Will climate change make Arkansas a destination?
When I left for work this morning, it was raining. I drove my winding driveway past some prominent trees, and another mile down the road I passed the Country Club with beautiful greens and fairways. Then I crossed a small stream that overflowed with white water.
Well, I know that’s not remarkable for Arkansas, but it would be in Southern California.
Yes, climate change has made water in the southwest of our country a precious commodity. Sure, water is plentiful in Arkansas, but would we consider the average city of Arkansas a destination that would attract residents from another state because of the water?
Well, maybe we should.
After all, for years people across the country traveled from one part of America to another because they thought that state or city would be a better place to live.
When the combination of a depression and the Dust Bowl created a huge migration from Oklahoma and Arkansas to California, it was caused by the belief that living and working conditions were better, and it was caused by lack of water.
We still see Americans moving from place to place, but it’s not as targeted as the Dust Bowl migration. However, with the severe drought, which is expected to worsen in the Southwest, particularly in California and Arizona, we may see a reverse migration from these states to the south-central where water is abundant.
If the Southwest continues to suffer water shortages for the next decade due to climate change, the trickle of residents leaving the region could turn into a torrent.
But the American Southwest is not the only region in the world to experience extreme drought.
In Central America, a long drought is the main factor in the overwhelming number of migrants trying to cross the border into the United States. The thousands of rural farms and the absence of abundant water are at the origin of this migration. Climate change will increasingly be a factor in the future, and as drought conditions continue across the American Southwest, particularly in California and Arizona, lack of water could prove to be the reason for ‘a slow but steady migration to the States, which have plenty of water.
That’s why I believe Arkansas will benefit from this migration.
Until you have lived in an area where water was scarce, you really cannot appreciate the importance of an abundance of water. When water is rationed, the idea of having grass in your garden is unheard of, and aside from a few potted plants, you can forget about anything green that needs water.
I played golf in Benghazi, Libya, and there wasn’t a blade of grass on the course. The “greens” were oil-stained sand called “browns”. So don’t underestimate the importance of abundant water and lush forests.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who may be ready to retire, or at least move to a more attractive location with plenty of water. We take our forests for granted and do not hesitate to scrape heavily forested land to build on. Our old “cut and burn” attitude is a legacy of the early days of colonization that still prevails in many communities. Look at pictures from the 40s and 50s, and you’ll see that most downtowns look completely bare, and if you leave an area because of drought, a bare, treeless city is the opposite of that what you want to see.
Greening a city is one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do, and trust me, more is better. Over the past 30 years, I’ve worked with the city of El Dorado and the Arkansas Forestry Commission to plant over 1,000 downtown trees, and with those trees, we’ve had another committee that managed to plant 5,000 crape myrtles in the city.
When you come from an area that does not allow you to water your garden, a city with green and flowery planters and abundant trees is a very attractive destination.
How much money or effort does it take to plant a tree or plant a planter with flowers? We have to realize that people who may be looking to leave the drought-stricken southwest see flowers, trees, and fountains as very positive attractions, and they certainly don’t look at a bare, treeless street in a way positive.
The second part of the migration equation is our general climate. I’ve written before about what I call a sweet spot across the South with four distinct seasons. This reason alone could be a determining factor in a person’s decision.
Vertis and I traveled to Southern California and Arizona several times during the 70s and 80s, and I remember playing tennis at the John Wayne Tennis Center in San Bernardino, California. I was a little intimidated when I found out you had to wear all white. The center organized the game, but I could tell that my opponent was very reluctant to play me. I heard him complain about wasting his time.
“Arkansas?” he growled.
“I’m ranked in California,” he announced as we walked to the field.
When I beat him 6-2, 6-2, I shook his hand and said, “I’m ranked Arkansas.”
But the California and Arizona of the 70s and 80s that we loved has changed, and with congestion and now drought, it’s a whole different place.
The natural beauty of our state that we see daily and take for granted is our greatest asset. The idea that nearly all of our towns and villages are only minutes away from hunting or fishing, or just hiking on a trail through beautiful surroundings is something most potential residents would love.
Combine that with a very short drive we can be in a very natural setting is a little extra someone from Southern California would find extremely appealing. If our potential resident is from Los Angeles, the idea of being 15 minutes in light traffic from almost anywhere is particularly good.
When we take a close look at our state’s cities and available entertainment venues, we can easily point to dozens of restaurants that are easily top notch and although they might be a 30 minute drive away, if you lived down south from California, you wouldn’t think that’s a problem.
What we might dismiss as ordinary, potential residents might find extraordinary – they might think hunting or fishing is great entertainment, or just being where on a clear night you can see the stars and not hear the roar of traffic would be wonderful.
Our many entertainment venues make living in Arkansas much easier than fighting traffic or waiting in line to do almost anything entertaining.
Compare that to the crowded eight-lane highways with long drives and our short drives from everywhere just seem better and better. If you lived in the drought-stricken Southwest swamped by a 105 summer heat wave with no rainy end in sight, would you be tempted to move to our lush, water-abundant state?
Of course you would!
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]