The water is coming.
There is little doubt about this anymore, as scientists have increasingly documented how global warming has accelerated sea level rise along coasts around the world.
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But a new analysis released Thursday by nonprofit Climate Central research reveals a troubling dimension of the economic toll that could occur in the United States as hundreds of thousands of homes, offices and other private properties slip under the rising tide over the next few decades. .
Here are five insights from research into the people and places that risk losing the most, the likely knock-on effects, and why the world must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to ultimately stem rising water.
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1. Sea level rise will shift coasts and property lines
Climate Central researchers collected scientific data on predicted sea level rise, as well as information on state tide boundaries, and combined it with records on more than 50 million individual properties in hundreds of U.S. counties to identify the very packages. probably at risk.
Their conclusion: By 2050, nearly 650,000 privately owned, privately owned plots of 4.4 million acres of land are projected to fall below changing tidal boundaries. The affected land could swell to 9.1 million acres by 2100. with a collective estimated value of $ 108 billion it could be affected by the end of the century, based on current emissions. But, the authors noted, because full real estate values weren’t available for all counties, the actual total is likely to be much higher.
The changes may also come gradually first, then rapidly. In many communities, the authors write, structures are grouped into areas that historically lie on safe ground. But once sea rise reaches those densely developed altitudes, “the number of buildings affected increases dramatically.”
“As the sea is rising, the tide lines are moving upward, upward and inward,” said Don Bain, Climate Central Senior Advisor and Sea Level Rise Expert, who conducted the analysis. “People haven’t internalized that yet – that ‘Hey, I’m going to take something out of the sea.'”
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2. The Gulf coast and the Atlantic coast are likely to lose more
Unsurprisingly, Louisiana, where seas are swelling and land is sinking, faces a daunting loss of property for years to come.
Climate Central’s analysis estimated that more than 25,000 properties totaling nearly 2.5 million acres in the state could fall completely below the tidal boundaries by 2050 – a number that far exceeds any other location. of the nation. That would amount to 8.7 percent of Louisiana’s total land area, the report found.
But other states also appear to face widespread threats. The top three at risk behind Louisiana are Florida, North Carolina, and Texas, all of which have large swaths of low and endangered coastline.
While ownership in the Southeast may be exposed to the most collective risk, other states also have cause for concern. New Jersey and New York, for example, will also see thousands of properties fall below the tides in the coming decades. The same for Maryland, where the researchers’ project could see the impact of more than 2,500 buildings.
The effects of sea level rise are already evident as some communities face the prospect of retreat and an increasing number grapple with “sunny day” nuisances or floods.
Eventually, such problems “will go from something rare to something normal,” said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the NOAA National Ocean Service and the nation’s best scientist on sea level rise.
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3. It’s not just about flooded homes. It is about eroding the tax bases.
The loss of homes and other properties, especially those along the waterfront, is not just a tragedy for the owners. It’s a surefire way to erode the revenue municipal governments need to operate.
“Ultimately, this is a local issue and a local history,” Bain said. “We finance the local government through our property taxes.”
If the sea level continues to rise relentlessly, this is more than just a problem for the beaches and apartments that line the coasts. It will ultimately result in fewer taxable properties and less money to fund schools and firefighters, repair roads, maintain sewers, and provide other essential services.
“Declining property values and a smaller tax base can lead to reduced tax revenue and reduced public services – a potential downward spiral of divestments and declining population, reduced tax base and public services and so on.” , found Thursday’s analysis.
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4. The potential ripple effects are vast.
The erosion of tax bases is a big problem. But hardly the only one. The study also found a litany of other complications that are likely to result as sea levels getting higher and higher than centimeters.
“The legal and political ramifications of these changes are complex and are likely to vary between locations,” the analysis found. “Those ramifications extend far beyond the loss of tax revenue as homeowners resist paying taxes on sunken land.”
In addition to these initial shocks, municipalities and people will also face the significant costs of removing flooded structures and flooded septic tanks. Governments could get involved for properties that are abandoned, adding additional expenses not covered by their budgets.
But even before that, communities are already struggling with the need to repair flood-damaged roads and roads, as well as overwhelmed or outdated sewer and water networks. “The way city and county management teams respond to these risks, or whether they respond at all, is material to the future ability of the city and county to pay off debt and protect their credit ratings,” they wrote. the authors.
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5. The future is not (entirely) set in stone.
The world’s leading scientists have found that, given the carbon accumulated in the atmosphere after generations of burning fossil fuels, the rate of sea level rise is increasing and will continue over the coming decades.
These findings are in line with a major report earlier this year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which found that sea levels could rise about a foot along the coasts of the United States by 2050 – to. roughly as much change in the next three decades as in the last century.
“That trajectory seems somewhat fixed,” said Sweet, who was not involved in Thursday’s study.
What remains undetermined is how communities in the United States prepare for the changes they know are coming and what this country and others are doing to slow global warming.
“If we put our actions together, we can get to a lower curve, and that buys us time,” said Bain. “We do not want [seas] growing so fast that it exceeds our ability to adapt. “
Sweet said NOAA data and related efforts, such as Thursday’s study, will hopefully provide public officials and individuals with the information they need “so they can make the smart choices to better defend themselves and prepare against. sea rise “- from supporting infrastructure to making informed decisions about development.
But ultimately, he said, the world must act together to make sure the problem doesn’t get worse indefinitely.
“Emissions matter, especially when we go beyond the next 20 or 30 years,” Sweet said. “Reduce emissions, reduce the likelihood of higher sea levels.”
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