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The Nightmare Scenario for Florida’s Coastal Homeowners (bloomberg.com)
108 points by smacktoward on Apr 20, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments

> "Cason, the Coral Gables mayor, said Congress ought to create what he called a “resilience fund” for homes threatened by the water—but he doesn’t think it will."

No. No no no no no. Absolutely not.

Mr. Cason made a crap ton of money, spent millions of dollars "investing" in property which would soon become worthless and now he's blaming CONGRESS?

Mr. Cason. Sea rise isn't your fault, but buying a gorgeous, lavish beach house where it will no longer exist is your responsibility.

Congress should create a resilience fund for kids at school who have no food. Congress should make a resilience fund for veterans who can't work. Congress should make a resilience fund for folks bankrupt because of medical debt. But Congress need not send a bucket to the millionaires of Miami.

Postscript: not everyone who lives in Miami is a millionaire. I've hung out with very poor folks in Miami. That said, The first homes to go are going to be the ones owned by the elites on the water.

It's a case of moral hazard. If we bail out those who built in areas which they knew at the time might eventually be submerged, it has the negative effect of leading to inefficiently high amounts of threatened homes being constructed in the future.

Same with bailing out areas that get wrecked by earthquakes or forest fires or any other natural disaster. Our natural inclination is to support people this happens to, and there is a positive in that we achieve a wealth transfer to people that just had a big hit in their well being, but if it becomes policy then going forward resources will be inefficiently allocated.

The somewhat depressing thing is we probably find ourselves bailing out people who (whether they knew it or not) were only engaged in the risky behavior that lead to them needing to be bailed out because of the social norm of the government bailing out people in that type of situation.

But where do you draw the line on risk? Pretty much everywhere you live has some form of risk. If it's not earthquakes, or flooding, it's tornadoes, or drought, or hurricanes, etc.

Part of the point of having civilization is as a kind of insurance. If you live in a once-in-every-two-hundred-years-massive-flood-plain, are you saying living there is risky and the government should not have emergency disaster relief?

Most of the coastal cities in the US including Manhattan, could be under water from global warming in the future. Are we saying that people who move to New York city should be aware of increased potential for damage from global warming?

And if they should be aware of these things, perhaps we should stop ignoring global warming in our political system. It'll be cheaper to mitigate it earlier, than way 50 years for flooding to massively increase.

I think the solution is that people and cities buy insurance. Disaster insurance for a place that only floods once every fifty years will be much cheaper than for places that get yearly hurricanes or earthquakes, for example.

It makes sense that the cost of living in dangerous places be built into the cost of living there, instead of being actually encouraged with free government money.

No insurance company will offer it because it is too risky. Also you would need a mandate for everyone to buy it. It'll be a FEMA thing if anything and yes I would guess that Congress will authorize bailouts especially for wealthy landowners who donate to their campaigns.

John Stossel of ABC (and later Fox News) has waged a crusade over the years against government flood "insurance" and coastal housing bailouts: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/Insurance/story?id=94181

He'd have more credibility if he canceled his government flood insurance.


That's similar to the criticism that Ayn Rand collected at Social Security check. I think you can stand for a principle while still participating in the current system that you're paying for.

My gut idealist wants to disagree with you, but the rational economist in my head is telling me you're correct.

We shouldn't hold individually rational (net benefit) decisions against someone's principles.

Maybe so, but they can certainly be ignored - and I say that thinking Stossel is correct in his opinion on this matter.

I think the term you are looking for is "hypocrite".

Yeah, if you want to change the definition of the word to suit whatever meaning you intended the insult to have, sure.

Not meant as an insult to anyone... it's just the definition of hypocrisy. If you espouse some belief but act otherwise (e.g. want to eliminate social benefits but then claim them because it is rational or because of the system).. then you are a hypocrite.

No it's not at all.

If you believe drugs should be legalised but you won't sell them in public are you a hypocrite?

You can want system change and also work within it as it exists.

Your example doesn't make sense. If you believe drugs should be illegal but you use them then you would be a hypocrite. If you believe drugs should be legal and you sell them (in private or public) or even use them then you are not being hypocritical. If you sell then privately but not publically you're not being hypocritical either.

It does make you look unprincipled and inconsistent however.

Disagree. If you think somebody (in this case the government) is mispricing something, it's not hypocritical to say "this is mispriced" and still take advantage of it.

Is it objectively mispriced? Probably. But we would have to have access to all of the premium received and payouts made by FEMA. https://www.fema.gov/use-flood-insurance-study-data-availabl...

Of course it is mispriced... Large scale cataclysmic damage is just too expensive to insure, just as war is or an act of God is and that is why the government is the insurer of last resort. Ultimately, it will all come out of taxes. The government will bail people out, maybe not at full market value individually but definitely at the bank level. It will be the same dynamic as the 2008 housing crash.

Wealthy people getting tax dollars to pay for their risk mitigation. What else is new.

I do feel sorry for older, poorer communities that may have their homes and assets wiped out. To the extent they haven't already been replaced by newer, wealth-targeted construction. I hear it's increasingly difficult to even find an "old style" Florida community directly on the coast. About... 20 years ago (yikes!), I got to spend a couple of weeks in one that was in the process of having its beach front turned into high-rises. I understand that is complete, now.

