Newspapers like to make everything a trend story. Here’s a real test: Can you make Duluth, Minnesota trendy as a climate change refuge?
Out-of-Towners Head to ‘Climate-Proof Duluth’
The former industrial town in Minnesota is coming to terms with its status as a refuge for people moving from across the country because of climate change.
By Debra Kamin
Debra Kamin traveled to Duluth, Minn., encountering January temperatures and icy roads, to report this story.
March 10, 2023
DULUTH, Minn. — Surfing in Minnesota is just like surfing in Southern California, John Jenkins says, as long as you ignore the icicles on your wet suit.
Mr. Jenkins, 38, is a child of Orange County. But a decade ago, looking to escape overpopulation and intensifying wildfires, he took a chance and settled in Duluth, Minn., where temperatures can dip 30 degrees below zero.
Canada has wildfires too and it’s (mostly) north of Duluth. Every fall, Southern California fire departments have water tank planes flown in from Canada where they spent the summer dropping water on forest fires.
Peshtigo, WI is geographically pretty similar to Duluth, being on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. On October 8, 1871, the same day as the famous Chicago Fire, a forest fire killed 1200 in that town.
Hundreds of like-minded new residents have since joined him, coming from California, Colorado and New Mexico and changing the face of this erstwhile manufacturing town on the western edge of Lake Superior. Dubbed “climate-proof Duluth” in 2019 by Jesse Keenan, a Tulane University professor who was lecturing at Harvard at the time, Duluth has been hailed for its ample supply of freshwater, as well as its location—buffered from sea-level rise in the Upper Midwest—and temperatures, which run mild in the summer and colder than cold in the winter.
The majority of the population growth in the United States remains in the Sun Belt, where homes have traditionally been more affordable than in the north—although sky-high inflation is quickly changing the equation. But rising temperatures are becoming a factor for many buyers, and climate migration—choosing to move because of climate change—is now shifting from projection to reality. Duluth is coming to terms with its status as a refuge. …
Today, the traffic is flowing in the other direction. Duluth saw 2,494 new residents from out of state over the last five years, according to the American Community Survey. Many came armed with cash from home sales in more expensive cities and towns, as well as a newfound ability to do their jobs remotely. Real estate agents in Duluth say that nearly every out-of-town client now mentions concerns about rising temperatures and natural disasters as a motivation for their move.
Eh, Duluth’s population has barely budged since 1990, a third of a century ago: