‘On the Move’ examines how climate change will alter where people live

Abrahm Lustgarten zooms in on how global warming will affect the United States

A photograph of flames near houses in Chino Hills, Calif., during the 2020 Blue Ridge Fire

As the risk of wildfires grows in the American West (the 2020 Blue Ridge Fire in California, shown), some residents may look for other places to live.

David McNew/Getty Images

On the Move
Abrahm Lustgarten
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30

Ellen Herdell’s nerves were nearing a breaking point. The fortysomething, lifelong Californian had noticed her home was increasingly threatened by wildfires. After relatives lost their house to a blaze and the constant threat traumatized her 9-year-old daughter, Herdell found herself up at 3 a.m. one night in 2020 searching Zillow for homes in Vermont.

She’s not alone. Across the United States, people facing extreme fires, storms, floods and heat are looking for the escape hatch. In On the Move, Abrahm Lustgarten examines who these people are, where they live, where climate change may cause them to move and how this reshuffling will impact the country (SN: 5/12/20).

At about 300 pages, the book is a relatively quick read, but Lustgarten’s reporting is deep. Leaning on interviews with such high-profile sources as former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and on published research, Lustgarten explains the scientific and political sides of climate migration. Anecdotes from people across the socioeconomic spectrum reveal the mind-sets of people at the front lines of the climate crisis. And the author’s decades of experience as a climate journalist result in a particularly accessible analysis of the insurance landscape, which has long lent a false sense of economic safety to people living in places vulnerable to climate change.

Where will climate migrants end up? Lustgarten looks to scientists and economists for answers. Ecologist Marten Scheffer, for example, has repurposed tools for predicting where plants will thrive to identify zones that humans will find most habitable in the future.

But the book offers no list of the best places to live, as “safe” climate is only one consideration. Other necessities and comforts will also be factors, and some people won’t have the resources to move to an optimal spot. Like Herdell, Lustgarten is a Californian who has watched his state burn. Will he or Herdell leave? To find out, you’ll have to read the book.

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