Alot of the Florida east coast has "sandbars" to the east of it. It's basically like a long vertical island. You have to be very wealthy to purchase a home here. These are the people who are the most threatened by hurricane and the like. Miami's sandbar consists exclusively of wealthy people.

I'm not sure what being rich has to do with this? If we understand the causes correctly, then this is just a negative externality. Negative externalities aren't bad only when the affected party is poor, they're bad because the affected party didn't have any choice in incurring the cost of someone else's behavior.

I agree with you in theory, but if I drive a car straight into the ocean, do I deserve a government bailout? If I land a helicopter in a marsh, and it is ruined, should I be bailed out?

This is the same thing, but just much slower. Tons of that coastal housing is new, the idea of rising sea levels is certainly not new, and we've seen this coming for a long time. This is basically choosing to drive your house into the sea, and then demanding a handout.

I do think we should subsidize moving buildings farther inland, or putting them on stilts like they did in the Rockaways post Sandy, but just straight buyout? Forget about it.

OK, so after the homes of the elites are gone, then is it okay to do something about this? Like, what is the cutoff point where it's okay to help people who lost their homes? To me this just seems like "not our problem", and not just a refusal to subsidize elites. Which I suppose is a fine position to take except all the other ways we as a nation are comfortable bailing out businesses and individuals. It is... interesting to observe the times people support that and the times they don't.

Can't speak for other people obviously, but my take on it is utilitarian. Houston, we bail out if needed. Because we need Houston. New Orleans, we bail out if needed. Because we need New Orleans. There are several ports on the East, West and Gulf coasts that fall into the "we need them" category. The rest we don't need, so we would not subsidize their rescue unless extra money was available from somewhere.

Myrtle Beach and Miami are just not as important as NIT (Norfolk) and Portland. And higher up the urgency ladder are places like Houston and New Orleans, that must be saved and held at any cost.

Are you saying we need Houston and New Orleans because of their importance to the energy industry? The same energy industry that's causing global warming.

Most of the Midwestern agricultural products exported overseas get transshipped from river barges or trains to oceangoing ships at New Orleans. Likewise, Houston is a major container port for finished goods. We need these ports for their value as ports. Condemning these ports over some moral judgement for a portion of their throughput shouldn't have any bearing on this kind of cost-benefit analysis.

This reminds me of an answer from Bill Nye's AMA on reddit yesterday, where someone asked Nye to speculate on a worse case scenario resulting from the US not doing anything in response to climate change:

"The quality of life for people everywhere will go down. There will be less food and less clean water available in the developed and the developing world. It's reasonable that this will lead to conflict: more violence, more war. Here in the super-developed US, people will have to abandon homes in Miami, Galveston, Norfolk, and other coastal towns. It will lead to defaulted mortgages and people looking for jobs inland. Where will those jobs come from? Sooner we get to work the better." [1]

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/66ajul/i_am_bill_nye_...

"William Sanford "Bill" Nye

popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science educator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer. He is best known as the host of the PBS children's science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998)."


Bill Nye is a media personality. Where he draws the line between 'presenting the facts' and 'entertaining the crowd' is hard to judge. Global warming disaster porn gets him exposure and helps his career. I would take any of his predictions with a grain of salt unless backed up by some serious research and studies. These claims by Nye and others are usually just intuitive guesses made by the presenter.

I think it's important to keep the context of the question in mind when reading his response. Someone asked him what he thought the worst case scenario would be.

Honestly I'm surprised it's not worse and it seems to fall in line with a lot of worse-case predictions I've seen made in various studies.

Lol at your comment. Why is what Mr. Nye said outlandish at all? Who cares that he's a media personality, climate change and sea level rise is undeniable scientific fact. At this point we're just arguing about whether humans caused it or not.

What is "Global Warming Disaster Porn"? How about, "predictions about what may happen based on the scientific fact that global warming is a reality and may badly impact our current civilization, that may or may not come true"?

>"intuitive guesses"

Thank you for defining what speculation means. /s

When I was shopping for a house in the Bay Area 3 years ago, my agent asked me if I was willing to consider Redwood Shores (which is built on fill and very close to the bay). One reason among several for saying "no" was the proximity to sea level.

I'm not worried that the next tsunami will swamp it, or that it will be (physically) underwater in my lifetime, or that nothing will be done to prevent slow rise from swamping the land.

I'm just simply unwilling to make a 30 year commitment to today's value, when I don't know what we'll know in 30 years. It's an absolute certainty that we'll know more in 10 years than we know now. When will that property become un-sellable? When will the value start being impacted? I'd guess sooner rather than later, and if that isn't until 2040, that's still way too soon for comfort -- particularly if I'm trying to retire then.

Wide areas near there built on the former marshes/landfill can be quite musky during hot months as well depending upon prevailing winds, it's not obvious that is a problem unless one lives in an apartment nearby in the right weather conditions beforehand - many of the apartments don't have central air or heat.

