Climate Change Driven Growth in Grand Traverse County

Climate change is a big global issue that is divisive at the national level. In most things, it is not a local issue, because local governments don't have the levers to make much difference. There is one aspect that is strictly local, and that is managing the migration of large segments of the population. Over the last generation, much of the population of Michigan migrated to the South and Southwest for jobs. With climate change, that will reverse.

It is not that I want rapid growth in Grand Traverse County, it is that I want the county to survive growth that will be driven by external forces over which we have little, if any control. We knew for a long time that we did not want to stay in Dallas forever, but an August 2016 New York Times contour map of forecasted 100 degree days in 2050 and 2100 made it clear that a migration would occur, and that we would not be able to afford to move to a place that we liked if we waited. We spent 2017 doing what amounted to a classic business school site selection problem–and ended up spending January of 2017 in Traverse City to see how Kristin, a fifth generation Texan who had never shovelled snow, would cope. After two weeks, she said, “we need to talk to a realtor.” I am sure that we are not the only people making the same decision. If the return migration is only kids of my generation who return after working lives elsewhere it will be a big number.

The pandemic will accellerate this trend, as companies have been forced into a remote work model, and many employees have learned that they don't need to be in the big city.

This Propublica ariticle on Climate Migration is the shortest and most accessible article I've seen on projecting the ramifications of climate change at the county level.

Seeing the Stars Requires Clean Air

I recently spent a few evenings observing the Neowise comet (also known as C/2020 F3) and posted a picture to Facebook; a number of people commented positively on the photo even though it isn't particularly well composed or remarkable. A friend in Dallas posted one from his balcony, that was much less clear with no stars. People liked my photo not because it was artistic, but because they can't see the comet in a city with air and light pollution.

In Northern Michigan, we take for granted that the night sky is alive with stars. In a metropolitan area with air and light pollution, you can't even see the planets some times. When we chose Traverse City, we did our research and knew that it had very few days per year that the EPA classifies as bad, but I didn't really understand what this meant until the first time I took the garbage out on a clear night, and stood in awe of so many stars. As Kristin now puts it, "it's nice to live in a place where we can see the Milky Way from our driveway." If you've never lived anywhere else, it would be easy to take this for granted.

Unlike many rural counties, Grand Traverse County is growing, and will probably grow at a faster rate in the future due to the migrations that will occur with climate change and the aftermath of the pandemic. To maintain the breathable air and clear night skies, our community will need to make a choice on whether to preserve the things we love while we grow, or to consign the clear skies, bright stars and clean water to the past. I want to preserve and improve on clear skies, bright stars and clean water. It won't be hard if we start now, but cleaning up 50 years from now would be a challenge if we fail to preserve what we have now.

Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 see from Saylor Park in Acme Township, Michigan on July 17, 2020.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 from the Saylor Park boat ramp in Acme Township on July 17, 2020. The comet is fairly clear in the lower right corner and more or less in a straight line from the Big Dipper.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 seen at sunset from Glen Haven beach in Leelanau County on July 26, 2020.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 from Glen Haven beach in Leelanau County on July 26, 2020. The comet is very faint and more or less in the center directly below the left-most star in the Big Dipper.