Don’t Move Here. We Don’t Want You.
The Facebook post was heartfelt. A woman living in Asheville, North Carolina was pleading with the public not to overwhelm her lovely little town. “Visit, then leave,” was the message. We like our little town just as it is: little. Homey. Just us’ns.
Listen, I can empathize. As someone who has lived in the Denver area since 1971, right about the time John Denver’s songs were enticing folks to move out West, I have seen what happens when a small, unremarkable cow town gets inundated when folks find out what a great place Colorado is. We now have traffic issues and infrastructure issues and we’re back to high pollution days. I no longer camp in the high country because there are too many inexperienced people and they don’t know how to put out a fire. I-70 in ski season is a parking lot. Bring your sleeping bag and plan to nap on the way home. All the lovely, soothing, horse-populated open land is now butt-ugly apartment buildings and tract homes. UGH.
Lock the Doors, Zip up the State Lines and Throw Away the Key
Not long after I made my move to Colorado, I began hearing people talk about not “Californicating Colorado.” While insulting to those from that gorgeous state, I know precisely what they meant. Because it’s happened. I-25 is now one long conga line of malls, and cheaply made rubber-stamp tract housing, and more tract housing, and more malls, and and and. Just like I-5. The intense pressure on our limited water supply is horrendous especially given our lengthy droughts, increasingly less snow, and the need to water all those lawns in what is effectively plains desert.
People from greener states don’t understand. Colorado is slowly becoming Arizona. Water rationing is real, and it will never go away. Snow is becoming increasingly rare, making skiers unhappy, but far worse, making water scarce for our booming population. The once overflowing Colorado River, the lifeblood for so many, is no longer fed by huge annual snows. Colorado can no longer afford to keep desert golf courses green in Palm Springs. Massive fires- not just from lightning- are a way of life now, which has driven up home insurances rates by an unprecedented percentage ($577, the third-highest jump in the nation). A lot of that is because of human error- meaning wildfires- as well as climate change, affecting the number of tornadoes. We never used to get tornadoes right in our cities nestled against the front range- now they are more common. A huge chuck of Colorado is plains, just like Kansas, where you expect tornado alley. Not right along the front range. That- along with far more machine produced snow to keep the skiers coming- are among just a few of the changes.
Years ago there was a spate of license plates that identified people as Natives, and then copycats made Semi-Natives, Transplants, and the rest to mock the trend. Native-born Coloradans wanted to state their superiority over those who had just moved here. Then, as now, those who moved to the area settled in and they most certainly didn’t want anyone ELSE to, which would make it too crowded. Lock ’em out. I have mine, but you can’t come share it with me. This is OUR paradise. Stay out. In other words, we want the idea of a gated community to apply to our state, our great little town. And of course, our nation. Hence, the Wall.
Pissed off Dweebs
Asheville is just one more charming mountain town that is experiencing an historical boom. Americans, with good reason, are hoping to escape big city life and capture something closer to nature, a better community, places like old forest growth to play in that haven’t been paved over for yet another WalMart or TJ Maxx Homegoods. You can’t blame us. Right now I am contemplating the same thing, for the same reasons. After nearly forty years in Denver, I don’t want to live here any more. It’s too busy, too crowded. While some folks love the sophistication that comes with a happening urban scene, that’s not why I came here. I’m tired of struggling to find a single place to ride a horse that isn’t overwhelmed with cyclists, runners, hikers, and everyone else who gets pissed at me for riding an animal where they are. I am tired of riding a horse where people in the nearby park fly illegal drones over my head, terrifying my animal (and those with four year old girls on them), because they just want to see what happens. Like everyone else, I’m sick and tired of stupid, selfish, thoughtless.
We Bring Our Baggage With Us
The ranches were here hundreds of years before the suburbanites. But that’s the fundamental problem. That’s why the woman in Asheville doesn’t want people moving there. Because city folks bring the city with them, along with the aggressive driving habits that kill cyclists, no understanding of mountain manners, or how to be in the wild without setting hundreds of thousands of acres on fire.
This is the case with every lovely hamlet that has an established way of life, be it an isolated fishing town, a Maine village in the deep woods, a seaside resort in Oregon. When folks come in from elsewhere, they bring “elsewhere” with them. Suddenly the town is nothing like it used to be. And those of us who liked it the way it was either get angry or we end up moving. Many of us have moved to Panama City, or Ecuador, and we have fundamentally changed those places for the locals- who often resent us- in precisely the same way.
People have every right to move where they want. Until we become Russia (and we’re headed that way) and you have to show papers to do much of anything it’s a free country. Neither the Asheville woman nor I have any right to tell anyone not to move to “our” state. Because we all believe we have the right to live where we hope to have a better life.
The territorial imperative that we feel when suddenly, the place we love is fundamentally and irrevocably changed is universal. How do you think the Native Americans felt when we marched them off their lands? How do you think folks in San Francisco feel now that prices there (and sinking properties) have changed what was once the City of Love to the City of the $1200 lunch, and oh, by the way, your multi-million dollar property may be worthless in a few years? Oh, and one more thing. Have water wings nearby. https://sf.curbed.com/2018/3/8/17096206/san-francisco-sinking-sea-level-rise-climate-change
Canadians angrily demanded a border wall to keep US out after Trump got elected. They like Canada as it is. So do I. There are lots of places in the world which do not want us to move in and take over. Because that’s what we do: we tend to want to take over. We have a hard time acclimatizing, learning a new language, and becoming a part of the existing community. This is true all over the world, where communities like the Greeks in Melbourne, Australia have existed for decades without learning English. Sometimes it’s just what we do. Americans are offended when communities of Muslims are offended by our way of life, our dress, our feelings about women’s rights, for example. Everyone gets uppity and defensive when people who are not part of our tribe move in and try to change things that we like just the way they are. That’s completely understandable.