I had the same thoughts when buying a house last year. We really like Alameda island - great neighborhood, houses, and shops. But we eliminated it from consideration because it's just a few feet above a king tide, and that buffer is shrinking. AFAIK, there's no abatement plan for the island yet, and while it may not be underwater in the next 30 years, the property values there will decline on the worry that it's only getting worse, and king tides will start flooding more and more of the island and its infrastructure.

And then there's the insurance issue- as insurance rates go up, the home value has to decline as well. Didn't seem like a good long-term investment, or even short term, as more and more people start considering these issues like I did.

The prices will drop way before they're under water.

We ended up buying a house in the hills - 900ft. up. I wonder if in 10 years folks in Alameda will start migrating our way.

The unique risks in the hills are fires and mudslides.

Yes. Those threats are real, but can be mitigated. Sea level rise, for now, can not.

Moved from the coast to a cold place more than 5k ft above sea level 18 years ago, specifically thinking about sea level rise and warming trends.


Oddly, sea level will probably go down this far north. Earth is spinning, drawing water to the equator. More mass, more gravity pulling water to the equator, along with less mass at the poles to offset.

But, yeah, I don't think I'd buy anything by the water either.


So, I'm wrong, Northern California isn't far enough north. it's a real effect. You're all underestimating the mass of 100,000 cubic miles of ice.

[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/323/5915/753

[2] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v409/n6823/abs/4091026a... reply

> Oddly, sea level will probably go down this far north. Earth is spinning, drawing water to the equator. More mass, more gravity pulling water to the equator, along with less mass at the poles to offset.

Can you provide a reference or show some workings which demonstrate that statement to be true? I've not heard this before, and it's not obvious that it should be true.

Here's one.


Wikipedia eqitorial bulge has some info as well.

I'm unconvinced. I don't see anything in the harvardmagazine article that suggests sea level fall in Northern California. The wikipedia page explains that equatorial bulge has been decreasing. I'd expect ice-melt to add mass along the equator and further slow rotation which should further reduce equatorial bulge. I'm not saying you are wrong its just that your references don't explain your contention in a way that I can make sense of.

I'm wrong. edited the main comment with more references.

California isn't an area where sea level will go down, ironically it will go down near Greenland and Antarctica due to less gravity from ice sheets. There are some nice maps towards the bottom of this article:


Since Florida is near the equator, facing the same ocean as Greenland, and has subsiding land, it will likely experience more effects of sea level rise.

Jerry Mitrovica is a Harvard geophysicist who's at the forefront of variations in sea level rise.


More mass? From where? I don't think the mass of polar ice caps significantly pulls water toward the poles. Water follows gravity, which points approximately toward the center of the earth everywhere, with very minor deviations for the centrifuge effects of rotation.

Your intuition is incorrect, the impact of ice sheets on local sea level due to gravitational attraction is significant (tens of feet). http://sealevelstudy.org/sea-change-science/whats-in-a-numbe...

I think, and I'm not convinced here, that they're considering the distribution of mass to be the key factor not total mass as that is (as far as we're concerned here) fixed. Again, just speculating.

> Oddly, sea level will probably go down this far north. Earth is spinning, drawing water to the equator. More mass, more gravity pulling water to the equator, along with less mass at the poles to offset.

Uhh... Is this true? Doesn't seem right to me...

There is a small effect in that direction - the earth's spin makes the sea level a few feet higher at the equator than it would be if the earth were not rotating.

But the bit you quoted implies something more of a runaway effect. I'm pretty sure that won't happen - there's not enough mass in water compared to the total mass of the earth. In fact, I'm pretty sure that adding more water to the oceans will raise sea levels even at the poles, despite the rotation of the earth.

It's pretty easy to calculate the acceleration due to rotation at the equator. It's a = omega^2 x R, where omega is (2 pi) / (24 * 60 * 60) seconds = 7.27e-5 / seconds, and R is the radius of the earth = 6.371e6 meters. The acceleration due to rotation is then a = 0.0337 m/s^2. Compare with 9.8 m/s^2 for gravity. That's 0.3% of gravitational acceleration. That's... not very much.

Can you explain in more detail how melting ice would cause sea level fall in Northern California? Are you saying this would happen because of changes to the speed of rotation? Change of pole location? A change to earth's shape?

I'm not sure that your reasoning makes sense.

I'm not sure how to fix this, assuming that global warming does wipe out alot of the Florida coast line.

I think he is right that its the banks who will start the decline by no longer issuing mortgages, starting with long term mortgages. We've already seen it happen in cities that don't have coastal flooding like Detroit.

People leave, property values fall, banks stop giving out as many loans, values fall further, property taxes revenue declines and the cycle repeats as the city circles the drain.

Ideally you'd have something like a forced relocation where the country/state/county would buy your property from you and you'd move, but with 100's of billions in property about to disappear, it's not really realistic let alone politically feasible for the government to buy everyone's ocean front property and put the bill on the shoulders of someone from Colorado.

I mean look at a city like New Orleans, its very easy to argue that it shouldn't have been rebuilt but it was politically impossible for someone to be the voice of reason and state that certain areas of the city be reclaimed and no longer available for residential construction.

And that's a relatively poor city, What's going to happen when billionaires island and South Beach starts to continually flood and then slowly start to disappear?

