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Back before I cut the cable I would sometimes watch a show called "beach front bargain hunters" or something along those lines. For two or three hundred thousand dollars buyers were able to snatch up some impressive foreshore real estate. They were picking up properties that once went for a couple of million, maybe more. It was pretty obvious, though the show never mentioned it, that there were sellers really motivated to cut their losses and bail out.
Now, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Florida Keys, it's easy to see the prudence in these transactions. The legendary Key West has a maximum elevation of just 5 metres above sea level. Key Largo is barely more than 2 metres. Fort Lauderdale is 2.7 metres while Miami comes in at 2 metres even.
When your "high ground" is just a couple of metres above sea level, a storm surge of 8 to 10 metres is more than a problem. It's a catastrophe and one that undermines the viability of these low-lying areas now and into the future. In the past you were a tropical isle. Now you've become an intermittent shoal. Hint: you don't build waterfront palaces on shoals.
The folks who took 25 cent on the dollar deals will probably be thanking their lucky stars over the next couple of weeks and forever after. Many of them got their money's worth over the past few decades. It didn't turn out to be much of an investment but think of all the years of great fun in "the Keys."
As Irma heads north it may visit the barrier islands of Georgia and the Carolinas. Some of those islands are home to stately antebellum summer homes that have been in families for generations, homes that are now at risk.
Irma is expected to make landfall this weekend somewhere between Florida and North Carolina. It will likely inflict many millions, probably billions of dollars in property damage only some of which is insured. In recent years as flood and wind insurance premiums have risen, some property owners have let their policies lapse, upwards of 7 to 10% in some vulnerable regions. Next year's premiums will likely see an "Irma boost." Higher insurance costs affect the affordability and resale value of these properties. The number of qualified buyers declines as costs increase sending prices down.
The fingerprints of climate change are all over this mess. Warmer sea temperatures energize already warm and moisture laden air currents creating more powerful hurricanes. That's the signature of global warming - severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. The east and Gulf coast are enduring hurricanes. The south is wracked with worsening tornadoes. The mid-west is enduring severe flash drought and crop damage. The west has been beset by a combination of drought and heat waves resulting in massive wild fires from Mexico to Alaska.
Here's the thing. The changes that are driving these severe weather events are here to stay. In fact we've already "baked in" future warming just from the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere today. Nature is now chiming in with its own massive release of greenhouse gases, primarily methane, especially in the Arctic.
Some think Irma might trigger a climate change epiphany in the United States, an acceptance of the reality of anthropogenic global warming and support for change. Sounds to me like wishful thinking.