purely climate change perspective, I'd put my bets on the higher parts of Appalachia, the interior northeast, and the upper great lakes region, particularly around lake Superior. The reasons are summers that are cool enough currently that they could get a decent amount hotter without becoming too extreme, and reasonably high amounts of annual precipitation that is also well distributed through the year, including the summer months, and moisture from multiple sources. Of course there are other issues going on than just climate change, and everyone's situation is unique so some other area might be best for you.
The Olympic peninsula is probably a decent choice as well, possibly one of the best spots in the west if above sea level a bit. The issue I see with the Pacific northwest in general is with the lack of summer rain, the summer dry season likely getting longer, hotter and more intense. I'm wary of anywhere that depends highly on winter mountain snowpacks, as warmer winters mean that even if precipitation stays the same or even increases, there will be less snow in all but the highest elevations because more of it will be rain. Being near the North Cascades might actually be better than the Olympic Peninsula, as they are higher elevation and the snowpack will thus be resilient in the face of more warming. Oregon will be worse off than Washington, as the Oregon Cascades are mostly not that high except for a few volcanic peaks. I expect the Pacific Northwest climate to become increasingly more like California's climate is now. The issue is that the ecosystems currently there aren't adapted to that extent of heat and drought and there will probably be mass tree die-offs and huge fires there when California-type dry seasons start happening, although this could be mitigated in local areas by good management.
Areas of the west that get the summer monsoon such as Colorado are more of a wild card, some say the monsoon could get more intense, and the mountains there are high and cold enough the snowpack declines probably won't be as dramatic as many other western states. However, Colorado is pretty dry to start out with except in some really high-elevation, cold areas, so it wouldn't take too much to push it over the edge.
The Appalachians/interior northeast/ upper great lakes, on the other hand, all have relatively high summer precipitation. I do expect droughts to worsen a certain amount in those areas, but IMO they have more likelihood of staying moist enough that the ecosystems will transition more by warmer-climate-adapted species increasing and cooler climate species declining, rather than by massive fires and die-offs of whole ecosystems. I have spent some time in southern Appalachia, and it's amazing just how many different sorts of weather patterns can bring precipitaion to those mountains. Unlike the Northwest, where the wet on the west side/dry on the east is very dramatic, the Appalachians have moisture coming from many sources. Moisture can come from the west, from the south, and from the Atlantic to the east, even from the northwest behind a cold front that's dry in most areas but then hits the mountain ridges that run perpendicular the wind and squeezes out the moisture. Who knows what unpredictable effects climate change will have on rain patterns, but areas with many sources of moisture are more likely to still end up getting enough of it.
Another thing to consider is that looking at a map of the world, there are very few dry climates along and near east coasts of continents (presuming they're facing an actual ocean, not a smaller body of water such as the Red Sea). There are many deserts and semi-arid areas along west coasts of continents, by contrast, as well as some very wet climates. I suspect climate change will push deserts on west coasts northward into some areas that are now Mediterranean climates (southward in the southern hemisphere). Eastern North America is unlikely to dry out as dramatically, even if flash droughts get more common and the heat and humidity in many lowland areas gets more and more extreme.
I haven't mentioned Alaska. I do wonder if at some point parts of Alaska will become desirable places to live. I've never been there and don't know enough specifics to have a strong opinion, but I imagine the more extreme rate of temperature change there will lead to convulsions in the ecosystem, and things like melting permafrost will wreak havoc in the places that have it.
Worrying about current climate and climate change may not be the most important factor when thinking about homesteading 80 years from now. If you factor in the out of control population growth, along with its accompanying cascading need for more food and resources, I wonder......something to think about. Plus, with the escalating effects of population growth and its affects on climate change, what will climates be like 80 years from now?
The economists I've read tend to predict the urban and suburban areas dramatically increasing due to the simple fact that all those extra people have to live and work somewhere and the rural areas don't offer the jobs anymore. Thus rural areas may offer the best option for homesteading activity.
That being said, I'd be looking at remote mountain areas where "modern" people tend to avoid due to the fact that "modern" resources are scarce and more difficult to get to those areas. Forested mountains indicate a water source somewhere, somehow. Homesteaders tend to utilize local, natural resources rather than buying everything at the store. Forested mountain areas might sustain homesteaders best, and if they are within a few hours transportation to an urban area, then even better. An hour from a suburban area might be better yet since the homesteader could sell their excess or goods to the mainstream population living there.
