Investing for (in?) the Apocalypse

by RMS

Here’s an utterly insensitive topic. What’s the best way to invest for inevitable climate change? Never mind saving the world. Where’s the money going to be? Will the oil industry collapse with the arrival of electric vehicles? Should I buy a resort property in Nunavut? Does anybody know which insects are going to proliferate, and are they edible?

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141 thoughts on “Investing for (in?) the Apocalypse

  1. And has anyone actually made any life changes based on climate change? I have friends in Marin who moved to higher ground, because the wife (who has an MS in mechanical engineering from Stanford, if we’re checking credentials) was really worrying about sea level rise. Of course the house is amazing and has an amazing view, so it’s not like they’re living in a tree house in the Sierras.

    I confess that I am glad that my Santa Cruz house is at quite a high elevation (roughly the same as the UCSC campus) and that I didn’t pay the 100% premium for a house right on the water.

  2. When my Marin friends said they were moving to higher ground, I thought it was a metaphor. Like, “We’ve decided to become more spiritual and meditate more.” But no, they meant actual higher ground.

  3. My bet is farmland that is in the long-term irrigation range of the Columbia Basin Dam region will become more valuable and that climate change will make expansion of the irrigation canals planned in the 1930’s financially viable. https://www.cbdl.org/ogwrp-map/

    I’d also bet on farmland just north of the ~Minneapolis latitude, where corn transitions to trees and lakes right now.

  4. I hear guns and ammo are popular investments. Although if we are talking actual apocalypse and the fall of everything, I think I’d spend lots of quality time with a mountain bike, bow and arrow, and big ol’ knife. Maybe my claymore, if I’m not too old to wield it. I’d also have to pay more attention to how the climate is going to change in various areas — I’d want to live in an area with plenty of arable land.

    The only “decision” I made that was even slightly influenced by climate change was not investing in ABQ for the long haul — there are already problems with the water table out there, and there is not much of a backup option with CA having rights to so much water that originates farther east. The current lifestyle of big homes and green lawns and such just doesn’t seem sustainable long-term without putting a ton more cash into developing alternate sources of potable water, and I suspect people are going to go there kicking and screaming.
    Of course, the primary reason I left is because I didn’t like it there. ;-) But I was very aware of the water issues and glad to leave them behind.

    I could in the future decide to move out of MD depending on how things go. We’re currently sort of at the top end of my tolerance range for hot/muggy/buggy — although this last year has been more like living in Seattle, with lots of grey/mild/rainy. I don’t really like either. If it trends a little warmer, Chicago or Minneapolis could have real promise — I love both cities and enjoy winter, just maybe not *that* cold.

  5. And trust WCE to find and post the very map I said I needed to look at as I was writing. . . . ;-)

  6. “Does anybody know which insects are going to proliferate, and are they edible?”
    I understand the big issue is the opposite problem, the collapse of insect populations and the effect of that on crops and frog/bird populations. But maybe we should all be learning to love the proverbial chocolate covered grasshopper? I wonder if there’s some way to invest in something aimed at providing mechanical pollination in the absence of natural pollinators? Cassandra?

  7. I wonder if there’s some way to invest in something aimed at providing mechanical pollination in the absence of natural pollinators? Cassandra?

    I don’t know that natural pollinators play a much more significant role in pollinating food crops than elk do in providing meat protein. Beef cattle and honeybees are both types of domesticated livestock than provide services to human beings.

    Beekeeping is a fairly lucrative business. Actually really irritatingly lucrative….I just keep writing checks to them. The almond industry using approximately 70% of the U.S.honey bee population for six weeks around valentine’s day. Basically a minimum of two hives per acre for 1.3 millions ares of almonds. And then all those bees need a place to be for the rest of the year. So, almond growers pay beekeepers for hives for six weeks and then beekeepers charge a minimal amount for pollination services or pay other people for land to pasture their bees for 46 weeks.

    The colony collapse disorder was in some part brought about by the rapid increase in almond acres and the price of almonds. In some interval, more hives can increase yield, when almonds sold for about a penny an almond, people increased the number of hives per acre. There was an overall increase in acreage. So there was huge increase in demand for bees. New beekeepers entered the industry, and established beekeepers did not cull as hard as they might have under other circumstances. And, California almond bloom is rightly referred to as a giant bee brothel. So, inexperience beekeepers, weaker hives, and a chance for all the bees to meet and mingle and share viruses. Lots of hives died. Animal husbandry has improved, the bee brothel still goes on, and there are enough bees. They are just expensive.

  8. A while back I bought some Home Depot stock in DS’ college fund account, but sold it recently to use the money to pay for his college tuition. In hindsight, I should’ve bought the stock from him; it’s just kept going up since then.

    With the apparent trend toward an increasing number of catastrophic weather events and increasing damage due to those event. HD is a stock that might benefit.

  9. I have not thought of where I’d invest, except for things like guns and booze for my own use. However, how do businesses consider possible effects of climate change? This comes to mind as Amazon nears its decision on where to locate its second headquarters.

    As companies around the world grow concerned about the risks of climate change, they have started looking for clarity on how warming might disrupt their operations in the future. But governments in the United States and Europe have been slow to translate academic research on global warming into practical, timely advice for businesses or local city planners.

    Now some private companies, like Jupiter, are trying to fill the gap.

    This remains a young and untested field, and it’s unclear whether Jupiter or others can succeed as profitable enterprises. Scientists caution that predicting short-term climate effects in specific locations remains rife with uncertainty. Jupiter will have to persuade potential customers that its forecasts are reliable enough to give companies a competitive edge….

