How You Can Prepare for Climate Change
Author and journalist David Pogue shares advice based on his new book
You may know David Pogue as the affable gadget guru on "CBS Sunday Morning" who shows up around Christmas in a Santa suit, giving tips on digital gifts — in verse. But for the past two years, the clever tech writer has been researching the range of threats posed by climate breakdown.
The result is his 600-page-plus comprehensive guide: "How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos." Oh yes, there will be chaos; much of it has actually already begun.
The movement of people because of climate factors has begun.
Pogue's book is wide-ranging, taking on topics from how to prepare for floods and wildfires to where to invest to help the environment and your retirement security. I met with him recently (via Zoom) asking Pogue to share some of his advice and insights. Here are the highlights, edited for space and clarity:
Next Avenue: We should make it clear at the outset that your book is a 'survival guide,' not a guide to shrinking your carbon footprint, right?
David Pogue: The climate has changed, past tense. This stuff we're seeing with the hurricanes and the wildfires — that's not an anomaly. That's what we've got from now on. So, trying to pretend that we can stave off all of it is folly.
I think these days, the advice is: We have to do both as hard and fast as possible. And that's my message through the whole book: You gotta mitigate — you gotta stop pumping carbon into the air and we also need to adapt, because we're foolish to think it's going to be back to 1980s weather within our lifetimes.
And it even affects what grows in our backyards. So, you have some strategies for that.
Gardening, it turns out, is the Number One most popular hobby in America — a shock to me. So yeah, there's a chapter called "What to Grow," and there are two aspects to it.
One is the "survival garden," how you can grow your own stuff — beans, and things you can put away for the winter and eat as necessary.
And if you are a gardener, how to make things grow in a time where the traditional techniques and timings don't work anymore.
We're already seeing climate refugees around the world; people fleeing climate impacts of various kinds. Do you see a major migration of middle-class Americans unfolding for the same reason?
All the indications show that, especially in the southern states, especially Florida, Texas and Louisiana, the movement of people because of climate factors has begun. I know several people personally who've moved out of California. They've said they're just done living with wildfires.
And increasingly people are considering climate as a factor among others when they decide to move. Not that many people say, 'I've had it with these hurricanes, I'm moving to Vermont,' but there's a number of people who are saying, 'I've had it with the weather and the cost of living is so much lower in the Great Lakes area.'
Do you think anyplace is truly 'climate-safe?'
So, what would be your best bets? You're not the first to mention the Great Lakes.
In the book, I looked at fifteen 'climate haven' cities in the sense that they have no wildfires, no hurricanes and unlimited, clean, fresh water. And they tend to be in the Great Lakes area: Madison [Wisc.], Cleveland, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Buffalo, Duluth [Minn.].
But there's no place that's completely free. I mean even Madison, which is — I think when I become an empty-nester, that place is calling my name — even they have occasional floods. They have mosquitoes. I'd say these are minor compared to what people on the coasts of the U.S. are experiencing, though.
Climate change hits people of color and low-income communities hardest.
I notice your 'havens' tend to be pretty cold places.
It turns out the two classic American retirement havens, Florida and Arizona, are the worst places for you to retire, yeah. These are the places that are most immediately in danger.
I mean, Arizona — Phoenix is uninhabitable in the summer. People keep oven mitts in their glove compartment because the steering wheel is too hot to touch. In Flagstaff, which is nearby, but much cooler because it's at elevation, they joke about putting up a wall to keep out all the Phoenix people moving there.
It's time to really reconsider what we consider our climate refuge as we retire.
It often seems to me that these lists of things you can do apply mostly to middle-class homeowners. If you're a renter in a low-income neighborhood, what can you really do to protect yourself?
This was constantly on my mind. Climate change hits people of color and low-income communities hardest. Study after study shows that for a lot of awful historical, shameful reasons, communities of color tend to be in low-lying areas, to have housing that's built more flimsily and so on.
When people say, 'So what are the top things you can do?,' one of them is install the free emergency app from the American Red Cross. It should be on every phone. You put in your address and maybe your parents' address or your kids' address, and then if there's ever any kind of disaster coming your way — hurricane, fire, flood, windstorm, tornado, even a nuclear meltdown or chemical spill, this thing springs to life and warns you.
It tells you where the Red Cross shelters are closest to you. It has built-in emergency and first aid instructions that don't need an internet connection in case the cell towers go down. It can save your life.
The other big one is insurance. Almost everyone of any income level has to have some kind of [homeowner's or renters] insurance and most of us haven't looked at our policies since we got them.