Phasing out Federally subsidized flood insurance would be a start. Giving people an incentive to NOT buy in a flood plane or likely disaster zone seems like a good idea.

The only downside (according to the article) is that coastal cities would start to lose tax revenue. But, that problem seems much better than tons of people living on the coast that will eventually be consumed.

I live in Calgary and we had a big flood a few years ago. The province and federal government stepped in to help some homeowners that weren't covered by insurance. Following the flood, they did land evaluation and identified homes in the flood plain. If you lived in the flood plain, you would only receive government assistance once. After that, if you stayed in the home, and it flooded, you were on your own. And this was home specific, not buyer specific. So I really should be saying "Your home would receive government assistance once".

Is that assistance conditional on the property being torn down and reclaimed as a suitable use for a flood plain area (EG a park)?

No, to expand a bit, there were a few classes of flood plain. Some were extreme and the province bought those owners out and tore down the homes. However, there were a ton of properties in the intermediate zone. They would get help to remediate their homes but that home would never qualify for assistance again. As can be imagined, if you sell the home, the next owner needs to be notified that the house no longer qualifies for assistance.

>> I think he is right that its the banks who will start the decline by no longer issuing mortgages, starting with long term mortgages. We've already seen it happen in cities that don't have coastal flooding like Detroit.

Nope. The banks don't care about the risk so long as you have insurance. They will continue to have insurance as long as we continue to subsidize them.

It sounds like the state of Florida provides insurance of last resort because larger insurance companies refused to provide coverage after 1992 with the state created Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Of course that doesn't meant they won't come asking for a federal bailout when things go pear shaped.



Insurance companies are already changing how they access risk for weather-based catastrophes. Banks will be in lock-step with them.

Are you referring to private mortgage insurance (PMI) or homeowner's/flood insurance?

There's a risk that an owner will walk away from the mortgage on a house that has bad long-term value prospects. Other than pooling the risk of those mortgages against stable mortgages I'm not sure how a bank hedges against that scenario.

A typical bank mortgage will be for a 30 year term. Flood insurance is typically renewed annually. There is no guarantee of renewal.

Banks have assets at risk for longer than the insurance coverage period. They have to be thinking longer term than insurers do.

Not to downplay climate change, I believe in it no matter what and I know it's one of the biggest catastrophes our planet has ever faced.

But I see a prediction of 32 cm rise by 2050 on Wikipedia (1)

It doesn't seem like the Florida coast is going anywhere overnight. Is there a chance we're panicking?

(1) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise

Taking for granted for a moment that predictions are not conservative: This has been oft-repeated, but in many areas things go very bad long, long before the water is actually lapping at the front steps. It's very geology and geography dependent on exactly how and when localized effects start to kick in, but major categories include:

- Worsening effects from storms.

- More serious, frequent, and lasting flooding.

- Destruction of subsurface fresh water (big, big problem in most of Florida, it's not on bedrock).

- Increasing difficulty in all subsurface infrastructure systems.

- Vegetation death due to above.

Just for starters. These are all probabilistic scenarios but the curves absolutely do matter, they are what feeds into insurance, predicted maintenancerequirements, QoL assessments and so forth, which in turn has a major effect on property values.

You should also remember the fact that property markets in particular have a predictive component as many people think longer term then they do elsewhere. Just because a problem is years down the line doesn't mean it won't start getting taken into account now, and that's particularly true with financing which matters since many property deals are heavily debt financed or leveraged. We're not even touching on politics here.

So there's quite a significant number of potential areas for negative feedback loops to kick into effect and end the party real fast, with the rational actions of every individual actor precipitates a readjustment that's much more rapid then you might expect otherwise.

I think you have to look at it in the context of home ownership. There was a NYT article [1] about Norfolk and the relationship between flood insurance, climate change and housing values.

I live in Virginia Beach, in what's officially not a flood zone, but Hurricane Matthew (which was pretty mild as things go) put our street 4 feet underwater and about a foot below our front door.

If our neighborhood gets redesignated as a flood zone, we'll lose a big chunk of our house value immediately and may not be able to sell it.

I'm definitely thinking that we need to move sooner rather than later as no matter if it's 32, 28, or 57 centimeters of sea level rise it's hard not to think we won't see more hurricanes, worse flooding, etc.

1 - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/magazine/when-rising-seas...

Like most articles about Norfolk, it is incredibly disingenuous to focus on sea level rise, and not land subsidence, which is the primary cause of the flooding there.

> the relationship between flood insurance, climate change and housing values

This is a really interesting perspective on the problem. If one of these three variables change dramatically it will feed back into the others. The average person may not try to predict their future home value 5-10 years out or have enough scientific background to understand climate science but an insurance company covering the area will have to consider both. It will be increasingly difficult for people to deny climate science as large number of homes and business properties lose value while at the same time their insurance rates dramatically increase. EDIT: a word

32 cm is more than enough to prevent an area from draining quickly after a storm. Sea level rise won't be what gets you directly, it'll be the fact that infrastructure, like storm drains, no longer function.

Absolutely. Even right now, low-elevation roads in coastal areas flood terribly when it rains. And if it's high tide, it can be hours before the water clears.