It’s Not Just Here
The Paris Accord featured leaders from all over the world. Some of them were desperate. Such as the heads of state of islands nations that are slowly going underwater. For example, the Solomon Islands are losing land steadily due to rising seas from melting glacial ice. The tiny nation of Kiribati will also soon be underwater. Rising sea levels are going to force the wholesale relocation of millions when they no longer just step in water when they get up in the morning, but their animals, crop lands, and everything else are in the drink.
In Alaska, the thawing of permafrost is causing the loss of habitable land for many Inuit. Polar bears- what’s left of them as they starve from lack of food supplies, march into town in desperation. Drought has devastated crops and life for millions. Climate change is likely to cause the mass migrations of untold millions of people — and just where do you think they are going to go? https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/19/climate-change-soon-to-cause-mass-movement-world-bank-warns
For those of us contemplating a move simply because additional traffic is inconvenient and our perfect little town has too many “outsiders” — whatever that means, we’re all still Americans, last I checked — this spectre is a wholly different argument. One hundred and forty million people will simply lose their homes entirely. With the world’s population continuing to explode, we can’t just say NIMBY, or “not in my back yard.” Because the rich nations of the world, with our consumption of oil and gas, contributed to this. Because we refused to do something in time, this is the cost. It’s speeding up beyond all reason. Who are any of us to say no to those who have been robbed of their entire homeland because of the actions of a few wealthy nations? Who are we to stay Katy Bar the Door?
A World of Immigrants
We have forever been immigrants, as species, making our slow way out of Africa and other continents to settle elsewhere when changing climates or exhausted food supplies forced us to move on. We have always sought to explore and conquer (whether or not we were welcomed). Someone always wins, someone always loses. I’m not here to make an argument for what’s right or wrong. Whether you believe in climate change doesn’t change the simple fact that sea levels are rising and drought is worldwide. Plenty of folks on the Gulf Coast of Florida are experiencing the fear that in no time they may not have that multi-million dollar condo. As for overcrowded, densely-populated places like New York, climate change promises major flooding every five years. What if all those folks decide to move to your lovely little home town?
The woman in Asheville speaks eloquently for me and anyone else who has ever invested deeply in a place and seen it irrevocably changed. Think of how islanders in the Indonesia archipelago must feel to watch their home land disappear under their feet. You may not particularly care, but they sure do. And they will have to live somewhere. Just as those ravaged by drought in parts of Africa will have to live somewhere.
“ The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.” https://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2017/02/06/how-much-worse-are-african-droughts-because-man-made-climate-change. With some four million in Cape Town about to have their water supply cut off entirely, we can’t assume that folks are going to stay where death is imminent. We all want to stay alive. We’d all like to have a shot at a better life.
The Water War
As companies like Nestle and Coke continue to buy up the world’s water resources as they continue to dwindle, increasingly our future will be dictated by those who can afford to buy water controlled by people who could give less of a shit about us and only about lining their wallets. They of course have private jets, private islands and billion dollar bank accounts. They know climate change is real. That’s why they want the water. Water is the new gold. You ask anyone who has lived in the water-starved West for any number of years about the bloody history of water rights. It really is the most precious resource there is. The fanciful scenario of the James Bond film Quantum of Solace is very, very real, with an unscrupulous operator exploiting and getting control of entire countries’ water supply. What, you’re surprised? Read the news: https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-privatisation-of-water-nestle-denies-that-water-is-a-fundamental-human-right/5332238
In what world is access to clean water not a fundamental human right? Who made the CEO of Nestle God, to determine for all humanity that we have to pay for what occurs naturally on this planet? This might further get your attention, especially if you live in an increasingly water starved place: www.bottledlifefilm.com/index.php/the-story.html
Learning That We Are One World
So yes. I’m seriously thinking about moving out of Colorado because of a preference for a way of life. But millions in the world are facing having to move because where they are is no life at all. We cannot put a padlock on every community, every country. It’s impossible. What is coming far outstrips the Syrian War. The mass of migration from Africa to the EU from terrorism. What’s coming is going to be massive waves of people whose countries have simply disappeared or become uninhabitable. That’s a tsunami wave we can’t stop. Nor should we because we are part of what caused it. Whether you agree with this doesn’t matter. The facts are indisputable. People will have to migrate.
No matter what the causes, reasons, justifications, we are going to be a world full of immigrants. How rich nations became rich has consequences, all of which we are just beginning to see. As with chaos theory, what happens in an island off Papua New Guinea does indeed affect us. We’re too small a marble. How we learn how to share what belongs to the entire race is going to be a whole new chapter in learning how to be human, to share, to co-create solutions that will be fundamentally essential to our very survival.
Because I’m an incurable optimist, I believe that many good people are also working on solutions. Because we have to. It’s the only way we can make it as a species. So while I can understand my friend’s lament in Asheville, I am more concerned with the looming factors that touch us all in every corner of this achingly small world. Because our neighbors are going to be changing. It behooves us all to figure out a way to learn to live with them, and they learn to live with us.