[0:00] Hey everyone this is David Torcivia.
[0:02] And this is Daniel Forkner.
[0:04] And this is Ashes Ashes.
[0:06] Last week we were talking about how climate change is affecting the Arctic. We're going to follow that up this week with evidence that the seas are rising and the implications that has on our coastal regions and what we should come to expect. So David are the seas rising?
[0:24] Well I think there's plenty of evidence for that even if you're not a climate change person it’s hard to deny when the ocean is literally, slowly getting up a little bit higher every year. But what's really interesting about that, and we talked last week a lot about melting ice and stuff, and that contributes to this sea level rise but there's actually a lot of different things at play here. First off sea level doesn't rise the same everywhere which is sort of surprising. You think of the ocean as this sort of even thing all across the Earth and you know while the depths are deeper, everything is the same height. We even have this concept of sea level - that's where you measure everything off - but it turns out that sea level is sort of a murky concept and different parts of the Earth have higher sea level than others and there is a bunch of different reasons for that.
[1:05] Yeah that's surprising to me that you can have different elevations of sea-level in different places. I always imagined it like the Earth is just a huge bathtub and how can one side of the bathtub be higher than the other side?
[1:16] Yeah it's a sort of a strange concept but you have to remember there's so much water and there's so much weight, and the Earth itself is so huge and these very little things get magnified by these great distances and great amounts of weight and other things. And so there's a lot of different things going into play that causes a sea level rise. One we mentioned last week is ice melt and that's the big factor, but it's not the only factor. In fact right now, and while ice melt is going to be the major player in the future, right now ice melt is only half of the equation more or less. So every year we're seeing, you know depending on where you are and in what measurements you are looking at: about 3.3 millimeters of sea level rise, and that sounds low and it is low for now I suppose. But I mean that's a number that's tripled over the past 10 years. So this is something that’s getting much bigger much faster than anyone was expecting. And so part of this is from that sea ice melt and then part of it itself is something called thermal expansion. As the Earth Heats and land Heats and the atmosphere heats, the water is also Heating, and as we know when things heat up they take up more space and this is true for Metals, this is true for solids, but it's also true for liquids. And as the ocean Heats it expands and it gets bigger and it takes up more space, and this is a big contributor to sea level rise. In fact it's about equal to how much melting ice contributes to it right now and that's huge. The ocean literally warming up is getting bigger and taking up more space.
[2:39] And we mentioned last week how a lot of these things are feedback loops and I learned a little bit about thermal expansion; I thought it was really interesting how you have melting ice in the Antarctic which contributes to thermal expansion. There's like this current that starts in the Antarctic where the ice that melts puts warmer water into the ocean which then sinks to the bottom, and then it gets transported to other parts of the world.
[3:03] Yeah and that sounds really sort of funny like how is this melting ice warmer than the water around it? and that's one of the weird things that happens with these really low temperatures with sea ice and so the open ocean there's very cold - it's below freezing - and it cannot freeze at below-freezing temperatures because it is very salty and that lowers the freezing point, just the same as when they put salt on the roads in winter in it melts the ice there.
It's the same concept there and so this slightly warmer water coming off the ice sinks down and mixes with these very fast very powerful underwater currents, and it's been lowering the salinity of these currents, and that's another one of these factors of sea level rise because salty water takes up less space than freshwater. So as all this ice melts and goes into the ocean, the ocean gets very slightly less salty, and this is something that's going to increase more as time goes on especially with the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The whole ocean as a whole is going to become more fresh water and it's not going to be something that you can taste a difference on or to make really much of a factor in terms of practical applications, but it is because there's so much water a factor in this sea level rise. That melting ice has another interesting effect so different parts of the world are going to suffer more from sea level rise and others, and one of the worst parts is actually going to be the eastern coast of the US; it's going to get dramatically more melting than other parts of the world.
[4:17] Why is that just because these particular currents just happens to affect the eastern coast of the US more?
