I went to a group-think exercise the other day where participants were asked to envision what the landscape in Vermont would look like 40 years from now under various scenarios. It was my first experience with anything like this. In my group, the scenario was that in 2065 Vermont had a strong state government that was in favor of working lands, while at the same time the state was being inundated with climate change refugees from coastal areas that were underwater. So, the population of the state doubled or tripled.
The group envisioned a sort of western European styled utopia – the unofficial name for the scenario was Bernieland – where all the new people lived in high-rises or quarter-acre lots in concentrated areas. Forests wouldn’t be fragmented because of the smart planning. Forest industry and agriculture would flourish outside of the urban centers. The amount of land set aside in ecological reserves would increase.
I was an outlier in the group, as I had a decidedly dimmer vision. I just couldn’t imagine a family of climate refugees from Florida, or North Carolina, or New Jersey, who lost their slice of the American dream – be it 40 acres and a mule or a McMansion on 10-acres – moving to Vermont, leaving their politics and notions of representative democracy at the border, trading in their cars for bicycles, and living the good life in an Ikea condominium built in a state-designated refugee zone. Really, what I think would happen is that local planning boards would be coopted by people who wanted in on some version of the rural Vermont experience – and who could blame them – and the rate at which the countryside is being fragmented would accelerate. And a strong state government, even if it were in favor of working lands, would be overwhelmed catering to the needs of the masses. The need for infrastructure would rule the day, which is antithetical to open space.
It was an interesting exercise in light of the refugee crisis going on in Europe; also, the hot rhetoric around immigration in U.S. states along the Mexican border. How would a small state in the Northeast handle a million or so people who showed up in a relatively concentrated slug?
If you’ve got a second I’d love to hear your thoughts. Imagine it’s 2065, and assume that the worst case models for climate change come true. There’s coastal flooding and major drought in the west, and your state in the Northeast has become a magnet for climate refugees from other parts of the country. Tell us what state you live in, and tell us what you imagine you’d see. And don’t let my dim view sway you – if you’re an optimist, tell us how and why. I admire glass-is-half-full perspectives, even if my own often falls short.