Sep 15, 2022
Report shows devastating economic impact of rising sea levels along American coast Transcript
A new report shows sea-level rise will threaten homes and properties in hundreds of counties along the coast of the United States. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
For years, scientists have warned about the dangerous consequences of climate change, and many of the more dire outcomes are more urgent than most people realize. William Brangham is back now with a look at a new report showing how sea level rise will threaten homes and properties in hundreds of counties along the coast of the United States, making many places unlivable and taking an enormous economic toll in the coming years.
Speaker 2: (00:25)
This report released by the nonprofit research group Climate Central documents that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida are in danger of being lost or severely damaged because of rising sea levels. The report says that in just 30 years, over four million acres of land will be increasingly threatened by routine flooding. By 2100, over a $100 billion worth of property could be in jeopardy as the coastlines of the US continue to creep inland.
Speaker 2: (01:00)
Don Bain is a senior advisor at Climate Central and he led this report. Don, thank you so much for being here. So your report indicates that potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans who bought or built along the coastlines of this country could see those structures seriously in danger. Can you sketch out the full threat as your report indicates?
Speaker 3: (01:25)
Well, certainly. This report in particular describes how the line between property and public tidelands and public waters moves as the water rises. So we have this concept of floods is something that happens and it’s only temporary and the water leaves, but what we’re talking about here is permanent flooding. And as I said, as that line moves, that line is what each individual state uses to determine who owns the land. So for the first time, we’re having to face the prospect that individual owners are going to lose their property, and the scale of the problem, as you see in the report, is huge. By 2050, using modest, or I should say intermediate climate models, we stand to lose about as many square miles as New Jersey currently occupies.
Speaker 2: (02:31)
I mean, it’s just startling to think about that. A land mass the size of New Jersey could be, in essence, taken off the map of coastal areas all over this country. I mentioned some of the places that are most at risk. Why are those places particularly vulnerable?
Speaker 3: (02:48)
Well, first of all, sea level rise is not evenly distributed. There are many reasons for this. The biggest is the land is also moving. So we’re getting more than the average amount of sea level rise on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast. The West Coast is getting about the global average. And not only is the water rising, but the land is sinking. So this contributes to the problem and makes it worse. In addition, not every location is created equally. Many of them have slope at the shore that is very gradual. So a foot of extra sea level can cause the water to run inland hundreds of feet. And consequently, this problem, while it’s happening all around the United States, is happening much worse in some locations than others.
Speaker 2: (03:41)
I mean, as your report indicates, it’s not just the trauma of individuals losing their homes or hotels or businesses that they’ve built along the coast, but it’s also the economic impact that that would have not just on those people, but on their local cities’ and counties’ tax base.
Speaker 3: (04:02)
Exactly. So this is a terrible problem if you lose your property or your business. But it’s also important to know that local governments and our schools depend upon property taxes to fund education, local government services, and the things that we count on. And worse, at the time that these waters are rising and this property is being lost, is also the time when many cities are going to be facing increased expenses associated with raising and repairing roads, fixing storm water systems, and other interventions that they may need to make in order to address the problem. So at the same time we’re losing potential tax revenue, their expenses may be going up. It’s a double whammy. It’s terrible.
Speaker 2: (04:53)
How much of this is baked in? Given how much carbon we’ve already put up into the atmosphere and how long it’s going to stay up there, how much of this is irreversible and how much of this might we have some future control over?
Speaker 3: (05:08)
Well, first I would like to make it clear that we have choices to make and the choices that we make make a big difference, especially later in this century. Unfortunately, the amount between now and 2050 is about baked in, and that’s a function of the scale of the oceans and the planetary system. We’ve put a lot of heat into the ocean and we’re going to have to live with those consequences.
Speaker 2: (05:39)
How much of this risk do you think is understood by individuals, by local governments, by people that are most on the front lines of this?
Speaker 3: (05:50)
Well, I’d say the awareness is going up. The conversations that we’ve been having in the last few years have changed dramatically. This is also where programs like yours make a big difference. We want to educate and inform people so they can participate in the adaptation that we’re going to have to make.
Speaker 2: (06:09)
All right. Don Bain of Climate Central, thank you for this very sobering report about the state of the climate crisis. Thanks for being here.
Speaker 3: (06:16)
Thank you, William.