[4:24] That's part of it but it's really a two fold thing. The first is actually that the East Coast is sinking. This is a carryover from the last ice age, that continental plate itself is sort of subsiding and dropping down, so even if there was no sea level rise the East Coast will be slowly going under water. And it's not something that's a very dramatic effect but it is playing out over these decades over time, but the bigger and really more interesting part of situation is actually as the mass of ice shelves in Antarctica melt… First off we need to understand just how massive they are, they are kilometers thick that covers basically a whole continent and it's extremely extremely heavy, to the point where it's sort of reshaping the gravity of Earth itself. This gravity has an effect and it pulls the water away from the Eastern Seaboard, and as this ice sheet melts that gravitational effect lessons, and that pull that’s pulling the water away from the Eastern Coast gets weaker. And as this gets weaker, the water there naturally comes up a little bit higher. And this is something you think like “oh well how much effect can that possibly have?” But the last study I saw, depending on how much ice actually melts on the Antarctic sheet, could put this at 2 to 4 feet of sea level rise just from that affect alone. This is something that's going to be really bad for the east coast and at the same side it's actually going to slightly reduce the effect of it in other places of the world so like Alaska's going to have less sea level rise than other places, because this balancing out of the gravitational effects of this ice is sort of evening it out exactly how the ocean is dispersed all around.
[5:52] I mean we've always known that the moon has this gravitational effect on tides; I never in a million years would have thought that we have this body of ice that also has a gravitational effect on our oceans that's just crazy to me.
[6:04] Yeah it's one of those things that you never would expect to be a problem but when you have this much stuff at play and it's this much energy pumping into the system suddenly these very subtle effects can mean you know massive differences in just a course of a few decades.
[6:16] What is all this rising sea level mean in terms of how it's going to affect us on land?
[6:22] Initially there's the very obvious thing that more water and higher sea levels is just going to be by itself a flood. Places that aren’t underwater now will be. And that’s the very simplistic sort of look at it. But the more interesting thing is that all this water causes a bunch of other things. So first off tides get much stronger; there's more water in the system as a whole; there's more surface area for this water which again is part of that Albedo effect we talked about last week, and it's just more and more energy in the system. So what this does is cause larger storms, more variable weather patterns, and in generally just amps up all the weather and dangerous things that happen in the ocean, so tides, waves, storm surges. The hurricanes that are coming are going to be pushing in that much more, and these storms are just going to be that much bigger and more powerful.
[7:06] I guess a lot of our weather systems really are just a whole bunch of water swirling in the air and being affected by the temperature of the wind, and the temperature of the ocean currents that impacts those storms.
[7:18] Exactly, I mean most weather when you really break it down to its fundamental parts, it's about energy - energy in the system and that's mostly measured in heat - and water vapor which again isn’t influenced by that heat but just how much access to water there is a big part of that as well. When water’s locked up in ice it can't interact in the weather but as soon as it's melted and it's in the ocean then it enters the system and increases all that energy and all these feedback loops there.
[7:40] And we saw that play out in Houston with hurricane Harvey.
[7:43] Yeah again so there were a lot of factories there; some of it was jet stream causing those ridges that stalled out Harvey, but it definitely is undeniable that more water in the system is what helped that storm dump just so much water on Houston as a whole.
[7:56] Yeah I was in Houston about two weeks after the storm and I got to see some of the impacts that that had. I remember going down Interstate 69 which has a whole bunch of commercial businesses and retailers and hotels along and that was part of the highway that went over the San Jacinto River and it was completely flooded with water. When you look to the side you see like Hobby Lobby, you see Banks, you see Target, you see hotels, and they've all just been completely gutted. They’ve just been reduced to their metal studs because they were so inundated with water they just had to close down and just way to rebuild. And a lot of homes obviously were lost. My aunt has a lot of friends that live in that surrounding area that unfortunately didn't have flood insurance and a lot of nice homes were ruined. A lot of that flooding came from - at least in the part that I visited - a lot of the flooding came from the San Jacinto River when they had to release the dam at the last minute, a lot of that water got diverted downstream and just the river could not contain it all.