    The company is developing a variety of predictive tools, some of which look much like Google Maps, that it hopes will allow paying customers to zoom down to the city block level to get a better sense of the potential risks they face from storms, heat waves, wildfires or other climate-change effects in the coming decades.

    The article gives an example of one company considering Charleston SC.

  10. There was a WSJ article today about speculating in residential real estate based on the possible location of Amazon’s new headquarters, so it all ties in together.

  11. If money is your sole concern, famine in Africa seems likely, but famine relief by the Gates Foundation, the Wold Trade Organization, the LDS church or some other organization seems like a risk to the business plan of selling overpriced food to starving Africans. Global climate risk is probably a secondary risk to civil unrest in most of Africa, anyway.

  12. One industry that may benefit from extreme weather is mental health. My friend that moved to Florida has started to see a therapist because she suffered from PTSD after irma. My DD still gets scared in major storms since the tree hit our house.

    I have another friend that had no power in March for over 12 days and she gets nervous every time the winds are high. Do you remember my post about the Holocaust survivor that had to start seeing therapist in the Spring because her cardiologist told her to see one after the stress of dealing with the label company? I get it because I almost lost my mind and/or needed blood pressure medication in March in order to get my service back after weeks of outages.

  13. Global climate risk is probably a secondary risk to civil unrest in most of Africa, anyway.

    They’re related, though, as some people are predicting. Generally speaking people don’t just quietly lie down and die. They migrate, if they possibly can. So tons of people migrating will cause all kinds of unrest.

    In the 16th century, the Shoshone were affected by the “Little Ice Age” and moved to the plains. As if pulled into a vacuum, people flowed in from the Rocky Mountains, northern woodlands, and the Mississippi valley, turning the plains into an agglomeration of migration trails. This human tide consisted mainly of groups that had lived on the plains before the great drought, but some of the immigrants were newcomers. Among those newcomers were the Shoshones. (Pekka, The Comanche Empire. And when the Comanches arrived, they twisted the Spaniards and the French around their little fingers.

    That’s a really good book, by the way, and it will disabuse you of any groovy notions about all the American Indian groups being peaceful and at one with nature.

  14. Whole house generator companies are probably doing pretty well. We are much less anxious after we got the generator. Also we trim our trees back and tree pruning companies have quite a lot of business in our area.

  15. Lauren, your post also suggests that putting money into strengthening the grid might be wise.

    WCE, thanks for those maps. Cassandra, fascinating about the bees. I didn’t know y’all had to rent bees.

  16. I agree that the grid has to be strengthened, but they won’t spend the money to take care of it because it is too expensive. The only thing that Con ed did after Sandy is to cut down 1000s of trees. They didn’t bury any lines, and they just send representatives to meetings to get screamed at by local officials and residents.

  17. Speaking of the apocalypse, this afternoon I get to review/edit our 85-pp single-space office lease (with an equal quantity of exhibits, of course). Just shoot me now.

  18. Lauren and RMS – I went to an investor meeting last year for one of my clients where the speaker was an ex-special ops engineer who now does consulting to governments, and he said that the biggest terrorism risk to the country is attacks to the grid. He said that a coordinated attack could take out a whole sector of the country for 18+ months. Blechhhhh. That was not an optimistic meeting!

  19. “Whole house generator companies are probably doing pretty well.”

    Perhaps WFI’s DH is really busy.

    I hope she made it through Harvey and is doing well.

  20. “Lauren, your post also suggests that putting money into strengthening the grid might be wise.”

    I’m a skeptic.

    Locally at least, generation is becoming much more distributed, especially with so much rooftop PV. Our electric utility company, and the bigger utility company that was looking to buy it, have made proposals that IMO would encourage people to leave the grid, likely raising the cost per customer for the remaining customers, and possibly creating a death spiral from which microgrids might emerge.

  21. I think the folks who figure out how to make desalination efficient and cheap, and the folks who figure out how to make water from hydrogen and oxygen efficiently and cheaply will do well. Water is a resource we don’t have enough of already. If the equivalent Haber-Bosch comes along, it will be a game changer.

    I spend a lot of times in meetings talking about the effects of climate change – from infrastructure to medical issues to fertility to escape routes to you name it. They are never positive meetings. Personally, I do make choices based on storms. I look at ways to mitigate effects of flooding before it occurs, and when we look at new houses, we use the same markers. I want to be on higher ground, and make sure that we are far enough away from any creeks that may overflow. No ocean views for me.

  22. My guess is that there is a lot of money to be made in energy storage.

    The problem, at least right now, is that there is, TMK, no clarity WRT which technologies are most likely to be commercialized, much less which companies will profit.

  23. We’ve gone around and around about installing solar. Our roof isn’t really very well designed for it. And we didn’t take advantage of the super deals years ago, as Denver Dad did. And then just in the last few months there have been multiple scandals about the solar companies not being able to deliver on their promises, and having gotten too cutthroat with each other, such that the consumers wind up holding the short end of the solar cell. So we still haven’t taken any action, though I’d like to.

  24. I think the folks who figure out how to make desalination efficient and cheap

    Rhode (and you are definitely the person to ask!), won’t there be problems with the oceans becoming more saline if desalination becomes efficient and cheap? Will we wind up with super-salty oceans?

  25. “how to make water from hydrogen and oxygen efficiently and cheaply will do well.”

    If you already have H2, burning it will not only make water, it will also release energy.

    The real trick, IMO, is to cheaply create H2.

