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Buffalo prepares to welcome 'climate refugees'

A professor from Harvard says Western New York will be among the best places for people who are forced from their homes due to the changing climate.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo isn't immune to the effects of climate change, but experts say this region will be among the best for people who are forced to move due to rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change.

"I think (Buffalo) is really in a position to really take advantage of this and to really provide a refuge for people who will be on the move," said Jesse Keenan, Ph.D., a researcher and professor at Harvard.

One of the biggest climate concerns in the United States is rising sea levels. Almost 40% of the country's population lives near the coast.

One study found more than 13 million Americans who live along coastal areas could be displaced due to rising sea levels by the end of this century.

He said Buffalo benefits from being far away from the rising ocean and instead close to the Great Lakes, which provide ample fresh water.

Also, if Western New York warms as expected in the coming decades, the climate will be temperate and appealing.

Finally, Buffalo has the infrastructure to handle a larger population.

"There's a capacity there in terms of investing in people and in place that I think is quite profound," Dr. Keenan said via satellite from Cambridge, Mass.

Brendan Mehaffy, Buffalo's executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, said the city is prepared.

"We're building a city to grow," Mehaffy said. "Whatever that factor is, we will be prepared for it. We'll be ready for what comes our way."

Mehaffy said the Green Code and other initiatives that are designed to make Buffalo a more liveable and enjoyable place weren't specifically designed with climate refugees in mind, but they would benefit from an improving city.

"A lot of this is just building a city that allows for economic mobility and allows for a great quality of life."

Dr. Keenan's comments about Buffalo have been included in articles in The Guardian, Reuters, NBC News and many others. While the City of Buffalo isn't marketing this area to potential "refugees" -- which could come off as insensitive to people who are displaced -- leaders are trying to prepare for what could eventually become a reality.

"It's not an economic development strategy," Mehaffy said "What it is is it's looking into the future to say what is going to be happening nationally and globally and how is that going to be impacting us. So it's a reaction to that and making sure that we're prepared so that all residents in the City of Buffalo can benefit."

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