The future is going to look like the article's story about Key Largo first. Flooded streets and other infrastructure for periods of days instead of hours. And that's definitely enough to drive educated buyers away.

I would have loved to live in a different area than where I bought my house, but I couldn't argue with the advantages that come with being over 30' above sea level. Already I'm not required to purchase flood insurance, which is a large savings every year.

The global warming related pages on wikipedia are one of the most contentious pages on wikipedia. http://www.livescience.com/51926-are-wikipedia-science-pages... So in this case, wikipedia is not a good source unless one happened to edit it last, and investigates the source data.

What do you suggest that people in Florida should drink ?

The underground springs will become contaminated with salt water fairly easily.

Exactly. The whole state sits on porous limestone, and we get all our drinking water from underground.

32cm is a foot. Many parts of Florida are a foot above sea level. The rule of thumb in the flat parts of Florida is that for each foot of sea level rise the shoreline moves inland 300 feet. One foot could be a mile inland on tidal rivers. Drainage and other water systems are already being affected at current levels.

The article says-

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060."

3 feet is 91 cm so there seem to be different estimates than the one you have, unless the sea will rise two feet from 2050-2060.

>>But I see a prediction of 32 cm rise by 2050 on Wikipedia... Is there a chance we're panicking?

It's not about everyday sea levels. It's about what happens during storm surges.

If you went to school in the last 30 years, or popped on the news during that time, I can't help but wonder how delusional you must be to buy waterfront property. I say this knowing brilliant enginners with homes they are still paying off in New Orleans. Why? You must know the return will be terrible, and it is just a temporary luxury, at a steep price, right?

Are people in general this head-in-the-sand or is it really that hard to grasp?

I can take a few guesses at how people might make these mistakes without being exceptionally delusional:

- Estimates of climate change in the scientific literature tend to be conservative. Scientists often publish "at least" projections that lay readers might read as "up to". Especially if readers are consuming multiply digested-and-regurgitated versions of scientific reports (primary literature -> university press office -> Gizmodo).

- Considering average effects without accounting for extremes: e.g. visualizing "X centimeters of sea level rise by 2050" for a property near water without accounting for what that higher average level means during the worst storm of a decade.

- Thinking that you'll have enough warning before everyone else's irrational exuberance evaporates that you can go with the herd for the foreseeable future. With something as big as a home purchase, most Americans will sadly only get one chance to learn this lesson the hard way.

In addition, they often talk in terms of centuries, not "in your lifetime" and definitely not "while you're still young enough for it to change the course of much of your life".

The IPCC reports typically go out to 2100. This might imply a couple of ideas to lay readers that aren't actually in the report text:

- I only need to worry about this if I live until the year 2100.

- After the year 2100 the trend lines will stop going up. If humans are ready for the effects of AGW in 2100, we're sorted away for the rest of history.

Just lobby for subsidized insurance or direct bailout when something happens. The New Orleans people were just not rich enough. If West Palm Beach gets flooded we all will pay for it.

I really hate the fact that you're exactly correct.

Thinking about this a bit more... I'm wondering if this engineer is really gambling? There's no question that a lot of people who buy ocean front property probably are... but I wonder if (s)he has a method to their PARTICULAR madness?

Ports are necessary to a nation for reasons of infrastructure and logistics that I won't go into right now. However, this is not to say that Miami or Myrtle Beach are as important as Houston or... say ... New Orleans. The reality is that there are certain ports that are more critical to the continuance of the US than others. And I'm hard pressed to think of two ports more critical to our survival than Houston and New Orleans. If those two were to disappear tomorrow, I'm pretty sure the rest of us would find out the hard way why they were important. (I'm not a petro-chemical engineer myself, but I was at Halliburton for a bit, and metallurgy alone to replace 5 or 6 trillion dollars worth of pipelines would be staggering.)

So given the criticality of certain ports... maybe there are people out there identifying the "ocean front property" that the US cannot live without... and buying it up where it is affordable? They wouldn't be so much gambling... as they would be seeing where resources will have to go... and getting there first.

I've always wondered about that simply from the hurricane risk. It seems the hazards of the coastal areas are subsidized by the rest of us. Even in this article we find this atrocity:

"The effects of climate-driven price drops could ripple across the economy, and eventually force the federal government to decide what is owed to people whose home values are ruined by climate change."

Nothing is owed to these people. The sea has always been a hazard. Ocean levels have always fluctuated. That doesn't change just because someone spends a bucket of money to build a house there.

Brilliant engineers make good money. So they can pause to enjoy life, and do unwise things like purchase waterfront property when sea levels are rising. Why shouldn't they? Does everything have to be an investment?

I'm guessing you don't criticize people queueing up for properties in the Bay Area, where the Big One could happen any day, and while it will probably be in the East Bay, we really can't say for sure. And in that case, you don't just lose your basement, but possibly your life. In my opinion there are quite a few "heads in the sand," as you put it, on the west coast.

The possibility of an earthquake, damaging a building build to withstand one, vs the eventuality of your land being underwater are distinct in my mind. That being said, the rink of earthquake has been observed and baked in to insurance, while sea level rise is only now becoming a factor.