  26. RMS, I don’t think it’ll be a huge problem.

    Desalination will only make the oceans more salty if the salts separated from the water are dumped back into the ocean, which may not happen. Perhaps salt mines will be put out of business instead.

    I’ve heard that increased runoff due to large swaths of land being developed has caused many wetlands and near shore areas to become less saline, so perhaps desalination could offset that.

  27. Rhode, there’s been a lot of talk about deep-water AC, in which cold water from the ocean is pumped onshore, used to cool buildings, and the warmed water gets dumped back into the ocean.

    One potential benefit associated with this sort of system is that condensate can be collected.

  28. RMS, that’s sad. I’ve heard that sort of thing is going on all around the country, in large part driven by utility companies concerned that widespread rooftop PV will hurt their bottom lines.

    Locally, our solar industry has been shriveling up, because the local PUC largely put an end to net metering. One result has been solar companies becoming less stable and less able to deliver on promises.

  29. Salty oceans – well at the same time we’ll see land-based ice melt and run off into the ocean (Greenland ice sheet), so that will probably balance any salt creation during desalination. Plus, sea salt is a huge deal now, so maybe someone will figure out both effectively. I’d really have to do some thinking though to see at what scale desalination would really impact the salinity of the oceans. I’m sure there’s a local issue to be had, but globally, I’m just not sure.

    Finn – deep-water AC is not really talked about on the East Coast. The deep-water that’s sufficiently cool is too far from shore. On the west coast of the US (with those deep canyons), I can see the benefit. But the one big caveat is the return of the warmed water – the EPA could consider that a pollutant. We had a similar issue with a power plant here. They would dump heated runoff back into the local water – it raised the local water temperature enough to decimate a favorite fish species (killed their larvae). The power plant had to figure out a way to cool the runoff down. The power plant has since shut down so this is no longer an issue. With the deep-water AC, the heated return water could pose a significant local environmental threat.

  30. Salty oceans – well at the same time we’ll see land-based ice melt and run off into the ocean (Greenland ice sheet), so that will probably balance any salt creation during desalination.

    Fascinating. I’m learning all kinds of stuff today!

  31. “So tons of people migrating will cause all kinds of unrest.”

    It already is.

    Yes! The situation in Syria is the result of drought and crop failures leading to mass migration to the cities looking for work and the instability that caused.

  32. It’s not just Syria.

    The huge number of migrants to Europe is causing unrest there. Isn’t that the issue that undermined Merkel more than anything else? And it’s caused a lot of finger-pointing between EU countries.

  33. Hijack request for advice:

    DD is finally starting to ask for parental involvement in the college selection process, and asked me help her create a list of schools to investigate further.

    She’s not sure of major, but has done well in math and science, so while she’s not interested in heavily STEM-focused schools, she does want a school that has strong STEM options.

    She’d prefer a school that’s not in the boonies somewhere, although she’s open to suburban or non-urban settings with good transportation options to urban areas.

    Her grades and test scores (so far, she hasn’t taken SAT or ACT yet) have been good enough that they wouldn’t keep her out of any school, but would be middling at a HSS.

    I’d appreciate any suggestions of schools to consider.

  34. @Finn: What size school does she think she wants? What other things are important to her — public vs. private, sports teams, particular clubs/interests, etc.?

  35. She doesn’t want a really small school; she wants it big enough to have a broad range of academic offerings. She’s open to really huge public schools (I can’t offhand think of any really huge private schools).

    She’s not expressed any public/private preference. I’m pretty sure sports teams won’t be a deciding factor, and I don’t think she’s interested in sorority life.

    Unlike DS, a full four-year residential experience is not a priority for her. She wants somewhere that will guarantee on-campus housing her freshman year, but she’s open to living off-campus after that.

  36. This is a really educational thread! Cassandra, thanks for the explanation of the bee industry. I’ve been to some bee lectures and no one has mentioned inexperienced beekeepers as an issue (they mostly blame chemicals). Of course, I suppose the bee lectures I’ve been to have been conducted by inexperienced beekeepers. SC is a mecca for amateur homesteaders and they all take up beekeeping, organic gardening, and goats.

    Finn, I’ll be interested in following your DD’s college search. I can’t tell you how relieved I am not to have to think about that for my own kids any more, and can just participate as a spectator sport.

    We are finally serious about selling the beach house, and climate change is the driving factor. My MIL lived in that house for 15 years and never had to evacuate once. Now there have been 3 evacuations in 18 months. There are 5 bridges between the mainland and the island. People are still building, but we don’t want to wait one storm to long. That picture of the one remaining house in Mexico Beach did it for me. I don’t think those folks are lucky, at all. Who wants to vacation in a place with no roads where everything has to be rebuilt around you? It really put the fear in me.

    And Lauren, I’m with your friend. I lost power for 13 days 25 years ago when I lived near Fred, and I have never really gotten over it.

  37. On the bees, I’m curious if keeping new bees in new places is a factor. DH’s rancher uncle let someone keep bees on the land where he grows grass seed for reseeding after forest fires a while back, and he charged a small share of the honey as rent. Neither he nor the beekeeper knew what to expect in that environment. He got enough honey to share with family and friends.

  38. RMS, she’s not expressed a weather preference, but I’m not sure how well she’ll do in really inclement weather.

    Visiting campuses during winter break will help clarify this, but for now she’s staying open.

  39. Finn, how has your son adjusted to the weather in Boston? Seems like it might have been a shock.

  40. HFN,

    There was an episode of Worlds Most Amazing Home (or something) and he couple built their dream home on a bluff that was erroding and was expected to hold for 50 years. People asked why they would spend all that money if it was just going to get wages away. They said, we’ll be long dead in 50 years. What do we care? We just enjoy our breathtaking home with breathtaking views. That seems like a healthy attitude.

