Sunday, 27 January 2008

The Hollowing Of America

This really interesting map came from The Economist of January 19th 2008. It shows how the population of the US has changed, on a county level, between 2000-06. Of course, as demographics are an early warning indicator of future societal changes, a map like this needs to be examined carefully.

For me, the most striking aspect of the graphic is that the centre of the US is losing population, up to 80% at the county level in some cases. The population gainers are the south west and the south east of the US, in some places by 70%. This suggests a degree of migration within the US, in addition to the often reported flow of people into the US. In total, the population of the US grew by 6.4% during the period, but what is more telling is the variation within that average.

From a futures perspective, two questions come to mind. First, does the south west have sufficient water to sustain a period of population growth well above average? The evidence to date suggests that it does not. The local aquifers are becoming quite stressed, river levels are at unprecedented lows, and water supply is starting to become something of an issue. This is likely to continue well into the future.

At present, the US plans to import its water deficiencies from Canada. The Canadians, on the other hand, are being a bit more strategic about this (see story), and are seeking to restrict the supply of water to the US. Whatever is the outcome of the dispute about the supply of water, with the US Dollar falling against the Canadian Dollar, even if future supplies are secured, they are also likey to be much more expensive than today.

Second, if climate extremes are growing as the climate changes, wouldn’t those who have relocated to the south eastern coastal areas find their residences more jeopardised in the future? One would expect so. This night have a number of implications. First, insurance premiums will increase substantially. As insurance costs rise, particularly at a time of economic stringency, more people will be tempted to forego that expense item.

Should a major storm hit this area, with a large population of un-insured or under-insured people, the pressure would be on the Federal Agencies to provide relief. One might ask if the federal response would be adequate for the job. The experience from Hurricane Katrina suggests not. However, even if the lessons from Hurricane Katrina were fully learned, the experience from the flooding of the interior in 2007 suggests another problem coming to the fore. The personnel and equipment needed for disaster relief are in Iraq.

Large population shifts are bound to cause problems with infrastructure. Schools, houses, and shops are all in the wrong place. Just moving this infrastructure from where it is located to where it is needed is likely to give rise to a major boom in construction. One key advantage of new build is that it incorporates the latest technology and design – water conservation in the south west and storm protection in the south east.

Perhaps the future is not as bleak as it might appear to be at first sight?

1 comment:

steve said...

Interesting to consider the demographic changes in the light of this USA drought map . It seems that people are migrating from areas of relatively normal rainfall &/or moderate drought that mainly affects agriculture, into areas of severe to exceptional drought that mainly affects availability of drinking water. What phenomenon might explain this and what might it portend?