How to Align Your Retirement with Global Warming

Global warming is here to stay. Let’s prepare.

If you’re anything like me, you think and plan long-term, and global warming should definitely be part of that equation. If you’re not like me at all — well, I hope this blog can help you be more strategic!

First things first: if you think global warming is a hoax (perpetrated by China, leprechauns, the lizard-people, etc.), then you should probably stop reading. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but as Douglas Adams (the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) once said, 

I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me ‘Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid’ — then I can’t even be bothered to argue.

If the fire tornadoes in California, or the air being literally too hot for planes to fly in Arizona, or Cape Town with its 4.6 million residents almost running out water — if none of those things seem like the beginning of a very bad trend to you, well, this article won’t help you. Our planet used to be incredibly hot in the past, yes, but that was millions of years ago, and humans wouldn’t have survived there. 

If you’re still reading, and don’t think the world is flat or the moon is made of cheese, let’s dive in!

So, let’s say you ate all your veggies and cereal, saved up a good chunk of your income, invested wisely, and achieved your so-called “FU money” goal. (That’s the point when you can tell your boss “f*** you,” and quit, and become a legend among your coworkers.) You settle down, buy a nice property to spend the next few decades in, and then it runs out of water. Or gets pummeled by a fire tornado. Or gets flooded in yet another once-a-century storm that happens every other year now. Or the power grid collapses and dies when everyone and their dog uses air conditioning in yet another hottest summer on record. In other words, global warming strikes again. And again. And again. And suddenly, your early retirement abode doesn’t look so welcoming (or even habitable) anymore.

How to Align Your Retirement with Global Warming Let's Retire Young Grigory Lukin disintegrating world
The world is changing. Let’s change with it. (Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

Do you want to prevent that? Then let’s think strategically, eh. As much fun as it would be to sit on your porch and observe the fire tornadoes battling mega-floods, a lot of that can be foreseen. Not all of it, mind you, but a lot.

My degree is in political science: although that allows me to say, “Trust me, I’m a scientist!” with great aplomb (especially while wearing my lab coat), I am not a climate scientist. More of an enthusiastic amateur, really. I am, however, an experienced analyst and quite good at risk assessment. Here is my global warming (and assorted natural disaster) checklist of stuff to watch out for when you choose your early retirement destination:

  1. Seismically stable. Yes, I know, not exactly global warming, but it’ll still ruin your day when a 7-magnitude earthquake decides to show up. No amount of money would make me move to the San Andreas fault line. (Okay, maybe a very big pile of money…) If you live in California, then maybe you’ll get lucky — maybe the Big One won’t hit in your lifetime. Luck is a very bad foundation, though.
  2. Not anywhere near Yellowstone. A surprising number of my American friends don’t know anything about that super-volcano — or about the concept of super-volcanoes in general. The short version is that if and when that thing blows, it won’t only disrupt the air traffic. It’ll also drastically reduce the local real estate value, mostly through rivers of lava and other such unpleasantness. We don’t know when Yellowstone will go boom: maybe next decade, maybe in a few centuries. We do know that it’ll be a very bad place to live in when that happens, though.

As an aside, I find it hilarious that real estate in Yellowstone’s fallout radius is not free or dirt-cheap. People actually seem to like the views of the giant murder-mountain, and pay good money for that privilege. So much for the Efficient Market Hypothesis… Heh. But moving on:

3. Not anyplace that already has recurring natural disasters: I’m talking tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. Chances are, you’ve seen news reports showcasing some poor rural schmuck who lives in a tornado valley and acts incredibly surprised when his trailer flies away. Cause and effect, plain and simple. I am a nomad: I’ve lived in six cities over the past decade. When people choose to stay in disaster-prone areas instead of moving someplace quieter, that boggles my mind. I get that the beach may be great and your family lived there for the last 120 years, but at what point do you say enough is enough? With global warming, the existing weather patterns will only get worse. More tornadoes, bigger storms, higher floods.

How to Align Your Retirement with Global Warming Let's Retire Young Grigory Lukin earth has a fever
Those wildfires aren’t going anywhere, and neither is the planet’s fever… (Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay) 

4. Not anywhere that’s running out of water. It takes a very special kind of geek to actually research the water levels of major aquifers. (I am that geek, hi.) The data is readily available in tax-funded federal reports, but it’s not exactly covered by tabloids or headline news. I wager that’s because folks don’t want to cause undue panic, and there’s always the “meh, still got time” mentality. And yet… Major underground aquifers provide water for major cities. We currently waste a lot of said water on frivolous stuff like golfing or front-yard lawns. 

As water levels dip lower, there will be interesting conflicts between states. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is a fun novel that paints the worst-case scenario with water refugees, and with the National Guard actually guarding their states’ borders to keep people from coming in. It probably won’t get to that point anytime soon, but it might get distinctly uncomfortable. For example, Lake Mead has just hit a record low level. That’s bad news for Las Vegas, Arizona, and anyone else who relied on it for their drinking water. Will we see a Cape Town-style drought in a major American city? Hopefully not, but who knows.

