Remember when I sat on a beach and decided not to buy a house (that I couldn’t have afforded anyway). It turns out my reasoning was pretty financially sound, at least according to the scientists working with the First Street Foundation.
As reported by The Charlotte Observer, these researchers used data on sea level rise from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, local governments, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and then correlated it with data from local governments on property values.
They then used their findings to launch Flood IQ—an interactive tool which allows you to search individual communities and addresses across the Southeast United States (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia) and find out how much coastal flooded has impacted property prices, and how much it is projected to do so through 2033. Across the entire region, the team found a whopping $7.4 billion in losses already incurred since 2005,
North Topsail, for example, where I did my beachside soul searching last time (pictured above), is said to have lost $17,074,467 in property values since 2005 thanks to coastal flooding, and looks set to lose a further -$19,701,308 by 2033 if the projected 6.4 inches of sea level rise comes to fruition. (Luckily, NC lawmakers have banned sea level rise—so we should be fine.)
Indeed, the Charlotte Observer story explicitly calls out North Topsail, which really is a lovely beach, and notes that the town of 800 or so residents is losing as much as five feet of beach a year to coastal erosion, and is likely to run out of money soon to keep dealing with the ongoing economic impacts.
This is, apparently, the first study of its kind to specifically show economic losses that have already occurred thanks to sea level rise—and that may be a big deal. While nobody wants to lose money in the future, there’s always a nagging feeling that maybe it’ll turn out for the best. Showing that we’ve already started down this slippery slope, and that there’s a long way left to fall, may help concentrate the mind and spur folks to actually act.
Of course, the sad part of the story is that there’s little we can do to stop whatever sea level rise that’s already baked in for decades, even centuries, to come. But we have to start somewhere.