    The problem is that ocean front real estate is still largely selling for top dollar. If you can sell to some sucker that’s the best option in terms of $$.

    I’m always amazed watching beach hunters in that the $1.2 million house (where Federal Flood Insurace only pays a max of $250k) washing away is never discussed.

  41. HFN, he hasn’t complained about it, and I think his personality is such that he’ll adapt. He did apparently miss the worst storm of last winter, which hit a couple of days after he left for winter break, so we’ll see how he does this winter.

    He also has a lot further to walk this year. Last year, he could look out his dorm window and see the building where he had several classes; this year, he’s got about a half mile or so to walk to classes.

    OTOH, DW was a bit surprised when she offered to buy him some thermal underwear, and he accepted the offer.

  42. Finn – I am partial to the Claremont Colleges. I think they offer the benefits of a larger private institution in the setting of a small liberal arts college. Easy commute (or easiest of anything on the mainland).

  43. Ada, any of the Claremonts in particular?

    We’re planning to visit them, and we have a family friend at Pitzer, and DS has a good friend at Mudd, but other than Mudd, we’re not well-versed on the differences between the colleges.

  44. Finn, it sounds to me like any big public flagship would suit your daughter well. The flagships all tend to be strong in STEM. Does she want to stay local or go elsewhere? Univ of Washington might be a good one – very strong in all STEM areas, not in the boonies, and a cool place to live off-campus. Univ of Michigan? UW Madison?
    If she wants urban life more than a “residential experience”, then how about NYU or Northeastern?

  45. I was talking to an older Totebagger couple this weekend, alumni of Norte Dame. Their kids attended some well known schools. The weather at Norte Dame was deemed a strike against it. Stevens Institute Of Technology was very favorably mentioned. I of course had heard of it from the Totebag !

  46. Thanks for the suggestions.

    LSJU and NYU are already on her list.

    “The flagships all tend to be strong in STEM.”

    This is where I’m hoping the totebaggers can help; I don’t think this is always the case.

    E.g., I don’t think UNC (North Carolina, not Northern Colorado) has an engineering college; IIRC, in that state, you can go to NC State or UNCC for engineering.

    I believe Oregon’s flagship U also doesn’t have an engineering college.

  47. Finn – in Oregon, if you want STEM, you go to Oregon State. Might be worth checking out.

  48. Finn, is USC on your DD’s list?

    Emory in Atlanta is another option. Beautiful campus (lots of money from the founders of Coca-Cola – much of which went into white marble). Strong pre-med and public health programs but also strong liberal arts school.

  49. DD, I’ll talk to her about that one. One of DS’ close friends is there.

    SSM, DW and I will make sure USC is on her list. As I’ve mentioned before, per her college counselor it’s the highest ranked school that gives out generous merit aid.

    I’ll look into Emory with her. I think Duke is on her list, so why not Emory? Good suggestion that I hadn’t thought of.

    Her list is diverging from DS’ list.

  50. It’s too early for current Totebagger kids but UNC Chapel Hill has started offering engineering.

  51. If Finn’s DD is looking in the eastern US, I second Emory as a good possibility. It also has the advantage of proximity to a major airport with lots of nonstop flights to the west coast, which may be important for her. When DH was commuting to LA every week he drove 3 hours to Atlanta for his flights because it was less likely there would be weather issues than flying from Charlotte. No airport in the southeast is equipped to handle winter weather.

  52. Rhett – Interesting article. I wrote a response to you before finishing and realized that the article addressed my concerns. I’d really love to see if I could find a global circulation model with desal plants (not using this tech) and melting of ice sheets combined. How would that change global circulation?

    RMS – We’ve been doing some work on sea level rise. The seas at Newport, RI have already rise 9 inches since 1930. While that doesn’t sound terrible, it’s creating more flooding throughout the year during super high tide events. And NOAA predicts another 5-11 feet of sea level rise by 2100. At currently CO2 emissions, and economic strategies, 11 feet is highly likely due mostly because of the Greenland Ice Sheet melting.

  53. On the flooding… home country coastal cities are suffering from monsoon flooding. What many people don’t acknowledge is that vast areas are built on reclaimed land or former mangroves. There wasn’t flooding say 50 years ago but now there is because all the natural barriers between the sea and higher ground is built up and densely populated.

  54. Louise, my kid almost went to Stevens. It was a close call, because it has a lovely campus. The deciding factor was that he didn’t feel CS was as strong there, and they were going to make him take the intro to CS course despite having a 5 on the AP exam. Stevens is very small and only does STEM majors.

  55. I would still recommend Uof Washington. They are very strong in STEM. The kid of a friend of mine went there, and did a double major in CS and music. He was then accepted at MIT for the PhD program in CS, which he completed. He ended up in industry, doing robotics, and has made a boatload of money.

  56. July – LMAO! yup! Originally coined because of the giant chunk of saltwater bifurcating the state*… now the actuality of changing climate.

    *well… the state’s official name is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The Rhode Island part is really the island where Newport lives (and looks like the Isle of Rhodes supposedly). It would be the ocean state if you only considered “Rhode Island”… The Providence Plantations was the rest of the state. The history of the state’s name and the different regions of the state is very interesting.

  57. Newport’s the only part of R.I. I’ve visited. There was a conference there (for once! Someplace nice! Not New Orleans in July.) I ditched most of the talks and just walked around admiring the place. So lovely.