[8:56] Yeah that's really interesting, the dam parts especially because we think about hurricanes you know causing a lot of the flooding as a storm surge thing, and it's typically what people identify as the scary factor of it. That's what made Sandy such an expensive storm when it stuck New York, but just as important is how much rain these storms dump and the way they interact with the land, with the natural and the artificial. So like Houston so much concrete, a lot of which is designed to funnel this water away and act as sort of makeshift flood channels, but at the same time means that this water just collects and spreads out more and more instead of naturally dissipating into the ground like you would expect in a more natural landscape. The dams were a big factor in in that and it's very interesting. All the rain Upstate coming down and hitting these dams and then the Army Corps of Engineers having to figure out “How much do we release? We put homes Downstream at risk by doing this but at the same time if we don't release this we're going to be hitting the spillways and we want to keep the water off the spillways because they're just earthen dams,” and we saw recently what happened to the Oroville Dam in California when that spillway was activated, that massive amount of water that came up just eroded it and degraded the strength of the damn as a whole. And so the question becomes like well “do we flood these homes now in order to save our dam, or do we risk releasing some of this water and lessen the fact that the dam might fail and everybody might get flooded at the cost of a few homes getting flooded?” It's a tough choice to make and I'm glad I wasn't the person in charge having to figure it out. But we're going to face those types of decisions a lot in the upcoming years and not just like in the far off future, not 2100 which is all these climate predictions, but you know 10, 20 years down the road. In some places even have to face this now: “do we save this town now? Do we spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make this place sea level rise proof? Or do we just acknowledge that that's not possible and just move on?” And that’s something a lot of communities are going to have to face in the next 20-30 years. And it’s something that they're facing now in these flood insurance programs; some of these houses get flooded over and over again, and then the question becomes “what do we do?”
[10:58] My aunt mentioned how some of her neighbors didn't have flood insurance at this time and I looked into what is the National Flood Insurance Program?
[11:07] Yeah I'd love to hear about that because it's something we hear about a lot especially in the context of these storms but I don't really know a ton about it and I don't think most people do either.
[11:18] Okay so what is the national flood insurance program? In 1927 there was a massive flood in Mississippi, it damaged a lot of property, and as a result private insurance companies left the market for flood insurance. They basically said you know “screw this it's too expensive.” So the flood insurance program was created to help alleviate risks, encourage growth and development in some of these disaster-prone areas, and it worked pretty well for a while, but-
[11:44] Because it's enabling these communities I guess where it was too expensive to build something because you would… it's going to get flooded and destroyed and the cost of rebuilding is too expensive? I guess this flood insurance came in and guaranteed that if you’re going to build and this flood that you know it's going to happen it's going to be okay.
[12:02] Yeah that's kind of what it does by subsidizing premiums on insurance is it kind of spreads the risk and it gives people the incentive to continue building in this area or living in a certain area that otherwise might be too risky.
[12:15] So this is a public organization right - the government runs this - is there not private insurance that does the same thing?
[12:20] No. There's no private insurance that really offers adequate flood insurance, in fact many private insurance companies don't offer flood insurance at all in these risky areas and that's kind of why this program was created in the first place. And like I said it worked pretty well but when Katrina came the program was suddenly wrecked by upwards of 16 billion dollars in debt and it really has never recovered since. Leading up to Irma for example, the program was 25 billion dollars in debt and Harvey is expected to add 11 billion dollars more. There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of the program; there's debates going on in Congress right now about whether to reauthorize it in December or how to restructure it so it's more financially sustainable but, I think a lot of the unsustainability of this program just comes from the fact that we're seeing an increased number of floods and disasters and it's just becoming more costly.
