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Climate Change is Changing the Coast

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Climate Change is Changing the Coast

By: Adam M. Matheny

It's Difficult but Will be Worth it

From the outside looking in, it is easy to say that communities subject to repeated flooding, like Nicols and Rosewood, in South Carolina, should stop rebuilding. After all, it’s just going to happen again. The people that live there should move on.

But when you’re on the inside, when you’ve invested everything you have into your home financially, when you’re emotionally invested in the community you belong to, the decision isn’t so easy. And many people who live in floodplains have chosen to return, time and again.

It’s time, however, to start making that decision more difficult for them, despite the sentimental resistance to the idea of letting a community go. Repeated, disastrous flooding is not an isolated occurrence now; it’s not a chance, freak event. On the contrary, worse and more frequent flooding along our coasts is expected due to climate change, as sea levels rise. Rebuilding is becoming more and more expensive, and it’s also putting people in danger by keeping them in the path of future destruction.

Rebuilding and Relocation

Unfortunately, our government and its programs weren’t designed for this elevated (and increasing) risk in mind. The programs we currently have are almost all geared toward facilitating the rebuilding process. For example, the National Flood Insurance Program encourages rebuilding in flooded areas by providing emergency aid and keeps insurance rates lower than they should be. Relaxed policies that allow rebuilt areas to skirt sustainable practices are also an issue.

These things might have been a way to help homeowners in the past, but with the effects of climate change becoming more obvious, they’re doing more harm than good. From local policies to federal laws, we should be focused on providing assistance for people to relocate to areas that are at less risk of flooding. If emergency funds prioritized relocation and helped those without the necessary resources to relocate, more people would be making that decision—and clearing out of risky floodplains that climate change will inevitably and completely consume.

The government, the public at large, and the members of these communities themselves need to understand some harsh realities, including the fact that rebuilding in these areas is not just a personal risk that the property owners are taking upon themselves. The national flood insurance program is spreading that cost to all taxpayers—and it’s still struggling, at 20 billion dollars in the red. And of course, when communities rebuild, private and government organizations are on the hook to rebuild their infrastructure, as well.

Federal, state, and local governments need to step up and accomplish two things: incentivize relocation and make rebuilding in risky areas less attainable.

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