  58. I have a good friend in South Kingston who I visit fairly often. I have also been to Providence many, many, many times. I really like Providence.

  59. One school that I never hear mentioned here but that I hear a lot locally among Totebag families is Purdue, especially for engineering although I have hired business majors from there too.

    My boss’ son is looking at Alabama, and I knew from the Totebag that they give a ton of merit aid to students with high test scores! I think he’s going to end up staying more local though – or go in the PacNW where he has other family.

  60. One school that I never hear mentioned here but that I hear a lot locally among Totebag families is Purdue, especially for engineering although I have hired business majors from there too.

    Go Boilermakers! That’s DH’s alma mater, as well as DSS’s, and DH’s father, sister, uncle, grandfather, and everyone else.

    When DH’s one non-insane, non-drug-addicted niece decided to go to IU (where she’s doing quite well, thank God), the family gathering was genuinely kind of tense. I couldn’t believe it. One relative offered a free car if she’d go to Purdue. FFS, people, just be glad she’s going to college! And IU is a fine school! Sheesh.

    Also, DSS triple majored in physics, math, and CS, but physics was his main love. The physics department at that huge school only had 70 majors, so he got tons of attention from the faculty and made good friends among the majors. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re looking at various schools, I think.

  61. @RMS – It’s a good school with a strong alumni network! It’s rated about the same as UW and some of the other schools mentioned here.

  62. “Cassandra, I heard a podcast a while back that Almonds take a significant amount of water to grow. I didn’t know about the bees.”

    Almonds use 4 acre feet per acre. A housing development with 8 houses per acre uses 4 acre feet per acre. Most crops use between 2-5 acre feet per acre.

    As I recall, almonds became a bad guy in the early to mid aughts. California was in a drought and various water agencies were trying to put in place a water transfer between some water districts with pre 1914 rights in the north to a large metropolitan water district in the south. The growers in the northern districts primarily grew rice. The metropolitan water district figured out what the rice growers could make per acre foot growing rice and offered that amount. Other water districts with a lot of almond growers offered a higher price, because almonds were worth a lot, The almond guys got the water and the urban guys didn’t. Shortly thereafter I started hearing the “inappropriate luxury crop” memes.

  63. @Finn: I think the choice depends on the type of STEM-related field your DD is interested in. Here, that term seems to be defined as “engineering.” Is that the part she is interested in? Because if she is not set on being an engineer, there are many, many schools that have strong science and math programs without an engineering school, and/or alongside a solid liberal arts curriculum. But that’s why it helps to get a sense of size and the kinds of things she’s interested in — a big R1 public is going to offer a very different experience than a smaller school, even in the world of STEM. Maybe the best option is to visit a few different sizes, locations, etc. to see what she may gravitate to?

    DD was/is very fond of Wake Forest, because they seem to have a nice mix of things — they have the original campus, with the classic beatiful quad feel, and then the new downtown campus, which is all modern and spanky; they are at heart a liberal arts program, but with a new engineering school; and they are largely an undergrad campus, but they do have various professional schools, including a med school with a strong tie in to the local hospital. I think that’s why DD likes it, so that if she doesn’t like engineering she can still be on a path to med school, or just switch to a bio or math major, etc. Plus it’s a cute town — big enough to provide entertainment options, but not so big that it feels overwhelming, and they have frats/sororities/sports, but it’s not an overwhelming part of campus life. But that’s also a very different feel from, say, Columbia or HM or UW or USC — plus, given that it’s your kid, WF would pretty much be a safety for her.

    If she wants big-city and a number of strong programs, I think Columbia is impressive as hell, and it has a little more of a “campus” feel than NYU. If she really wants more of an applied/hands-on math/science focus, I was blown away by Cal Poly, but the town may be too small for her. What about Vandy? Although I hear the engineering program is almost impossible to get into nowadays — but that’s another that’s not “just” an engineering school.

  64. Finn – one more thought – Washington University in St. Louis. DH did a 3/2 liberal arts/engineering program and went to Washington University for the two years of engineering.

    And I second MM’s recommendation of University of Washington :-)

  65. @Rocky: Also my mom’s alma mater (for 1-2 of her degrees)! Tho I don’t know if we’re allowed to discuss non-STEM degrees here. ;-)

  66. Thanks for all the suggestions.

    DD has expressed interest in chemistry and physics; thus far, biology has been her least favorite science. She’s also, in the past, mentioned an interest in teaching, so becoming a science teacher is a possibility. At this point, she’s not expressed any strong interest in engineering, but hasn’t ruled it out and thus would like a school where she could try some engineering classes and major in that if she liked it.

    It looks like it’ll be harder to narrow her list down that it was for DS, who had some strong preferences, and also engaged in the process at a much earlier point in HS. At least her preference for a school with engineering will help focus her list.

  67. One issue with schools like USC and Columbia is that they require admittance to their engineering colleges separately from admittance to the universities, which isn’t ideal for someone like DD who isn’t sure if engineering is her interest.

    Do you know which other schools, of those suggested, have similar admittance requirements to their engineering colleges?

  68. Finn, a serious question. You exhibited a, shall we say, high degree of concern about the neighborhoods surrounding some of the more urban schools that your DS was considering. Is that an even more pressing factor in your estimation for your DD?

  69. Finn, many land grant schools (including Iowa State and Oregon State) have admission requirements by department, not by engineering school. Thus the Iowa State joke that a civil engineer was a mechanical engineer wannabe who couldn’t pass dynamics, just statics.