[13:13] Yeah I mean that's an incredible amount of money and it's basically I guess a direct subsidy of the government into these communities to let them exist. But then the question becomes I guess for you know you and me as taxpayers like, do we feel it's okay to pay for these people basically - you know it's just basically rolling that boulder up the hill over and over again you know it's going to fall back down - so why are we there paying for this community like that?
[13:38] Yeah that's a good question and there's a lot of debate about that, you see arguments from free market people who say “Look the private insurance market in exiting this market clearly sent a signal ‘don't build here, don't live here, it’s too costly,’ and if the government is going to subsidize that risk it's only going to create more disasters and people should be held responsible for the risks if they choose to live in these areas.” I think that argument is a bit problematic. I think it overlooks the fact that we all as a society benefit in huge ways from the economic activity that is generated from some of these regions. For example, we know that the United States is the third largest producer of oil in the world, and our two largest oil refineries are in Houston. In fact almost all of our major production comes from Texas and Louisiana.
[14:28] So the exact place where all these floods and everything is happening.
[14:32] Yea, so is it really fair to say “we want to derive benefits from the activities of people in this area, you know their labor, their economic productivity, their resources, but we don't want to be held responsible for the risks that they face. And you know if we did abandon these places what effect does that have on the economy?
[14:53] Yeah I guess that touches a point that we brought up last week and I didn't connect it to the flood insurance program at the time but it makes sense. And that's, you know, we say “why don’t these people just move?” but the reality is it's not an option for us, and it's easy to say it’s not an option for them because their lives and stuff are their but it's really not an option for all of us as a society, because like you said we depend on those refineries and there's a lot of other heavy industry I guess down there too. A lot of the plastic and chemical industry depend on those refineries and their by-products as well as the ports that are down there for shipping materials and spreading it out to the rest of the country. Those people who work in those plants need somewhere to live and then they need the services that allow them to live there so you know restaurants, hospitals, everything you'd expect in a community. So we can't just move out of the way it's not an option for them and for the rest of us as a nation.
[15:45] I mean I'm pretty sure if we want to continue to enjoy two-day Amazon Prime shipping which everyone loves, we're going to have to have a complex transportation and distribution infrastructure which depends in large part on oil.
[15:56] Yeah we saw all those lines in Georgia and Florida of like people lining up and gas stations and stuff desperate to get anything that they could because the pipe lines shutting down and a lot of it was spread by rumors and stuff, but that was just a little bit of a taste of what would happen if these places just moved and you can't exactly just build refineries anywhere, and building refineries is a huge expensive, time-consuming process. But with that said I mean are there options to sort of select where we build in these places, because I mean not everything is directly on the coast, some pieces of land are higher, I imagine some of these properties are more impacted than others.
[16:32] Yeah that's definitely true. There was one house in Texas that had over 19 repair claims on it to the insurance program that totaled over $900,000 on a house that's valued around $42,000.
[16:44] So you’re saying a $42,000 house they paid out over $900,000 for it… it seems like we'd all be better off you know if they had cut their losses halfway through and just bought that property and sent the people on their merry way and bulldozed the place, yeah?
[16:56] Well that's part of the debate that's going on in Congress right now is can we raise premiums for people who own these more risky properties, and also considered is can we just buy them out of their property completely, tear it down and let them move, and that's something that's been discussed - it gets a little bit of resistance in some municipalities who don't want to lose their tax base. And it could be useful because only 1% of the flood insurance program’s properties represent these severe risk repeat properties and that makes up 10% of its cost. But it just raises more questions: You can buy some people out but again where do you put them? What do you do with them? And even determining which properties are the most at risk can be problematic because as development shifts in these areas it affects the flood plain and the insurance program has to update those floodplains and that's costly and difficult to do.
