California Warns Against Shelving Plans to Address Sea Level Rise during Covid-19 Pandemic

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) warned this week that the state can’t afford to delay efforts to deal with sea level rise flooding because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report titled “What Threat Does Sea-Level Rise Pose to California?”, the LAO said: “While the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and resulting economic impacts have rightly drawn the focus of the Legislature’s and public’s attention since March 2020, other statewide challenges continue to approach on the horizon. Among these are the impending impacts of climate change, including the hazards that rising seas pose to California’s coast.”

Report authors quote scientific estimates that California could face a half-foot of sea level rise by 2030 and up to seven feet by 2100. The threat posed by sea level rise could be amplified by storm surges, exceptionally high king tides that occur in the fall, and El Nino events.

Many coastal communities are already experiencing the negative effects of sea level rise and the situation is only going to get worse. Cities and towns are dealing with nuisance flooding, beaches are eroding, cliffs are collapsing — often carrying homes with them — and public infrastructure is being wrecked or overwhelmed. Natural resources, water supplies and entire economies are also at risk.

The report predicts that California will see up to $10 billion worth of property underwater by 2050 and up to an additional $10 billion worth of property inundated during high tides. When sea level rises four feet, 28,000 socially vulnerable residents in the San Francisco region alone could experience daily flooding. Furthermore, by the end of this century, up to two-thirds of the state’s beaches could be completely eroded away.

LAO officials said in the report that they recognize the burden the pandemic is placing on government and the economy. “However, given the significant threats posed by sea level rise in the coming decades–and the additional public safety and economic disruptions that will result absent steps to mitigate potential impacts –the state and its coastal communities cannot afford to defer all preparation efforts until economic conditions have fully rebounded from the recent crisis,” they said. They recommend that the government undertake activities to address the threat posed by sea level rise that require little funding, such as continuing to draft plans, meet and share information.

In the U.S., federal, state and local governments are bending under the enormous administrative and economic burden posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The California LAO’s insistence that efforts to address sea level rise continue even in these troubled times is on the mark. The fact that regardless of the pandemic, global warming continues to cause sea level rise, putting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate and critical infrastructure at risk. Protecting property and infrastructure isn’t cheap and it can’t be accomplished overnight. Letting down our guard now, will have grave consequences in the future.

All coastal communities and real estate owners and buyers need to heed the California LAO’s warning.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens to Worsen the Effects of Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

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.

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