  70. Mémé, yes, that is more of a concern for DD. Any such information about recommended schools would be greatly appreciated.

  71. WCE, local flagship U, also a land grant school, also has admission requirement by department. Their process is you first get admitted to the U, then after taking some classes you can apply to the engineering departments.

    I believe Cass’ DD’s school is notorious for the difficulty of getting into certain engineering departments.

  72. Tho I don’t know if we’re allowed to discuss non-STEM degrees here

    Laura, DH double majored in philosophy and history. I think there were maybe 10 history and/or philosophy majors at Purdue at the time. He got a TON of attention from the faculty.

    And then, he starved to death in a ditch.

    Oh wait.

  73. Thus the Iowa State joke that a civil engineer was a mechanical engineer wannabe who couldn’t pass dynamics, just statics.

    Some days, I’m surprised all the civil engineers don’t stab the mechanical engineers in the throat.

  74. Finn, you have visited your DS. (Your choice of Costco for a shopping trip was decidedly more urban than mine – equidistant in time if not miles from his dorm. You got a bit of a local tour.) Would you consider DS’ school location unsafe for her, especially if she were assigned to one the far away houses as a sophomore? If USC was borderline unsafe in your estimation for a boy, the list of acceptable urban schools is going to be very short for a girl.

  75. the old joke about the assertion that all odd numbers are prime.

    The mathematician thinks, 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, by induction, all odd numbers are prime.

    The physicist thinks, ” 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is not prime — experimental error — 11 is prime, 13 is prime, all odd numbers are prime

    The engineer thinks, ” 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime, 11 is prime, …”

  76. Having gone to college in the same town as DS’s kid, back in a far more crime ridden era, I am laughing at the idea that any area of that town near a college would be unsafe for a girl.

  77. Mémé, I think the risk associated with DS’ school location is acceptable to us.

    A couple of nearby schools also likely to be on DD’s list are BU and Tufts. In your estimation, are those schools in neighborhoods similar in safety to DS’ school?

  78. Yes. It really depends on how far away you get from the campus center. Tufts’ surrounding neighborhood has been gentrified out of recognition from back in my day. The main difference with your DS’ school is the house system – kids get apartments after freshman or sophomore years. Theft (as opposed to robbery) is always the greatest issue.

  79. Mémé, is there a more convenient Costco location? We picked that one in part because there’s also a Target that shares the parking lot, and having a Home Depot and a Bath and Body Works there too made it even better.

  80. It is interesting to see how we often bring our own definition of “safe” to a conversation about location of schools, hotels, etc.

    I consider Medford to be safe, but I grew up in a city and I feel comfortable there. When I was looking at schools for myself, the neighborhoods around Penn, BU, and Columbia were not considered to be safe. A lot of these cities have changed in the last 30 years and now the area around BU looks very different because so many younger people have moved in, and the prices are up. I walked in areas in Philly last summer that also used to be considered “unsafe”. We visited the burbs of St Louis last year for a wedding. We went to see Wash U and we had dinner and lunch in the surrounding neighborhood. I loved the campus, and the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. Some of the wealthiest homes in ST Louis metro are not far from the school, but there are definitely some streets as you get further from the school that feel more urban.

    I bet that most people would consider the neighborhood and area around IU to be safe. Bloomington is pretty, and it looks like great town. To me, it represents the town where a young woman disappeared a few years ago. I think that I personally would feel more comfortable and safer in almost any large city, but that is me. I never feel as safe when places seem deserted or isolated from large numbers of people.

    I went back earlier this year for a college reunion. This school is in a very safe/expensive part of a large city, but there is still crime.

  81. Not one that is more convenient to a your son without a car. If you wanted those 4 stores in the same location, Everett was a reasonable choice. The target and home depot in Watertown, not an upscale, are closest to him and easily accessed by public transit. I go to a costco in waltham that is near a home depot. Car required. I haven’t been in a target in five years, and amazon has replaced Bed n bath for kitchen gadget pick up.

  82. Wait, I went to BU, back when crime was a lot higher than it is today. The neighborhood around BU was safe then, and it is nicer now. BU is long and skinny, and has the Back Bay at one end, the South End running along another part, and then Allston-Brighton at the far end. Allston-Brighton was the diciest back then (Back Bay and South End were gentrified or rapidly gentrifying then), but lots of students lived there and we walked all around the area, often late at night, with no fear.

  83. If I hadn’t gone to BU, I would have ended up at IU because they were also offering full fare. I am so glad I did not end up in Bloomington.

  84. If I hadn’t gone to BU, I would have ended up at IU because they were also offering full fare. I am so glad I did not end up in Bloomington.

    My DIL started out at BU, loathed it, and finished up at IU.

  85. What didn’t she like about BU?

    Well, for starters, she had a really bizarre roommate. So that didn’t help. But beyond that, she couldn’t deal with how wealthy all the students were, and how they threw money around like confetti. And her family is definitely Totebag range! Her dad makes upper six figures and, in good years, lower seven figures (or did before he retired). And she felt that it was more about social stuff than academic stuff. She liked the city of Boston, but the “scene” at BU wasn’t pleasant.

  86. Yes, BU/BC have less campus housing for upperclassmen. The concern would be more with the house/apt building being unsafe for egress etc. than with the neighborhood. I wouldn’t have any concerns about any neighborhoods near any of those schools.

    Meme, we used to go to the Waltham costco when we were in our old house. I wouldn’t have considered going to a Costco when I was in college – the quantities were too large.

  87. I grew up in a very large city. There are still safety measures that I follow. It is necessary even in safe areas to be alert, take stock of your surroundings and follow safety rules.