Your point about doing 'unwise things' because you have the money is well taken, and most waterfront property, like other highly depreciating assets, are a vanity thing, so I get that point well.

Brilliant engineers frequently aren't that smart outside their narrow domain of expertise. They're also very frequently politically conservative, religious (so they believe unscientific things), and have been shown in studies to have traits making them more likely to become terrorists (they exhibit extreme black-and-white thinking).

It doesn't surprise me at all that your "brilliant engineers" think climate change is a hoax and have bought waterfront property in a flood zone.

BTW, I'm an engineer (EE) myself, so I see this stuff in my colleagues (maybe not the terrorism stuff so much, but definitely the religion and conservatism).

That or gambling that the rest of us will be forced to bail them out for their idiocy

Certainly a lot of people are delusional. However, not all waterfront property is so vulnerable as Florida.

Oceanfront, sure. Seafront, somewhat. Lakefront, not so much.

Hope you are avoiding glacier lakes :-)

I live in a country with thousands of non-glacier lakes, that is rising from the sea due to post-glacial rebound :)

> I can't help but wonder how delusional you must be to buy waterfront property.

I expect most of them not only bought property, they voted to make a coal-supporting climate-change denier president....

Ah, this is rather what I keep on explaining to folks about climate change - you don't have to wait for cities to be underwater, for infrastructure to be destroyed, for the worst consequences to be felt - they just have to be anticipated for disaster to strike.

For instance, you might have a scenario whereby Europe somehow has no climate change (this is demonstrably not the case), but, say, the 'stans become nigh on uninhabitable, or at least, bad enough that people don't want to stay put - you end up with a refugee crisis on your doorstep. This foments political change, economic change, and again, climate change is having an affect without directly affecting the local area.

Commensurately, you might find that your home insurance premiums on the gulf coast just keep on going up, and you decide to sell - except, the best you can get is less than you bought the place for, because new buyers are either building in the cost of insurance to the purchase price or don't exist, so you either don't sell, and end up staying until disaster really does strike, at which point you have nothing, or you relocate, writing off the worth of your property - which is where a great deal of people keep most of their net worth - and again, relocate, destitute. This creates pressure elsewhere on employment and housing markets, and before you know it, Iowa is saying that they want to implement immigration controls because the locals are up in arms, and political instability ensues. Meanwhile, your property on the gulf coast is still there, still standing, still not submerged, but the town's services have been gutted by the exodus, and the place is worth nothing - despite having not had any direct climate change impact.

Our society is a deeply unstable chaotic attractor - little nudges can cause massive disruption. Climate change is more of a shove, than a nudge.

Cities and municipal infrastructure are one thing. It's a necessary massive realignment of the food production system that scares the shit out of me.

Food production will have to shift, which costs money. But I would guess that the cost of building agricultural infrastructure in previously too-cold-and-dry-for-food regions is small compared to the cost of moving entire cities.

In other words, suppose Iowa becomes a wasteland because of temperature changes. Other regions will become better suited for crops at the same time. Do we have reason to believe building the infrastructure for those lands to be suitable for agriculture would be more expensive than, say, moving the entire populations of Miami or Dhaka to someplace above sea level?

I can't say which one would be more expensive in raw replacement cost. One thing I'd point out is that while urban infrastructure is deep, rural infrastructure is broad. Tens of thousands of miles of highways, railways and irrigation exist largely for bringing material to where food grows and taking food from where it grows to where it is processed and then on to where it is purchased.

How many square miles of rural Iowa adds up to single square block of downtown Miami I'm not sure but the potential human toll is much more frightening. Displacing large amounts of people is of course deeply problematic. You need look no further than the situation we're in today with Syrian refugees for evidence of that. But in terms of turmoil, death and violence human displacements tend to pale in comparison to large scale disruptions of food production.

Food production won't impact the US much. That's infinitely more adjustable than the location of people's homes and businesses.

Unless, of course, your worst nightmare is a severe shortage of almonds. Yeah, they're likely to become an extreme luxury product.

Kim Stanley Robinson explores this very market force in some interesting ways in his new New York 2140, with the Intertidal Property Pricing Index (IPPI).


New York City will build a retaining wall and be done with it. These other predictions are written by naive people and paid for by naive people.

You haven't gotten to the chapter where the retaining wall is breached in the 2nd wave/pulse yet have you?

There's probably already an indirect impact happening to property values. Holding a mortgage requires flood insurance. Inside a 100 year flood zone it can be difficult and expensive to get flood coverage. If no one will cover you, you aren't getting that mortgage.

As FEMA redraws 100 year flood zones, even a few inches of increased depth will cause many "dry" areas to be recategorized.

Florida coastal homeowners have always known there are high risks. There are these things called hurricanes that can level your house in one go, and they happen every year. A few inches of rain is just one of several concerns, and yet for decades the market has been strong, even shortly after hurricanes.

Lots of South Florida floods every year, inland and coastal, and nobody sells their house just because it floods. If the boats can't make it under the bridge, they'll just put in locks; they've worked for a thousand years, so they can probably work for the Venice of America. And there are many cities throughout the world located near the ocean and under sea level.