Do your research and find the regions that still have stable aquifers: they exist, but there are few of them. The next disaster checklist item is…

5. Someplace chilly. If the place you plan to retire in already hits 100+ temperatures (that’s 37.8 degrees for all my Celsius readers), then it‘s probably already uncomfortable. It’ll get even hotter and even more uncomfortable. Last summer, I spent a couple of weeks in the Pacific Northwest, right during their record-setting heat wave. It was pretty bad, and that’s coming from someone who lived 10 years in Nevada. The world keeps getting hotter, and that’s happening faster than previously anticipated. Aim for more chilly locations. (I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you live in Arizona, I am so very, very sorry.) If you find a place with crappy cold winters and moderate summers, it just might become a prime climate refuge a few decades from now. By then, it’ll have slightly chilly winters and warm summers.

6. Not by the water. I love tropical sunsets and ocean beaches and river views as much as the next guy, but they might not be worth it over the next few decades. The sea levels are rising: they will not stay the same, and they will not go down. Some cities try to keep the disaster at bay (no pun intended) with elaborate systems of pumps, but all it will take is one unlucky day… Sorry, Miami. Ditto for the folks already living in flood-prone areas: if your local road turns into a fish freeway every now and then, it will not get better. Look for the high ground, or for places that have low risk of flooding.

How to Align Your Retirement with Global Warming Let's Retire Young Grigory Lukin flooded city
Great for fishing and swimming enthusiasts, not so great for everyone else. (Image by Jan Helebrant from Pixabay) 

And so, to summarize: ideally, you’d want to retire far away from seismic fault lines, away from super-volcanoes, not anywhere that has recurring natural disasters. You’d want your retirement destination to have a very healthy aquifer, chilly weather, and low risk of flooding. Where does that leave us?

Well, aside from stating yet again how very, very screwed Arizona is going to be, let’s say you want to avoid the southwest in general. You also might not want to live on either coast. Or in the Pacific Northwest, with all its giant and recurring wildfires. (The air gets really, really bad. Also, your house might burn down.) You’ll want to avoid places that rely primarily on snowfall for their water needs. (Farmers in northern Nevada will have some tough choices to make.) You definitely don’t want to move anywhere near Yellowstone. And if your prospective retirement destination already has heatwaves, cross it off your list.

What does that leave us? Not a whole lot, to be honest. If you’re in the US, consider looking into the Midwest or northern states — there are some places with good water sources and not terribly hot weather. If you’re in Europe, northern Europe will still be fine, relatively speaking. (More so than, say, Arizona, or Australia with its continent-wide fires where people literally had to flee to the edge of their world.)

Not to sound too much like a negative Nelly, but global warming will end a lot of the comforts we’re used to. The things we take for granted — front lawns, golfing, beach resorts — will not be here a few decades from now. The deterioration will be gradual, until it isn’t. When it happens, it will happen fast. Think ahead.

And as for me… I remember walking through a parking garage in Reno, Nevada, trying to ignore the freezing, piercing winter mountain winds, and promising myself that someway, somehow I’ll move someplace warmer, someplace away from that cold. I moved to Las Vegas. And then Fort Worth. And Tampa. Then, Seattle. When my life finally stabilized for a bit, I started thinking more strategically, coming up with the checklist above.

I got lucky and secured a work transfer to Canada. (See my recent article about moving abroad.) Given the choice between Vancouver and Toronto, I deliberately picked the east coast because it had a lot less wildfires. After emancipating myself from Amazon and quitting the rat race, I picked Quebec City as my early retirement lair. There are many things I love about this city, and one of its main advantages is being a good global warming refuge. It gets very cold in the winter, reasonably warm in the summer, and aside from the local river (yay fresh water!) flooding once in a while, this is a really good fit for me.

I know, I did just say that flooding is less than perfect, but hey, sometimes “close enough” is as good as it gets, eh. Looking back, I’m incredibly glad that my 2018 work transfer to Australia (aka the Arizona of the southern hemisphere) didn’t go through. As much as I love all their critters, that continent-wide fire in early 2020 was one hell of a wakeup call.

Needless to say, I fully understand how privileged this entire post is. A lot of people have no ability to move someplace new, and billions of people worldwide live in abject poverty, where any major disaster will be devastating. (Bangladesh is a ticking time bomb.) I’m aware of all that, and of the incredible privilege of not only retiring early, but having been born with a certain set of choices. (Though I’m originally from the USSR, not from North America.) A single individual may not change much, but do consider donating to carefully picked charities that make life easier for those worse off than yourself — for those who cannot leave.

And what about you? Do you consider future weather (fire tornadoes and all) when buying real estate? Or am I the only one thinking that far ahead? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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