Proactive climate migrants look to find refuge in Vermont

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - We’ve met new Vermonters finding the Green Mountains as a refuge from a changing climate, fleeing wildfires, drought or flooding. Climate migrants is the term coined for their movement. But what about those who aren’t fleeing natural disasters, but instead, are being proactive about their movement?

A former Vermonter who currently lives outside Orlando, Florida, says she can’t deny it is unsettling living in a hurricane-prone area, but that’s not what is driving her family out; instead, they have their eyes set on the future.

“It wasn’t a particular hurricane necessarily, but just knowing where things are going to be in the next several years,” said Rachael Pham of Maitland, Florida.

Pham is in the house-hunting process, looking to get back to Vermont after years up and down the East Coast. She grew up in Bristol and Middlebury but left at 18.

Now, Pham, her husband and her daughter are ready to leave Florida. Vermont floated to the top of their list because of climate change.

“My husband became more interested in it after reading a New York Times article about climate change and the shifting of arable land,” Pham said.

For her, Florida has the prospect of hurricanes or flooding, something her family reminds her of frequently, often with a tongue-in-cheek approach. But while they can laugh about it, it is a real possibility.

“It doesn’t make you feel very secure, I guess,” Pham said.

While Vermont isn’t immune to climate change, having lived here before, Pham says even if it gets warmer, she knows what she’s in for.

“In Vermont, I can expect to stack wood and shovel snow,” she said.

Pham would enter a class of climate migrators, folks moving to Vermont driven by climate change.

But even as Vermont welcomes new residents and we craft policy to fight back against climate change, there is another factor experts are eyeing.

“Climate inertia needs to be considered in our policy because it’s part of our understanding of how the system works,” said Ann Dupigney-Giroux, the Vermont state climatologist.

Dupigney-Giroux says climate inertia is the slow warming we are experiencing now from emissions of the past.

“Even if all the greenhouse gases were to be stopped right here and now, it would continue to warm,” she said.

And greenhouse gases we create today will affect the climate years from now.

Dupigney-Giroux says this long-term thinking needs to happen as we chart policy around greenhouse gas emissions and climate mitigation and adaptation.

“It’s part of the understanding of how the system works and it’s sort of science in the service of society,” Dupigney-Giroux said.

For Pham, it’s about thinking long-term, too, not just about the prospect of climate change but how it relates to her family.

“Like a long-term place for generations to come,” she said.

From central Florida, Pham says she is running into housing issues in Vermont we’ve been telling you about for years now, namely a tight market where offers are made in cash and above the asking price.

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