Sea Level Rise and More Intense Storms Will Hurt Coastal Communities

By Ben Block

Traveling to the shore on Labor Day, I pass row by row of gorgeous vacation homes. They always leave me both envious and perplexed.

Envious because the homes are beautiful. What better way to start a morning than to walk onto a balcony with a view of ocean waves?

Perplexed because the homes are dangerous. Along much of the East Coast, homeowners are increasingly likely to need to put significant work into their properties — either to prevent flood damage or to make repairs after the waters rise.

More investors are taking this risk seriously. As storms become more frequent and dangerous, we all should take the risks more seriously.

A new Colorado-Penn State study found current and future sea level rise are to blame for lower property values along the U.S. coasts and in several states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts.

Coastal properties continue to benefit from a hot real estate market. But homes threatened by sea level rise are selling for an estimated 7 percent less than equivalent properties with less exposure.

Worldwide, sea levels have risen about eight inches since 1900. The pace is already accelerating. Scientists predict oceans will rise an additional three to seven inches by 2030. By 2100, the effect could be as much as 4.3 feet.

More intense hurricanes enact costs to coastal communities that far exceed the property value effect from sea level rise.

Hurricane Maria, for instance, was the most deadly hurricane to hit the United States since 1900. An independent analysis of the impact from the loss of power, water and clean sanitation services in Puerto Rico estimated a death count between 2,658 and 3,290 people last year.

As a parent in the age of climate change, I worry even more about the impact on coastal communities located beyond the comfort and safeguards of the territorial United States. Sea level rise and storms will displace low-lying communities, creating new crises of migrants looking for safe havens, placing moral and financial burdens on future generations as we all scramble for humanitarian answers.

For U.S. homeowners along the coasts, it seems impossible to totally prevent sea level rise or the frequency of more intense storms. Advanced satellite technology can, however, identify which properties are most at risk and determine what preventive measures can be taken.

I certainly appreciate how coastal communities have become iconic of so much of what we love. It’s where families spend their summers. It’s where childhood dreams are born.

As much as it makes sense to act proactively to address the ravages that may come from climate change, we as a society seem to prefer the nostalgia and simplicity of keeping things the same.

Greater respect of the dangerous power climate change may bring onto these communities — here in the United States and around the world — sadly may come only in response to the next disaster.

Ben Block is the founder of Climate Dads. He can be reached at ben[at]climatedads[dot]org.

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