Ed Fallon Report — Here come the migrants

Dear Friends,

Click here for this week’s podcast (details below) … including my conversation with Des Moines City Council candidate, Marcus Coenen (click here).

The highlight of my week occurs every Thursday at 8:00 a.m. Sadly, it’s not a good highlight.

That’s when the National Drought Mitigation Center releases its update about conditions across the US. Sure, I study the map of the Midwest, where things have improved in some areas. But I spend more time analyzing the map of the US West, where drought conditions continue to worsen each week. 

The situation in the West is so bad that those of us living in regions blessed with reliable rainfall need to be honest about two difficult truths.

First, the migrants are coming! Yup. When Midwesterners hear “migrant,” most look south. We need to look west.

With the prognosis for ongoing and worsening drought, there is simply no way 70 million people can continue to live in the US West. Even before the Midwest sees migration from coastal areas lost to sea-level rise, we need to prepare for the surge of migrants from our western neighbors.

How soon will the exodus from the West begin? Next year. Yup, 2022. That’s my prediction. The situation is that bad.

Is the Midwest ready to receive a vast wave of parched climate refugees? Not even close. All of us should be talking with local, state, and federal officials about how we’ll manage an influx of millions of displaced fellow Americans. Food, water, energy, housing, health care, transportation, employment. All these and more need to be considered as the population of Midwestern communities braces for an increase like never before.

Perhaps Iowa towns should think of this as a more serious version of RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride across our state. Year after year, small town residents do what it takes to welcome upwards of ten thousand bikers to their communities. Let’s put that expertise to work in advance of the climate refugees soon to be heading our way.

Second, the Midwest needs to commence an overhaul of its biggest industry: agriculture. Out West, 80-90 percent of the water from the Colorado River is used for irrigation. Without water, farming at its current scale will not survive. As western farms abandon operations, places with adequate rain will need to fill the food-production void.

In the Midwest, instead of fields and fields of corn and soybeans (largely consumed by cars, animals, and laboratories), those fields need to grow actual food. This won’t be an easy transition. It will take innovation, sacrifice, and boldness. It will also take time, which we don’t have a lot of. So we need to get started now!

“But Ed,” you say. “Why are you so negative? Surely there are mitigation strategies that will allow the West to continue to thrive and prosper.”

‘Fraid not. This megadrought is the worst in 1,200 years. Back then, a lot fewer people inhabited the region.

“Conservation?” Sure, better management of water will help. But not enough to sustain the current population.

“Desalination?” That might look good on paper, but desalination plants cost $2,000 to $3,000 an acre-foot. They also involve huge environmental concerns, including where to dump all the leftover salt and sediments.

“What about pumping water from the Great Lakes?” That trial balloon has been floated and shot down numerous times. Not only is it environmentally flawed but it’s a political non-starter. Nearly every resident of the eight-state Great Lakes region will tell you why.

The only viable solution to the West’s drought problem in the New Climate Era is a drastically smaller population coupled with a radically altered economic model founded on that bedrock of conservative principles: conservation.

We can do our part in the Midwest by planning, preparing the infrastructure, and welcoming the new wave of climate refugees in the same spirit as former Iowa Governor Robert Ray welcomed immigrants from southeast Asia in the 1970s. — Ed Fallon