Thursday, September 07, 2017

There's Your Problem

New Price Coming Soon

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.


Dana said...

Florida Governor Rick Scott has already banned "climate change" from appearing in any government documents. Now he's now banning the phrases "180 mph winds" and "20 foot storm surge".

Perhaps Miami will no longer be a boil on the backside.

Lorne said...

I have the feeling, Mound, that no matter how high the catastrophic losses are now and in the near future, nothing will impel our political 'leaders' to take the kind of action necessary to mitigate things. I saw a video on The Globe this morning of Trudeau speaking in his usual earnestness about how bright the future will be as we tackle climate change. What everyone needs is not rhetoric but harsh and compelling words that underscore how badly things really are. Unless a sense of urgency is conveyed internationally, we are looking at a future that will be barely recognizable.

Dana said...

We are looking at a future that will be violently abbreviated in point of fact. It remains to be seen whether there will be any sentient creatures on earth to recognize anything.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm convinced it would take government action equivalent to a war footing to effectively respond to climate change. Even then, as Digby wrote, we're still in for a triage of mitigation to the extent we can, adaptation for as much of the remaining impacts as we can manage and some degree of suffering for those aspects we can neither mitigate nor control by adaptation.

No government can take on an effort of that magnitude without being able to mobilize the resources of the state. Laissez faire capitalism is antithetical to that challenge.

So many great minds have weighed in on the incongruence of market fundamentalist capitalism and the changing realities of the 21st century. We're surrounded by the evidence that our former modes of organization - economic, industrial, social and political - have lost their utility. For all of that we have a political caste on autopilot, incapable of breaking from the neoliberal regime. How shall we ever get past that political roadblock?

Toby said...

It will take a while but people will be moving back from the coasts. Up to now it has been a trickle but eventually it will be a deluge. Watch for Florida's population to go down. Of course, Governor Scott (if he's still around) will call that fake news.

Trailblazer said...
Saratoga beach makes Miami look like a hill..
And on it goes.

A year back some ocean front development in Comox that was bitterly contested had to build sea defence against flooding; I think the Municipality payed for it.
In Tofino there is a large Housing development the road to which has 'danger' tsunami signs !
Real estate sales and developers have no conscience when it comes to profit and ,sadly, in the end the taxpayer bails out the home owners after disaster strikes.
By that time the realtors and developers are long gone or Joes development 2001 ltd is now Joes development 2017 ltd.


Toby said...

"Are We F--ked? Decoding the resistance to climate change"

CBC Ideas

"The evidence is everywhere: forests retreating, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased five-fold over the past 50 years. And we're only just beginning to feel the strain of climate change. It's estimated that rising sea levels will threaten 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. Miami could disappear within a generation. Despite all of these dire events and projections, the attacks continue — on climate scientists."

You can click the link to listen.

The Mound of Sound said...

I doubt the municipality footed the cost of that seawall in Comox, TB. That would set a precedent that would be impossible to honour for other waterfront landowners. It could also make the municipality liable for flood damage claims. Every coastal community in B.C. would oppose that sort of initiative.

I've seen the tsunami warning signs in Tofino but it's a common scenario not only in BC but in Washington and Oregon also. Ask anyone living along the Alberni inlet.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the link, Toby. The question, sadly, answers itself. We're already reeling from severe weather events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration and we're just getting started. The danger of climate change is akin to a prize fighter. It's not whether you can take a punch but how many punches you can take before you're out on your back in the ring.

Northern PoV said...

"Irma is expected to make landfall this weekend somewhere between Florida and North Carolina."

Lets all hope for a miss, eh? But if it does make landfall, there is a certain golf course just north of Miami ....

The Mound of Sound said...

The problem, NPoV, is that we know what a miss would mean. America needs a wake up call one the political caste cannot ignore without knowing they'll be turfed out. I don't want to see Americans suffer but they need a seismic event, possibly a chain of such calamities, to change course.

Look at the year to date. The east and central region - flood alley and cold. The southeast and Gulf coasts - massive hurricanes. The Great Plains - flash drought. The West coast from Mexico to Alaska - massive wildfires. What part of climate change can these people not comprehend? Do they imagine this is just a passing fluke occurrence? Do they suppose in a year or two we'll be back to the benign 60s? What will it take to get it into their heads that this is their new normal and it's going to worsen substantially in the years and decades ahead?

Americans and many Canadians are making choices. Doing next to nothing is a choice. We may be spared the worst outcomes but they're being suffered elsewhere, usually in the poorest and most vulnerable countries in distant corners and there the people are paying for our excess and indifference with their lives. So, given the consequences we're all too willing to visit upon our fellow humans who are out of sight and, hence, out of mind I'm not going to fret that Americans get a taste of their own lash. Eventually they might discover that it's the very people they elect to office who are holding the whip.

Anonymous said...

Anyong....There is a very good lecture on CBC from last nights Ideas Program...Australian public intellectual Clive Hamilton describes how he’s been attacked for telling the truth about climate change.