Sunday, August 19, 2018

Amid Fires and Hurricanes, Price of Climate Change Begins to Hit Home

Climate change, which many skeptics argue is more bark than bite, is starting to demonstrate an impact on economies – and perceptions.

Flames burn near power line (Credit: Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/AP) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is starting to pack an economic punch.

In California this summer, severe wildfires have intensified a political brawl over who should shoulder the liability.  Utility companies, which carry most of the risk if their equipment starts a fire, charge that they could go bankrupt if the legislature doesn’t alleviate their legal liability.  Insurance companies, which would have to shoulder the risk, argue that climate risk is still manageable.

And as hurricane season begins for the United States, low-lying Miami is beginning to see the value of flood-prone coastal properties grow more slowly than real estate on higher ground.

The links between these natural disasters and climate change are complicated and nuanced.  Further clouding the discussion, many conservative politicians still argue there’s no such link.  On Sunday, before touring northern California’s deadly Carr fire, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a local California TV station that the wildfire “has nothing to do with climate change.  This has to do with active forest management.”

Slowly, despite the ongoing political debates over climate change’s causes and effects, the economic impacts are beginning to hit home in certain communities.  For example:  Flood-prone coastal properties in five Southeastern states have lost $7.4 billion in potential value since 2005 because they appreciated at a slower rate than coastal real estate at higher elevations, according to one study released last month.

So far, the proven economic impacts of climate change are relatively mild.  But if natural disasters become increasingly destructive and these economic effects become more severe, the perception of climate risk could change quickly.

“If there’s water in your street, no one really cares if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” says Matthew Eby, the executive director of First Street Foundation, the New York nonprofit that published the five-state study on coastal real estate.  “They just care about how to get a solution.  And if that water continues to rise year over year and the frequency [of flooding] is going up, they’re going to care even more.”

The nonprofit has set up a website, FloodIQ, so coastal homeowners can determine their risk of hurricane and tidal flooding.

Read more at Amid Fires and Hurricanes, Price of Climate Change Begins to Hit Home

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