The only risky part of South Florida real estate are giant condos in Miami, which have a habit of becoming empty. If you're a homeowner, though, your land will pretty much always have value until it is completely under water. Even then, they may just develop into Stiltsville 2.0.

+1 for Stiltsville reference.

This is the good scenario. The mortgage and insurance industries see rising sea levels coming, reprice accordingly, and over time, people move to high ground. It's the free market in action.

Only a few areas of the US are affected. Florida has the worst problem. Florida is so flat. Look at an elevation map of Florida and the Gulf Coast.[1] The bright red areas will have to be evacuated.

The US west coast is mountainous; even where it looks flat, a few hundred feet inland is well above sea level. San Francisco and LA will build seawalls and berms as necessary.

[1] https://pubs.usgs.gov/sim/3047/

Mortgages only last 20 or 30 years, and realistically probability of default falls rapidly after the first few years, so banks don't have all that much incentive to care about value a couple of decades down the line when granting one.

If you think the free market will solve this problem, think again. Banks can provide these super-risky loans and then sell them off to the highest bidder immediately thereafter. Improving next quarter's earnings and passing on the risk to someone else (e.g. hedge funds managed by fools).

If you think that problem sounds familiar it's because it is: It's exactly what caused the last financial collapse. Nothing has changed in terms of regulating the risks inherent in the "free market".

Technically, a one meter rise will help flood a large inhabited part of the San Francisco Bay outside SF, Sacramento and surprising parts of the Central Valley that are close to sea level. http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/san-francisco.shtml

That's just an elevation map. The SF bay is more complex than that, because the Sacramento River is involved. That's why there's the Bay Model.

Maybe a dam near Novato to prevent salt-water incursion upstream.

It looks like it should be pretty easy to just hire the Dutch and build a levee to prevent the central valley/Sacramento areas from flooding. All the water is entering through one very narrow channel just east of Vallejo.

And perhaps the Bay Area can also be saved with a levee at the Golden Gate bridge.

A dam at Novato, plus the Peripheral Canal to divert Sacramento River water to the California Water Project, is quite possible. A dam at the Golden Gate, though, is very tough. The bay is 360 feet deep there.

Whenever I see someone say "We have to do X to prevent Y because of the great potential costs of Y", I rarely see a discussion of the costs of X in comparison. Fixing the climate is going to be expensive. It's going to decrease the cost of living for everyone in similar ways that letting Miami flood will. I'm not advocating for ignoring it but this isn't just a one way street.

There is always this urge to DO SOMETHING. Pass a new law, bring in a new process, take a new pill, whatever. But those things also have costs, costs that are almost never analyzed and compared because they are "Free costs", e.g. we are protected in many ways from the costs because they are difficult to ascertain. If I don't take Lipitor and die of a heart attack, my doctor will say "see, there was a very visible cost." But if I take it for 30 years and find out that it causes memory loss and muscle problems and less efficient exercise adoption, none of that is measured (or possibly even possibly measured).

Fixing the climate is in a similar position. We need to do something because Miami will flood and people will default and the government may have to bail them out. But if we drastically reduce our carbon footprint, people will lose jobs, prices will be higher, standard of living will go down, etc. And none of that is discussed. Because it's hard and it might involve saying "It's best not to do something in this case." Which is hard for us to accept for some reason.

It's interesting to observe the patterns of those who advocate lack of action on the climate. Twenty years ago, global warming was absurd and "weren't they just saying we were going to go through global cooling 10 years ago?" Ten years ago, it was, climate change? that's not happening and even if it were people have nothing to do with it. Now that evidence becomes less disputable, the fallback becomes, well even if humans were responsible it will cost too much/change our living conditions so much that it won't be worthwhile to do anything about.

I'm not really sure where this leads, or why it's happening, but I do think it's worth noticing.

Accepting responsibility for trashing the planet implies that you must make lifestyle changes as a result. If you take responsibility, you can't justify driving a large SUV, or buying a large house, or buying lots of stuff, or paying low taxes, or eating a hamburger guilt free, etc. etc.

People hate change, and will fight to resist it, including fighting against the idea that change is necessary.

There's a huge number of estimates of X and Y out there.

Except that some people, or rather some politicians, are denying that Y is even possible despite all evidence pointing that it does.

They also assume, without evidence, that X will be so high that it's not worth doing. Therefore, that justifies their public denial of Y being possible.

It should be possible to have a news article like this one without criticism that it doesn't deal with the large space of projections of future potential mitigations, their costs, and the costs of not doing anything.

As usual, starting with Wikipedia is a good place:


For example, the costs are estimated from -1% to 3.5%. For the US, the worst case cost is about the cost of our military budget.

What pisses me off is these homeowners are going to expect the federal government to bail them out when their property gets destroyed by climate change.

I don't mind helping out areas impacted by tornados hurricanes etc but not ignorance.

Tornadoes and hurricanes are actually a lot more foreseeable as risks than the effects of AGW. 100 years ago everyone in Florida already knew about hurricanes.

