Climate change could mean influx of people to Central Appalachia
The increasingly severe weather is causing some people to consider relocating — and, like the Great Lakes region, Central Appalachia will likely be a popular destination.
That’s according to a recent report from Invest Appalachia, a social investment fund dedicated to promoting sustainable development in Appalachian communities.
The report, Climate Resilience in Central Appalachia: Impacts and Opportunities, identified places like West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and parts of Ohio as places with “receiving geographies” where people are increasingly likely to move.
“We're going to be in that Goldilocks zone,” said Baylen Campbell, one of the report’s authors and Invest Appalachia’s Director of Community Impact.
The region won’t be immune to the effects of climate change.
“It’s experiencing increased rates of flooding and is predicted to have increased rates of forest fires,” Campbell said.
But compared to the rest of the country, Central Appalachia’s climate is expected to remain relatively temperate.
Campbell said it’s unclear how many people will relocate to the region, but anecdotes suggest the migration is already underway.
“I mean, you can go to Asheville and there are little pockets of LA that are forming,” he said.
The World Bank reports climate change will likely be one of the biggest drivers of migration in the next century, impacting an estimated 216 million people worldwide.
In the U.S., one in 12 people living in the southern half of the country are expected to move north in the next 45 years because of the changing climate, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
But Campbell says Central Appalachia is not prepared to take in people fleeing climate-related disasters.
“It's no secret that our region faces a lot of ongoing, long-term, multigenerational challenges related to economic growth,” he said. “And we, like much of the rest of the country, are facing challenges related to affordable housing, so we do not have the capacity to welcome and absorb moderate to large inflows of newcomers.”
The problem, Campbell said, is that climate migrants will likely come anyway, at the risk of pushing locals out.
“In the long term, this sets up the parameters and potential for increased rural gentrification,” he said, “where our folks are moving out and folks with more means and resources are able to move in.”
It would be a stark reversal from decades of out-migration from the region.
“We often talk about wanting our folks to come home,” Campbell said. “But we need to be able to have the capacity for others, for newcomers, to settle in the region as well.”
But in order to welcome those newcomers without displacing locals, Campbell says the region needs more investment in everything from clean energy to arts and culture.
“The goal is to ensure that we can keep our communities in place in an equitable fashion,” he said, “ensuring that our folks can dig their roots deeper, working off the safe assumption that more people will call the hills home in the coming decades.”