Two widely reported (and rare) positive impacts of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic tragedy are cleaner air and a 17 percent reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming and sea level rise.
Residents in cities around the world have been astonished to see mountain ranges at a distance that have rarely been seen in generations due to curtains of smog. And the drop in greenhouse gas emissions has led many to believe that global warming and sea level rise have been derailed.
Unfortunately, the real picture isn’t so rosy. While there have been a few months with greenhouse gases on the decline — mainly due to the fact that people under lockdown aren’t driving to work — the the high concentration of carbon dioxide accumulated since the turn of the last century remains intact. This ultimately means global warming continues, as does sea level rise.
Some observers see even the temporary drop in the release of greenhouse gases as proof-positive that humanity can tame global warming, thereby preventing the predicted extreme weather — mega droughts, heat waves, floods and intense hurricanes — from impacting society and sea level rise from inundating major cities around the world. Their reasoning is that if people under threat of a pandemic can reduce consumption of fossil fuels, then people facing catastrophe from a warming planet can do the same.
If only it were that simple.
The fact is that most people reduced fossil fuel consumption not as a direct goal to save the environment but because under lockdown they didn’t have a choice. It’s doubtful that without the immediate crisis people would have willingly stopped driving. In addition, there are signs that as nations and states reopen commuters will avoid potential exposure to the virus on public transportation and start driving to work in increasing numbers. This, of course, will increase the rate at which carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere.
Some observers have also opined that the recovery from the pandemic is an excellent opportunity for governments to invest in a new world powered by renewable energy. That’s a very noble goal, but the reality is governments have already spent so much saving their economies from pandemic-related collapse it’s unlikely they’ll have the funds necessary to pay for such an ambitious project.
Further complicating matters in the United States is the fact that the federal government is reluctant to provide emergency funding to state and local governments facing severe deficits due to the loss of tax revenue from economic inactivity during the lockdown and the unexpected expenses involved in dealing with the pandemic. This is especially worrisome because many of the state and local governments grappling with climate change and sea level rise-related expenses were already counting on the federal government to provide a portion of the millions and even billions of dollars they need to fund projects that would protect real estate and critical infrastructure. Without federal assistance, it will be difficult for them to pay for projects, such as seawalls and pump stations and raising roads and water pipes.
When we’re in the middle of the pandemic, it’s hard to predict how this will all play out. One thing’s for sure, however, global warming and sea level rise still pose a threat to coastal communities, and real estate buyers and owners ignore them at their own peril. Bottom Line: If many of the projects needed to protect homes and businesses from sea level rise flooding aren’t funded and begun now, more real estate and critical infrastructure will be inundated in the years to come.