  88. I bet that most people would consider the neighborhood and area around IU to be safe. Bloomington is pretty, and it looks like great town. To me, it represents the town where a young woman disappeared a few years ago. I think that I personally would feel more comfortable and safer in almost any large city, but that is me. I never feel as safe when places seem deserted or isolated from large numbers of people.

    I went to Illinois, which is in a similar setting as IU. There was an official rule that women didn’t walk around campus alone at night. I’m guessing that hasn’t changed.

  89. There was an official rule that women didn’t walk around campus alone at night.

    An official rule? I bet that has changed. Unofficially, it’s probably still in place. And naturally since the men are doing the attacking, I think they’re the ones who should be curfewed.

    But anyway, I’ve attended or worked at many universities now, and it was a bad idea to walk around any of them alone at night. The fact is, even now, I don’t walk alone at night, wherever I am. Sad.

  90. Yeah, BU was filled with rich international kids when I was there. It was an eye opener for me because I had never known anybody who was rich or even upper Totebag level before. Since I was in CS and hung out mainly with engineering majors, I think I didn’t see as much of the social aspect although I was aware that it existed. There wasn’t a big chugalug drinking scene, because there were no frats back then. One of my issues with IU, in fact, was the emphasis on Greeks. At BU in that era, there were a lot of drugs.

  91. ” It is necessary even in safe areas to be alert, take stock of your surroundings and follow safety rules.”
    One should do that anywhere.

  92. I think one of the reasons Boston felt safe to me was because the town I was living in before I went there was not safe. My parents house was broken into and robbed twice, a woman was assaulted in her garage at 7am just a few blocks from us, and I once walked into the tail end of an armed robbery at the local Montgomery Wards. It was a university town, but you really didn’t want to walk around some of the areas around the university late at night, and we teen girls were constantly harrassed by local skanks. Boston felt so different to me. That town has gentrified significantly since that era, but then so has Boston.

  93. My DIL and her friends were not in the Greek societies, and they had fun anyway. I’m pretty sure my niece isn’t in one, because there’s no way her mother could afford it. I should ask, though.

  94. @Finn: you should also look at Rice — don’t know why I didn’t recall that earlier.

  95. RMS, yeah, I knew people who went to IU in those days and did not do Greeks. But there is a very different feel to a school with frats and football, compared to an urban school without those things (actually, in my day, BU did have football, because the president wanted it, but no one ever went to games and they eventually got rid of it). It depends on what you want in a school.

  96. Just thinking out aloud that Finn’s DD would have to consider promixity to a large airport. I would definitely consider whether many students are around on weekends or short breaks. It’s something you become acutely aware of as an international student, you can’t hop in your car and go home.

  97. Finn, I wonder if your daughter would like Davis? It’s near the Sacramento airport, it’s a pleasant location (though way too damn hot in the summer), has a wide variety of majors, and a strong reputation within the state. Insofar as the UC system has an ag/ec university, Davis is it, but it has lots of other stuff too.

    40 years ago, when I visited my friends there, I was startled that the women’s restrooms had Christian graffiti. This was in stark contrast to the graffiti in the Berkeley restrooms (!) But that was 40 years ago. I know all the UCs are hard to get into for in-state students, but out-of-state with very strong academics (as your daughter has) might make it a solid choice. Good engineering, science, other STEMy stuff.

  98. I think the Claremont schools are all 3/2 engineering – with connections to go someplace else for the final 2 years, with the exception of Harvey Mudd. HMC engineering is a strange beast – very theoretical, no subspecialization (the degree is “engineer” – no civic, mechanical, computer, etc.). The stereotypes for the school (which contain a grain of truth)- Pitzer is for rich pot-heads (they have a small endowment, they cannot afford to provide full aid to people who qualify), Pomona is full of Stanford rejects (they actually used to sell a shirt that said, “Harvard – The Pomona of the East” – it’s a school with a chip on its shoulder), Scripps is for lesbians and spoiled girls (it is an activist community, and there is wealthy sub-group, but maybe not different than other SLACs), CMC is for future business leaders of America (and has a jock-party atmosphere to go along with it).

    They are in a beautiful environment, well-resourced, tons of on campus activity. Diverse class offerings. Well respected by grad schools – all have quite high numbers going to professional and PhD programs. Not so far from LA, though students tend to stay on campus.

  99. “It is interesting to see how we often bring our own definition of “safe” to a conversation about location of schools, hotels, etc.”

    Absolutely. And I would feel a lot more comfortable with DS going to U of C where fun goes to die because he’s lived here all his life than probably other cities.

    I do see the point about Greek life. DH went to UIUC, and he says the one big con about it was that Greek life was such a big factor. He was not in a frat, but he said that left you outside of one of the bigger party scenes. I don’t think he regrets anything about his college choices really, but he does call that out as a downside of all the big Midwestern universities.

    I also think it can be really isolating to go to a school with lots of wealthy students. One of my big impressions of Providence from when my friend went to grad school at Brown is that there were so many truly wealthy kids running around, and the “merely” UMC kids had more spending money than my I did with a decent entry level job. College kids going out to fancy dinners & spending money at upscale bars was something I just could not fathom. It was such a contrast to the culture of my college – cheap beer at house parties and $1 drink nights at the local college bars.

  100. When I was at BU, I couldn’t even afford the drink nights at the bars. I did briefly date a Saudi guy who was some minor member of the royals, which was fun because he did take me to fancy trendy restaurants. But mainly I stuck with the engineers and techies, and they were overwhelmingly middle class. We did have parties, but we had them in our dorm rooms.