[17:48] Yeah I mean this whole thing is complicated and ends up becoming a giant cluster it seems. But it's interesting you mentioned like “how do you move these people” and it sort of reminds me of a story that I've heard. We've had in the United States like our first real climate refugees - who were also in Louisiana. There was a small village in some of the island strips on the very end of Louisiana called Isle de Jean Charles, and its a native residence - these are Native Americans living there - and their island is like literally just disappearing from sea level rise and from erosion and from the coast itself like lowering. And the US government, they ran this contest for people like to suggest climate change fixes for all sorts of things, and a bunch of States supplied proposals to solve different problems that their communities were suffering from, and this Louisiana town was one of them. And the proposal was: pick up the town, and move everybody somewhere else, and then just leave this place to the ocean. The government has done this at this point and they are literally picking people's lives up and moving them somewhere else because their home, their land they lived on for generations is just going to be gone.
[18:58] And I also read an article about a village off the coast in Alaska that has 250 inhabitants and it faces the same dilemma, the sea rise is going to impact their ability to live there, and the estimated cost to move this 250 people is 200 million dollars. I think it's just crazy that it would cost this small number of people in a relatively spread-out area such as Alaska. What does this mean for some of our coastal regions that are heavily populated like Miami?
[19:26] That's funny you bring up Miami because Miami's in heavy denial about all this right now. We all remember Florida who was the state that decided that the best solution was to ban anyone in the government from saying the words “climate change” and “global warming”, because that's definitely going to make a difference and stop the sea level from slowly sinking Miami, but the City of Miami itself, who are suffering from this stuff is just in denial as well. You've heard of their King Tides right? So like extra high tides, but in Miami these extra high tides are literally flooding the city on just like day-to-day. Like no storm coming in, no hurricanes, no storm surges causing this. The ocean has just gotten so high in parts of Miami, especially Miami Beach, a very wealthy part of South Miami, it's just too low and the ground literally just, the water bubbles up from beneath the ground and floods everything. People drive their cars like down basically canals to get around during these tides and they’re happening more and more frequently like all the time. It used to be a very rare thing, now it’s just common and you expect it in Spring and Fall when the tides are the highest.
[20:32] Surely there are projects that can be done to kind of fight back the encroaching water, I mean levees, or higher roads or something.
[20:41] Yeah I mean I guess you can pretend that you can wall off the ocean and build your city behind this humongous sea wall but that’s just ridiculous to really plan out on any sort of thing. S So what Miami's doing, they’re spending tons of money on all sorts of stuff. So down in Miami Beach, they just spent a hundred million dollars, or they're in the process of spending a hundred million dollars, to raise a road up 2 feet - this is their solution they’re like “oh well the property that's you guy's problem - but this road we're going to raise it up 2 feet and so people will be driving around these like slightly elevated roads so they don't flood, and they’re installing all sorts of pumps and stuff, and the pumps themselves have had all sorts of problems, and it turns out they're also pumping out highly toxic pollution - nobody is entirely sure where it's coming from but they know it's pumping – and it doesn't matter too much anyway because Miami as a whole, and in Florida as a whole is on this Limestone sort of layer, the ground is very porous, and so the water literally just is coming out of the ground and that's very difficult to fight against in addition to coming up on the beaches and stuff. And they just passed another like 400 million dollar bill called “Miami Forever,” more denial there, and their plan is that this bill which is all sorts of installing more pumps and raising more roads is going to keep Miami above water for forever. The cost of this bill is so high I mean it just barely passed because lot of unions were fighting against it even though they approved the stuff that was in the bill, Miami is already facing budget problems and they've locked up the pensions and stuff for some of these like police and fire unions. And so people aren't getting paid out because Miami had to shift money to literally not sink into the ocean, and so this is a very tough budget decision and they’re going to be even worse as time goes on.
[22:21] Isn’t the sea level rise though a very gradual - I mean I know you said that it's occurring faster now than it was in the past, but surely it's slow enough that we can kind of gradually adjust and find new places to live, or maybe some of these programs like Miami is trying to do can be more successful as we figure out more innovative technological approaches to solve some of the encroaching water?
