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Rising Sea Levels Aren’t Putting the Brakes on Coastal Development

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Rising Sea Levels Aren't Putting the Brakes on Coastal Development

By: Adam M. Matheny

Sea Levels Will Rise

A recent report by the United Nations shows that even if the world succeeds in meeting the long-term goal established in the Paris Agreement, sea levels will continue to rise faster than earlier thought by the end of the century.

If we don’t slow down greenhouse gas emissions, the speed at which sea levels rise will escalate. This will continue for centuries to come as the ocean continues to heat deep down and the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets continue to melt.

A Special Report

All of these conclusions are included in a Special Report produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and approved by the 195 IPCC member governments. One important takeaway from this study is the new evidence shows the importance of keeping global warming at the lowest possible levels.

Despite all of the facts presented, coastal development continues at almost breakneck speeds. Keep in mind that coastal storms and hurricanes have been responsible for 16 out of the 20 costliest disasters in American history. This, according to Gilbert Gaul, a Pulitzer Prizewinning author.

His most recent book “The Geography of Risk,” Gaul states that the cost of damages caused by coastal storms far outpaces those caused by tornados, wildfires, and earthquakes. At the same time, the National Academy of Sciences states that the damages caused by nor’easters and hurricanes have been increasing exponentially over the course of the last century due to continued coastal development and increases in population.

Time to Flee

Coastal geologist Orrin Pilkey states that in approximately 80 years the Inner Banks of North Carolina will become uninhabitable as climate changes force residents to flee. For decades, Pilkey has advocated for the strategic retreat of those who live on the coast. In Sea Level Rise:  A Slow Tsunami On America’s Shores, his latest book, co-written with his son Keith Pilkey, he states that it makes far more sense to start an organized withdrawal rather than one that becomes forced due rising water levels flood the streets and cause housing prices to bottom out. Most importantly, before everyone is trying to move out at the same time.

According to Bloomberg News, approximately 13 million people will be forced to move due to rising sea levels. This could cause a financial disaster that could easily rival that of the financial crisis that occurred in 2008.

The NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) current handles the risk for approximately 5 million properties considered to be among the riskiest in the nation. From the start of the program in 1968, the NFIP has lost in excess of $40 billion, the bulk of which has been borne by U.S. taxpayers. The program was set to expire at the end of September, but the government issued yet another temporary extension, the thirteenth so far. It seems to be easier for them to keep extending the program rather than make a real attempt at reforming it.

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