A lot of them are wrong for how we live today. I was amazed to find out that eighteen percent of Americans who live in flood zones have flood insurance and no one else does. Everyone else is a sitting duck.
2020 set another record for the number of billion-dollar climate and weather-related disasters in the U.S, and each one seems to spawn another brood of scammers and disaster profiteers, often targeting older residents. What are your survival tips for that?
That's a great point. Increasingly, just as there are scammers on the internet every day, there are disaster scammers who come to you as you're standing there looking at the damage to your house and say, 'Hi, I'm Bob from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration]. With a small down payment, I can get your repairs going. I could get your insurance refund going. Hi, I'm a building inspector from the state. If you give me a down payment, we'll start the reconstruction of your home."
And of course, this is all fraudulent.
There's a toll-free number where you can check these people out, where you can report these people [866-720-5721].
But here's the Number One rule: Nobody from FEMA will ever cold-call you and ask for money of any kind. Nor will they ask for personal information of any kind. Even if they have a jacket with a FEMA badge on it doesn't mean they're for real; you can order that stuff off the internet.
One of the most under-discussed impacts from the warming climate are insect-borne diseases that can threaten you and your property. You cover that pretty extensively, from encephalitis to the Zika virus. Bugs are on the move, too, right?
They are. As the earth warms, the winters that used to kill off mosquitoes, ticks and beetles aren't cold enough and aren't long enough to kill them off.
Some of these insects have two cycles of birth per season now, instead of one. In the Pacific Northwest, it's these beetles that are killing a hundred thousand forest trees a day. And it's [a new species of] mosquitoes being found much farther north.
The ticks that carry Lyme disease are in many more areas and biting many more people. The CDC's [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] latest numbers show that thirty thousand cases are reported a year in the Northeast and they suspect that's under-reported by ninety percent.
And that's just Lyme disease. There are lots of other really nasty diseases that these things can bring you.
It's actually fairly simple to protect yourself: any bug repellent with DEET. It's not poisonous, it doesn't kill anything. It's just a repellent. And it's one of the most studied chemicals in the world. It's completely safe for you and your kids. Put that stuff on and the ticks won't grab onto you.
I thought I'd covered most impacts of climate breakdown but...kidney stones?
Until very recently, I had very little hope — and a lot of cynicism.
Oh man, this is a personal topic for me. One in nine gentlemen will get a kidney stone at some point, and it is the worst. And we are getting more kidney stones, and it's simply because of dehydration: hotter weather, warmer weather, we dry out faster and statistically, any population that's hotter and dryer will have more kidney stones.
And the Pogue prescription for that?
Ah, the Pogue prescription is the one thing science has found: Drink lemon water every single day.
Fill up your water bottle and then put a couple tablespoons of lemon juice in it. It turns out that the lemon water creates a hostile environment for these stones to develop in your kidneys and has been shown to be fifty percent effective at warding off another one.
Your final chapter is titled, 'Where to Find Hope.' I've discovered that the more I learn about climate breakdown, the harder it is to be optimistic. Where do you find your hope?
Until very recently, I had very little hope — and a lot of cynicism. The climate breakdown was so visible and measurable, but humanity just didn't seem to care. It felt like being in a bus headed for the cliff, but the driver chooses not to step on the brake.
I was devastated knowing that each passing week was making my children's future lives harder.
I feel like that's changed in the last year. Much too late, of course — we should have started years ago. But in the last twelve months or so, a huge number of the world's corporations, investors and even governments have made fairly stunning pledges to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, the numbers make it clear where we're going with energy: Solar power is nine times cheaper — and wind power forty percent cheaper — than ten years ago. Eighty percent of planned coal plants in Asia's developing companies have been canceled and no more coal plants are scheduled for the U.S.
And General Motors — General Motors — announced that it will become an all-electric-car company by 2035.
Those are big, meaningful changes by big, meaningful players and better yet, they send a signal to all the other players that the tide has turned.
All of this is pretty anxiety-inducing, and you even write about that as a climate impact.
Yeah. That's a big one. My editor refers to "How to Prepare for Climate Change" as the first uplifting book about climate change. Because the entire premise is: Depression is not just being in a bad situation, it's being in a bad situation and feeling like you can't do anything about it. So that's the really big cause of anxiety and stress. And the act of taking some control over your situation —any of the things suggested in this book about how to protect yourself from climate change — is taking action [toward] feeling better.