Rising Ocean Levels – Coastal Real Estate Anyone?
Rising ocean levels and global warming are connected.
In 2001 the IPCC suggested that its best estimate of rising ocean levels as a result of global warming would be a 50 centimetre rise by 2100. This would arise from melting ice and ocean water expansion.
Is that all? Well, modelling suggests that for every unit of sea level rise, coastal beaches could retreat by 100 times that measure. So a 50 cm rise will bring the coast line 50 metres closer to you, and your family by 2100. And 85% of the Australian population lives within an hour's drive from the beach!
It's now more real than ever. There's no doubt about it when the Australian government orders all municipal councils to review their town planning against detailed assessments of future rising ocean levels.
Flooding is a real risk
Coastal inundation from rising seas is considered a real risk.
It's one of the consequences of global warming.
And these councils are heaving a sigh of relief as they no longer have to reluctantly approve coastal developments while they lack hard risk modeling.
Insurance companies are preparing
The Insurance Council of Australia (no greenie maverick) is creating a national flood map while the Local Government Association warns of the possibility of a tsunami of future litigation claims from land owners who hold property in areas at risk.
Coastal land and home owners now have reason to fear a double whammy: Falling house prices in coastal areas as this news bites, and loss of property during flooding.
In April 2007 climate change business risk analyst Dr Karl Mallon told a Sydney climate conference that the cash value of a home could be cut by up to 80% if it would be considered uninsurable for a severe weather event that is caused by global warming.
Don't think it's too far off to affect you
And he warned then that financial impacts on coastal towns would not be experienced gradually, over decades.
Insurance premiums could go up at the stroke of an underwriter's pen.
It no longer seems such a great idea to buy property on the coast, especially if low-lying.
Coastal flooding scenarios are expected as close as within the next 20-30 years, with hundreds of thousands of homes facing possible inundation.
Hardest hit Australian areas are projected for Cairns, Byron Bay and Ballina. Narrabeen on Sydney's northern beaches is another.
But as in Australia there are big cities on coastlines everywhere.
Just take the city that I live in, Perth.
It has just put forward its own redevelopment plan to throw off its 'Dullsville' tag.
It's on the foreshore of the Swan River, a river that ends up in the Indian Ocean a few short kilometres on.
Well, it sure won't be Dullsville with rising ocean levels. You'll need one of these underwater cars to get around.
Oh, yes. Electric and emission-free - of course. Don't want to contribute to the problem.
And, take my country of birth, The Netherlands, with much of the country below sea level and already protected by an elaborate system of dykes and pumps.
Plans to build islands in front of its coast are thought to make it easier to strengthen and heighten the dykes.
The low-lying coastal areas of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma? Many millions of people vulnerable to rising seas.
And it's not just rising ocean levels but flooding from torrential rainfall, such as inundated Mackay in Queensland, is another among consequences of global warming.
If rising seas are indeed a real threat the US subprime housing loan crisis might just be a picnic and hurricane Katrina a mere foretaste.
Panicking? Or accepting and preparing?
Some say this is a panicky response and technology and science will come to the rescue.
Well, science has its valuable place but is also partly a cause of global warming. If rising ocean levels are a fact - and the insurance industry is no slouch at spotting real risks – isn't the immediately required response to simply accept this, prepare, and act to adapt?
Climate change is here to stay. Science alone will not mute its impacts tomorrow, or even in the next few centuries.
Not only must we build our homes energy-efficiently. Where you build your home might be an even more acute decision.
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