It would be disruptive to just yank out support for whole regions. But I feel like you shouldn't get to rebuild structures with government support unless the new ones are no longer vulnerable. Whatever gets rebuilt should be able to survive another event of the kind that destroyed it, plus a safety margin. That may mean that you just can't build the same kinds of structures all across the US. Depending on locale your home might need to survive earthquake, tornado, hurricane, whatever. It might mean that it looks weird and costs more. But being able to build "normal-looking" homes for "normal" prices is a terrible deal if it means that the rest of the country has to pay for reconstruction after nature predictably ruins them.

But most of these houses will be destroyed by hurricanes, not slow creeping gradual flooding.

That very well may happen. But in the article posted, it specifically mentions Miami asking for federal money to buyout areas at risk for flooding. The federal government said no.

Is it really significantly different than helping out after a hurricane? And unlike a hurricane, the entire country is responsible for creating this problem.

It is different. The assumption with hurricanes is that after the storm is gone things can get back to normal if people get some assistance.

With climate change things will never "get back to normal" so investing time and money into these places is unwise. It is better to tell people to move now before it's too late.

My idea to solve the problem is this: Legally prevent U.S. banks from granting loans to areas that are likely to become unlivable because of climate change in the next 30 years. That way when the problematic areas do become unlivable only foreign banks and rich folks that could purchase homes with cash will have to deal with the economic consequences of their poor decisions.

While I generally agree with your gut feelings, my logic says otherwise.

* some people bought their homes 30+ years ago, when the timeline and exact impact wasn't known (and there was reporting of a potential Ice Age coming, despite that not accurately reflecting the science of the time)

* other people have bought since then, but have seen their own politicians telling them it's "in dispute", and the general media just says some people say it's in dispute and others say it isn't.

* our school systems do a terrible job of teaching fundamentals, like "what is a theory" to science.

Heck, while I believe in climate change and human-caused climate change, including the unprecedented scale, when I've tried to find good answers to skeptical questions...it's hard for the lay person to find. Things like "volcanos put out more CO2 in a year than mankind ever" are apparently false, but it's a lot easier to find that claim than the reverse (and much easier to find the refutation now than even 5 years ago). "Satellite data shows no global warming" is one I still don't quite follow - I get that they tend to pick a range from the last El Nino peak, but I don't know how to reconcile how they can say each successive year has been "the hottest on record" (including beating the previous year) but "satellite temperature measurements have been flat in recent years". If I - a reasonably well-educated person familiar with online research and with ample time on my hands - can't find decisive answers, how can I expect that everyone has?

Ultimately, I decide to trust in the overall body of scientists, but that's pretty subjective, and I can't fault the average person that understands science only from mass media for deciding NOT to trust the body of scientists.

Or increase the flood insurance premiums to ensure the homeowners are aware of the risks and are contributing to it. Currently Florida has one of the lowest premiums for federally supported flood insurance. Ridiculous.

See this from the article:

The National Flood Insurance Program is up for reauthorization this year; fiscal conservatives have said they want to use that opportunity to reduce the program’s subsidies, so that people are paying something closer to the full cost of their risk. A cut in federal subsidies would particularly hurt Florida, which despite its exposure pays the lowest average flood-insurance premiums in the country, according to FEMA data.

It's possible to provide assistance without that assistance reaching the level of reimbursing people for the full value of lost homes.

What pisses me off is the small-government, lower my taxes, SUV driving, Tump voting, homeowners expect government bailouts for the problems they caused/ignored/actively fought against any mitigation of.

I agree completely. We're talking about Florida here: that state reliably votes for politicians who say that climate change is a "hoax".

Let them deal with the flooding on their own.

I'm anti-homeowner bailout, but damn, you really think that people that disagree with you politically deserve all that?

People, no matter their views, matter.

I never said they "don't matter", just that they shouldn't be bailed out for their dumb choices. They do not believe that there's any global climate change. They think it's a hoax. They vote for leaders (for the rest of us) who push these anti-scientific views. Then they insist on building expensive houses right on the water.

Tell me why I should have any sympathy for them, or why I should help them when their expensive homes get flooded.

People who live in risky areas must continue to fool themselves to avoid a painful reailty. For example people who live very close to a risky dam for example feel safer about it than other people who live further away. This is both due to survivor bias (folks who faced the truth picked different place to live) and cognitive bias called cognitive dissonance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

Not sure how you get from what he said to people not mattering.

The government has actively encouraged building on buying in these areas for decades. If we can bail out Goldman Sachs and AIG I think maybe we can find it in our hearts to help homeowners mitigate their losses.

Here's my prediction. There's a scare and values plummet, so the banks and investors end up with all the houses, who then get bailed out at full "market price" by the very US taxpayers who just lost their homes.

Ugh. Yeah that sounds totally likely.

The banks paid back the bailout money. These homeowners won't.

So someone who bought a home in 1980 before most people even knew what greenhouse gasses were deserves to lose massive net worth? Because if some ignoramus doesn't come along and buy today, that's what's going to happen to them.

We as a society have externalized the costs of carbon emission. That cost is going to fall on someone, whether it's a person who couldn't have known or someone who should've known better it hardly seems reasonably to expect a small group of people to bear the blow.

The New York Times did a good article on this last fall


That will be terrible but will probably happen. So my advice to myself is rent a house there, don't buy.

Maybe they should vote to address the problem rather than wedge their collective heads further in the sand?

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