1.2 Million Climate Refugees and Counting in the United States

Americans are fleeing the effects of climate change by the millions. Expect the number of climate refugees to continue to grow.

2 minute read

September 15, 2020, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Flood Damaged Suburb

michelmond / Shutterstock

With the West on fire and hurricane season sending repeated blows to the coastal United States, a pair of recent articles have explored the already reality of residents permanently fleeing their homes to escape the worst of climate change. 

"The fires will eventually end, but for many residents of the region, the disaster is just beginning," writes Joel Mathis for The Week. "The climate refugee crisis has come to America."

Americans aren't used to thinking of crises in the United States in terms of refugees, but the data to back up the narrative is already conspicuous. Mathis writes:

In fact, climate migration was already well underway in the United States before the latest round of fires. The Urban Institute estimates more than 1.2 million Americans left their homes in 2018 for climate-related reasons — some were escaping long-term problems, but others were fleeing short-term disasters that became permanent displacements. Sea level rise could force millions more coastal residents to move in coming years. People won't keep living in places where it is impossible to live. Sooner or later they will choose — or be forced — to leave their homes and find somewhere safer.

A separate article by Tim McDonnell, published by Quartz earlier in the month, focuses specifically on the challenges facing residents of coastal communities in Louisiana, and the communities that have grown with climate refugees, not just the communities being gutted by population loss. In St. Tammany parish, the city has been completely transformed by the steady stream of new residents since Hurricane Katrina. "That growth has not waned. St. Tammany is now one of the fastest-growing parishes in the state. Its population has quadrupled since 1970, to a quarter million, and is expected to double by 2030," writes McDonnell.

Monday, September 14, 2020 in The Week

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Close-up of mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, California.

Cougar Death Highlights Urgent Need for Wildlife Crossing

A mountain lion was found dead on the 101 Freeway, less than half a mile from the steel and concrete endoskeleton of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.

45 minutes ago - The Acorn

Close-up of two children sitting on edge of swimming pool with their feet in the water.

Beating the Heat: Expanding Access to Swimming Pools

The swim season for Los Angles County public pools has been extended, with swim facilities open for five months to provide relief from the hot weather.

1 hour ago - ABC7 Eyewitness News

Scooters Portland

Report: Municipal Fees and Taxes Hinder Shared Micromobility Adoption

City taxes and fees on shared bikes and scooters are, on average, much higher per mile than similar taxes on cars.

2 hours ago - Streetsblog USA

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner Supervisor

Department of Housing and Community Development

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.