I'm homesteading on an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My area is a poor rural district that offers very little of interest to the wealthy. Wealthy people drive through.....don't buy houses here. Thus this is a good area for homesteading. Remote enough to keep the housing boom away, but a steady stream of buyers for excess farm products. Wealthy residents a 1 1/2 hour drive away. Adequate rainfall due to the mountain behind our farm. Moderate climate, even if it gets a tad warmer. Yup, I landed in a good spot. And while this area may increase in population over the next 80 years, I don't foresee extensive development. There are other locations on this island that are far more appealing to the wealthy. I don't intend to move, but if I did, I'd try to replicate my situation ---- semi remote & rural, mild climate, a mountain to give rain, wealthy population an hour or two away.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Location: Zone 7a, 42", Fairfax VA Piedmont (Glenelg silt loam, acidic, shady)
Thanks for all the responses. More erratic rainfall = more need for water storage. Similarly, I imagine that bigger temperature swings = more need for drought AND cold tolerance.
Richard, I definitely agree that the summer water systems in any location driven by snow accumulation (so pretty much everywhere out West) are going to decrease with a smaller snowpack. I hadn’t thought about snowpack elevation in the Olympics vs the Cascades. I’d rely more on the levels of your annual rainfall and storage capacity, understanding that annual creeks could become seasonal. NW rain levels could fall and temperatures could rise with changing ocean currents. But I think that’s less understood than the snowpack issue.
Alaska: even with a warming climate you are at a high latitude and will see big seasonal shifts. I don’t know much about their coastal climate, but imagine that could be a possibility. The feralculture.com people are on the Alaskan coast.
Ithaca and the Finger Lakes area have milder winters than much of NY. Coastal Maine is much milder than the rest of the State. The regional climate change predictions suggest the NE will become wetter while the SE becomes drier, so maybe the NE will become like the NW is today. But who knows for sure. I love the temperate rainforests of NC, and imagine as you said that they’ll be high enough to grab whatever moisture is available.
Hawaii sounds pretty resilient with high rain, high elevation, and low storms. Pretty progressive/anti-GMO/etc too from what I hear.
Learning by doing: forest conversion, raised beds, pollarding.
A lot of the water systems in western Washington around the Puget Sound and the coast are storm driven as opposed to snow pack driven. Snow pack does play a role but the water systems are small enough that storms can overpower the effect of snow pack within these systems. This means that they tend to be very flashy as opposed to snow pack systems which can be less flashy with the exception of rain on snow events that can cause very fast melt in snow pack systems. This can result in flooding and makes it a bit harder to retain the water since it can come quickly - easier to retain slow and steady water than a down burst.
One thing to note about western Washington is that our summers are very dry but the rest of the year is wet. The issue is that when we need the moisture the most we don't tend to get much and we don't have the snow pack to help ensure there is summer water. My understanding of the climate predictions for western Washington is that our winters will be a little warmer and a fair bit wetter while our summers will be warmer and drier. This could make the summers a challenge despite all the water the area will still get - potentially more overall than we get today just not in the summer when we need it.
If you live like I do in a more populated part of western Washington there could be water shortages - there are already some towns with water issues near me due to the number of houses being built without improvements being made to the city water systems. There are also starting to be restrictions placed on wells in areas where summer stream flow is getting too low to support aquatic life.
I think unless you develop a good system for retaining as much of the winter water as possible a homestead in western Washington would struggle in 2100 during the summers. But since we do get so much rain and that amount is expected to increase if you develop a good water retaining system you could be fine and the warmer temperatures would make it easier to grow some types of food. At my place I'm building lots of hugel beds, planting on contour, mulching heavily, and I'm going to be building ponds to help retain the water and increase the humidity level. I'm also going to put rock piles around to function as critter habitat and as "air wells". Really to be safe I would try to be prepared for no rain in June, July, August and September in 2100. This year we got almost no rain in May but luckily we got enough in June to help out but last year we went for around 2.5 months with no rain and that is likely to be the norm well before 2100. I'm hoping this summer is not as dry as last year because last year our spring was much wetter than normal but this year has been a fair bit drier. If we are as dry during this summer as last it will be a hard summer.
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