  101. My freshman year roomie was very middle class, from the midwest. She was utterly taken with the wealthy South Americans, and ended up moving to a particular dorm where lots of them lived. I think she ended up marrying someone wealthy and moves in those circles now. I guess she was smarter than me!!

  102. @MM – I don’t know about BU specifically. When I was recruiting around that area 20 years ago, BC seemed to have the more UMC+ population, while BU and Northeastern were more middle class. But it’s been a long time since I paid much attention to the Boston schools. And I never recruited from the really HSS.

  103. In my day, Northeastern was a commuter school, and its students were working class to middle class. But it has changed a LOT since then

  104. RMS, I’m not planning to encourage DD to consider any of the UCs. I’ve heard from multiple sources, including some friends in CA with kids who’ve gone there recently, a parent of a student who recently transferred out of UCB, and DD’s college counselor, that the UCs have been having funding issues, and it’s difficult for kids to get the classes they need.

    They’re also pretty expensive for OOS kids. For large public schools, I’d rather she look at schools that offer merit aid and/or reduced tuition via WUE.

  105. “In my day, Northeastern was a commuter school, and its students were working class to middle class. But it has changed a LOT since then”

    One thing that does not seem to have changed about Northeastern is being known for its co-op program.

  106. “I would feel a lot more comfortable with DS going to U of C where fun goes to die because he’s lived here all his life than probably other cities.”

    We discouraged DS from considering U of C because, well, we didn’t want him to there and die.

  107. Ada, when you break it down like that, the Claremont colleges don’t sound all that great. I guess in that light, Pomona might be the best fit for DD. I don’t think she’s committed enough to STEM, at least at this point, for Mudd.

  108. Oh for heaven’s sake, University of Chicago is perfectly fine, especially right around the campus.

  109. I think perhaps the Claremont Colleges will not be hiring Ada to do PR.

    Yeah, Pomona was definitely a consolation prize college for people who didn’t make the Stanford cut, but it’s still a really good college.

  110. Small colleges are easy to stereotype. I wouldn’t choose a school based on some flip comments about the types of students that go there. The Claremont Colleges are hyperfocused on the undergrad experience, well-resourced, well-respected in graduate school applications, financially stable (with perhaps the notable exception of Pitzer). I would send my children there, sometime next decade.

  111. I do see the point about Greek life. DH went to UIUC, and he says the one big con about it was that Greek life was such a big factor. He was not in a frat, but he said that left you outside of one of the bigger party scenes. I don’t think he regrets anything about his college choices really, but he does call that out as a downside of all the big Midwestern universities.

    I totally disagree with that. I wasn’t in the Greek system either, and the social life was just fine. There were plenty of activities and groups to get involved in (as at any large school) and it wasn’t very hard to find a party if you wanted to go to one.

  112. Oh for heaven’s sake, University of Chicago is perfectly fine, especially right around the campus.

    And Hyde Park is a really cool neighborhood. (At least it was 20 years ago.)

  113. I thought it was that fun goes to die at Chicago. not students.

    In my opinion, near a major airport should be an important factor too.

  114. When we were looking at schools for DS, one thing we found was that the murder rate in the Chicago area was, IIRC, the highest in the country, and significantly higher than almost all other metro areas (except perhaps Baltimore).

  115. Good point about the airports, and more generally, ease of getting there. Having direct flights is also a consideration, one that makes Boston area schools more attractive now.

    I was recently talking to a friend whose kid is at Wazoo. Apparently the air fares get really expensive when a lot of kids and parents are traveling to/from Pullman.

  116. Did anyone else notice that ESPN Game Day was finally at Pullman, after 15 years of waving flags, last Saturday? Mr WCE was excited. He also thinks that Pullman is unfairly characterized as extremely remote- he doesn’t consider it much more remote than Lincoln, NE or Manhattan, KS.

  117. WCE, yes, I noticed. It was a big deal for them because for some reason, no matter where Game Day sets up, someone will show up with a Wazoo flag. This time there were multiple Wazoo flags.

    I recently had to look into going to Lewiston, ID, which is quite close to Pullman. There are several nearby airports served by major commercial carriers, although each airport appears to be served by only one carrier.

    As I pointed out to my friend with the kid at Wazoo, if my kid was going to be moving into a dorm there, I’d consider flying to Portland and taking the scenic drive along the Columbia River to get there.

  118. The murder rate in Chicago is highly localized. I have a friend whose husband is high up in the Chicago police, so I hear quite a bit about this.

  119. Finn, but that doesn’t apply to every area of the city, just a few. I lived there for 7 years and never saw anyone get murdered.

  120. I recently had to look into going to Lewiston, ID, which is quite close to Pullman. There are several nearby airports served by major commercial carriers, although each airport appears to be served by only one carrier.

    Bless your heart! Just because there is a road, doesn’t mean you can drive it year round. US 95 is steep and dangerous and has frequent closures, especially in the winter. Driving it in the summer always gives me the heebie-jeebies – it has impressive runaway truck ramps. You would not save money or time flying into Lewiston. Nothing else is really “close” – It’s 75 to Spokane, 200 to Wenatchee.

  121. WCE – the WSU game/ESPN game day got lots of coverage in Seattle :-)

    RMS – my mom was rejected by Stanford and went to Pomona instead :-)

  122. Ada, how about 195 between Pullman and Lewiston?

    I ended up not having to go to Lewiston, but I was looking at flying in to Pullman and driving down 195 to Lewiston.

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