[22:45] Yeah that’s sort of Miami's hope right now and there's this great interview with the engineer behind this “Miami Beach Raise the Road 2 Feet Plan.” They're trying to buy 20 years of time, and they are hoping that in 20 years some magic new technology will exist that’ll have their solution. They don't know what it is, they don't know what it might be, but just that's their plan. So then the question becomes well how much sea level rise are we actually going to deal with and how much are these cities planning for? And there's a lot of denial in that world and there are a lot of conflicting reports and it's very important when the reports you’re looking at came out. So if you go back, if you go back into the early 2000s, sea level rise was much slower, and sea level rises has always been considered to be something that happens linearly; I don't know why this was the way it was modeled initially and a lot of too was because prior to 1990 it was very difficult to measure sea level consistently; we have satellites that do it now that measure it very accurately in a global level, but at the time we didn't have that technology so sea level was measured by just comparing simultaneous readings of the ocean all across different places on Earth and then subtracting and controlling for different natural changes in sea level height there like we talked about the gravity and stuff, as well as planning out, you know, exactly where the Moon is and the tides, knowing how much higher or lower the tide is than usual and a whole bunch of math and it's not entirely accurate but it gets a basic idea of general trends. And during that time you know for most of this sea level rise, was about a millimeter a year, which is really tiny right. And so now we’re up to 3.3 to 3.8 depending on where you are, and that’s just tripled over the past 10 years and it looks like we're going to be advancing in this exponential way as we go on. And again so it depends which reports you're looking at and whether they’ve taken in some feedback loops and whether they're considering things in the Antarctica. The IPCC report, our very conservative Paris Agreement report has sea level rise by 2100 at a meter and a half in the worst case scenario.
[24:43] You sad 3mm a year but 3mm a year that means it would take three hundred and thirty years to get one meter right? So how do they come up with 1 and 1/2 meters by 2100?
[24:55] They are anticipating that this rate of melt is going to increase, but the big question from there and where all these studies differ from each other is just how much that increase is, and how quickly that increase happens. And we always talk too about sea level rise in terms of 2100, but it's important to remember that it doesn't just stop in 2100, it keeps going. And even the IPCC report has it going very much higher 100, 200, 300 years in the future. Which becomes an interesting question like Miami, even according to the conservative IPCC report is going to be underwater in 200 years whether or not we meet 2 degrees Celsius or not. So the question then becomes like we know this place is eventually going to be underwater and not just like a little bit of water lapping up on the edges but as in the whole southern tip of Florida being underwater. When do we call it? When we do we say okay it's time to move on from here? That's not a problem we have to worry about now according to IPCC, but there are other reports that have much more dramatic rises.
[25:48] More dramatic rises meaning that maybe earlier than 2100 if I live in one of these coastal regions I may have to worry about the consequences?
[25:56] I mean yeah basically. It depends a lot so first off let’s look at what in Florida they say. So everyone has an accepted measurement in Florida that they all base real estate purchases and stuff off. And this number is basically arbitrary - I don't know where it came from - but I see it repeated all the time especially in conversations with banks and mortgages and stuff like that, and that's 1.5 feet of rise by 2075, and I guess that's about half a meter, then they anticipate another half meter going on and then falling 25 years but that's the rule that I've been seeing everybody sort of lean on. The more dramatic reports that have been coming out in the past year, and remember climate science changes dramatically each year because we see a lot more new data...
[26:35] Yeah I could not count the number of articles I've read that start or mention somewhere in the body “faster than expected” or “more than previously thought” I guess that's just because the data gets more refined.
