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Life on the seacoast

It has been a year since Hurricane Harvey dumped some 40 inches of rain on Houston in a 24-hour period, flooding over 150,000 homes and causing over $120 billion of property damages. I visited Houston in June and learned that the properties damaged have mostly been fixed, as they were in Houston’s other recent flooding events. This blog questions the wisdom and feasibility of trying to preserve all of what people have built near the ocean, and of your staying where there are such risks.

Science’s predictions of rising ocean levels, rising ocean temperatures and more intense storms have been largely validated by experience, and the trends and the amounts of global-warming greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere make it reasonable to assume that such changes will accelerate during the remainder of the 21st century. New dynamics, such as Harvey’s huge size, which allowed it to continue drawing water from the ocean after it made landfall, will likely produce more frequent “biblical” flooding events in the future.

Sophisticated buyers have starting factoring in greater risk allowances for coastal properties. Sales prices of some homes near sea-level have declined relative to comparable inland real estate, and that trend is likely to become more important in the next few years. So what is an individual who loves living by the ocean to do? There are reasonable alternatives: (1) adjust your preferences and expectations to living beyond the easy reach of rising seas and intense storms or (2) sell your coastal real property before value declines hurt you and rent from someone who elects to stand pat by the sea.

The world has mostly kept its head and eyes in the sand while climate change has become harder to ignore. Each of us has a choice: business as usual or recognizing that we have entered a new era.


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