Climate change is accelerating sea-level rise, and there’s mounting evidence of the financial toll it’s taking--and will take--on the American people.
A new analysis by First Street Foundation estimates that property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017. Florida, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina each saw more than $1 billion in losses.
The greatest loss was in Ocean City, N.J.: $500 million. Miami Beach was second, with more than $300 million in home value wiped out.
While some groups have estimated the value of property at risk in the future, the new report is the first to provide specific data over such a broad area about the real estate effects that have already happened, according to Columbia University’s Jeremy Porter, the lead author of First Street’s report. The researchers looked at 25.6 million coastal properties.
Porter told InsideClimate News’ Nicholas Kusnetz that while they found that prices generally increased, even in neighborhoods with recurrent flooding, property values in areas with nuisance flooding were rising much more slowly. That difference accounts for their total estimated loss in value. The researchers plan to release data in coming months for the rest of the coastal U.S. and then move on to major rivers.
Taxpayers could be hit in any number of ways. The credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service has warned local governments that they could face lower ratings if they fail to adapt to climate change, a decision that would raise the cost of borrowing money through bonds.
Homeowners can find the property value information on a website called FloodIQ. What they are finding there "really hits home for a lot of folks -- the idea that 'OK, well, what should I do now?' Or 'do I need to take some resilience measures?' Or 'is it time to move?' A whole host of options come up, and you can see them thinking it through," Matthew Eby, First Street Foundation's executive director, said in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch.
Farmers, too, are in harm’s way. Hyde County, along the North Carolina coast, has been part of a declared disaster zone during four of the past five years. Heavy rainfall and strong winds have caused millions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) brought several feet of storm surge that inundated the area with seawater, Sarah Kaplan reported in a page-one Washington Post story.
Due to rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather, salt from the Atlantic is contaminating aquifers and turning formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that nine percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm.
Kaplan visited Dawson Pugh, a third-generation Hyde County farmer who grows soybeans, cotton, and corn. Portions of his land have become too salty to produce. “We spend a lot of time and money to try to prevent salt,” Pugh told her. “I worry what the future is. If it keeps getting worse, will it be worth farming?” Pugh estimates that recent flooding — and the associated salinization — have cost him $2 million in lost crops over the past five years.
Though it’s known that saltwater intrusion is linked to sea-level rise caused by climate change, scientists aren’t certain how salt winds up in farmers’ fields. Scientists are increasingly concerned that rising sea levels are shifting the “zone of transition” — the underground gradient where fresh groundwater meets salty seawater.
These climate-change costs should be included in the price of carbon--but they aren’t. Isn’t it time that Congress enacted a carbon fee so that we move to an honest price?