It’s the less obvious costs that erode
your finances as the climate changes.
It is easy for us to see places suffering from the effects of warming. Disaster costs are huge from the wildfires sweeping through California’s North Bay region. The five thousand homes badly damaged in New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy. The mudslides in Montecito, CA. But those images show only physical damage. Many of us would look at them and say, “Not a problem for me. I’m on solid ground.” Or “out of the forest.” Or “200 feet above the shore.”
Wrong. We might be out of physical danger, but so long as we live in the same tax district, job market or real estate market as our physically damaged neighbors, our personal finances are in danger from the related disaster costs.
Here’s a scenario
A hurricane destroys a nearby family’s home. Yes, their pain and loss are great, but at least they can move on. They take the flood insurance money and rebuild their lives in a more climate-proof town.
In the meantime, we lucky neighbors who escaped with no damage get to stay and help pay, through our local and state taxes, for the clean-up, the municipal engineering studies, the new erosion control and stormwater overflow structures, the relocation of shoreside infrastructure, the construction of dykes, and all manner of other efforts to protect residents and businesses from the next disaster.
Our town never looks as good as before the storm. Local businesses slow down. We endure a squeeze on municipal services—education, police and fire, parks and recreation, trash collection, street maintenance—that comes when the town’s revenues need to be spent on disaster cleanup and new protections for parts of our town. Furthermore, those of us who stay become spectators or participants in the bickering and politicking among residents of the town, county and state over what should be spent, who should benefit, and who should pay.
Before long we get a postcard from the family whose home was destroyed. They now live in a much more climate-proof town where they don’t risk big disaster costs from flood, storm or drought, or the hidden costs that follow those disasters.