The sooner we build protections,
the less we’ll pay for them.

For years, Rhode Island planning departments have been using 6.6 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Last month, based on new NOAA estimates, they decided 9 feet 10 inches is more likely. That’s only three more feet vertically, but miles of flooding horizontally!

The announcement came with the comment, “The changes to our shoreline are profound, dramatic, and there is going to be a lot of economic adjustment. Downtown Providence “would be gone.” The state is considering

  • building a 20-foot sea wall to protect Providence;
  • abandoning many oceanfront areas, even whole towns;
  • placing seaside businesses on trailers that can be towed away when high water is predicted;
  • rebuilding bridges, roads and sewage treatment plants to higher standards or on higher ground;
  • raising enough buildings to transform coastal towns into versions of Venice.

But that’s 2100! Why start building protections now? Reason #1: we’ll pay a whole let less – in family expenses, taxes. and disruption. FEMA has calculated that a dollar it spends on mitigation grants saves it about $3.65 in future disaster relief. The same principle likely applies even more to state and town investments.

Here’s Reason #2 why today’s a good day for us to rally outside our state house or town hall, pushing lawmakers to build protections; for us to start talking to a contractor about putting our building on stilts (or wheels); maybe even to sell up and move to a more climate-proof hometown inland: because we have the money now. The stock market, Americans’ household net worth, and municipal tax bases are at all-time highs. And Reason #3: borrowing rates are still low.

Paying today to build protections may be painful, but if we wait a few years, rates could be up, or America could be in the next recession or spending big for shorter-term needs – and the price tag on protective actions would become excruciating.