How Will the Rise of Work from Home Enhance our Economy's Climate Change Resilience?
I have completed a first draft of my 2022 University of California Press book on the new urban economics of Working from Home (WFH). In one section, I discuss how WFH helps us to adapt to climate change. In the recent past, we were constrained by the fact that we had to live close to where we work. Several of our productivity poles are in places that are likely to face future climate risk (for example Manhattan).
In a WFH economy where key computer files are “on the cloud” and where many of us will be able to work from anywhere, we are able to diversify considerable place based risk. Wall Street cannot be “knocked out” by flooding because Wall Street is no longer on Wall Street.
By accelerating the rise of WFH, a silver lining of the terrible 2020 year is to decouple productivity from place. For decades, urban economists have studied the intellectual spillover effects of living in places featuring plenty of college graduates.
Going forward, young people will continue to benefit from starting their careers in such places but once we develop our skills and network —- we then can live where we want to live based on family priorities or based on our own individual preferences. Nature lovers can head to the Mountains or the surf areas and engage in WFH. Those extremely worried about emerging climate risks can use the new pinpoint climate data provided by entities such as Jupiter, 427 and First Street Foundation to find the right place for them.
As firms decentralize and choose whether to have less of a presence in San Francisco and Manhattan, many will follow Amazon and Google and open up HQ2s throughout the nation. Such firms will spread out and consider moving to secondary cities if valued employees seek to live in these cities or nearby. In this sense, the competition between cities to be climate resilient will act as an urban economic development strategy. I discussed this point at length in my 2010 book Climatopolis but at that time environmentalists were not willing to calmly discuss the capacity of our economy to adapt to the scary challenge by climate change. Back in 2010, I did not anticipate the rise of WFH but this new work/life balance strategy only further bolsters my optimism about the claims I made in that book. You can watch the Climatopolis videos here.