[26:46] Yeah the data gets more refined, we have better data, there's more of it, and more than anything we realize there's all these other unforeseen feedback loops that we haven't taken into account in previous studies. I mean the original - if we go back to like the older climate change agreements - things like Kyoto and stuff, it wasn't 2 degrees Celsius we considered safe, if it was 1.5 degrees Celsius that we considered safe, and before that we considered 1 degrees Celsius safe. And it's not because of any sort of science is changing in this time, or because you know all we realize “oh one and a half is much safer than we thought so we can definitely go up to two,” it's because it's becoming politically inconvenient and people are realizing we can't stay at one and a half so let's try something that we maybe could if everybody sacrificed everything to get to. But these things are baked into the system now, we're already at 1 degrees Celsius - .9 degrees Celsius it’s essentially one - and which is going to accelerate and get faster. I mean to put in perspective, so let’s stop looking at temperature for a second because temperature lags behind the amount of carbon dioxide and the carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere. So we’re at 406 parts per million, okay?
Of carbon dioxide in the air, right. The last time this much carbon dioxide was in the air, and there were times they were much more than this, but this is dramatically more than there ever has been in human history, I mean we started off before the Industrial Revolution about 300 parts per million so we've added 50% already. The last time it was at about 400 parts per million, the sea level was about 30 meters higher. To put that in perspective, that’s a hundred feet. So then the question becomes not like “oh are we going to see 30m of sea rise?” because you ask any climate scientists and they’ll say “yes.” The question becomes how quickly will we see that. I mean the ice sheets in Greenland are melting very quickly, but there's a lot of ice there and even like the most radical climate scientists don't see it being completely melted for at least a thousand years. And that's when we'll see this full 30, 50, 60 meters of sea level rise but geologically speaking that's incredibly fast. And a lot of research has come out saying like “well you know what we can see these spurts much faster than we ever thought before,” and in fact the latest reports I'm seeing - and that this is from several different competing studies - see the Eastern Seaboard of the US having 10 to 12 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Ten to twelve feet. Not 1 and 1/2, not 3ft like IPCC or Miami is depending on. Ten to Twelve feet. That puts Miami basically entirely underwater.
[29:15] That’s a huge number, and you mentioned banks and mortgages earlier, and I'm just thinking, surly if those numbers become more accepted I think they're going to have an effect on the business community right? Because if I'm a bank and I'm going to loan a 30 year mortgage on a property that sits in Miami, but I know that in 30 years there could be some sea level rise, does that affect my willingness to loan on that property and if it does how does that affect the overall real estate market? Not just of that City but I guess globally because a lot of this real estate is tied up in huge investment trusts and as we've seen in 2008, the real estate market has the ability to affect many aspects of the economy.
[29:58] Yeah and that’s something that the market really hasn't caught up with. I mean everybody right now is covering their ears and screaming about how amazing the economy is and how amazing the world economy is. It just hasn't really been priced in yet and the markets are still in denial and the real estate markets are still denial. There's 250 billion dollars worth of property in Miami right now in 2015, it’s probably up to 275 billion by now. That's a lot of property, that's a lot of money that’s going to disappear. I saw a recent report that said by 2100 they anticipate 2 trillion dollars worth of property in the United States alone being gone. Being just total write-offs.
[30:33] I'm sure it won’t all disappear I'm sure there's going to be value in the underwater museums and theme parks that we can create out of some of these places.
[30:40] Well there's a real entrepreneur for you there, your capitalism is peeking through right now. There's a huge amount of property, a huge amount of money that is just sitting here and everyone is pretending isn’t going to be underwater, isn’t going to be impacted by this sea level rise, it's just not priced in. In Miami for example in 30 years we’ll be looking at sea level rise by 2050 which some of these studies have in a meter and a half, not 1.5 ft by 2075. I don't know if these loan officers, the people writing out these mortgages are going to take this into account yet, it's going to be real interesting to see what happens to the Miami real estate market in the next few years because this is really going to start being a major factor. I think Miami in particular is going to act as the bellwether for the United States but worldwide there other cities that are much more worse off.
[31:27] Osaka in Japan is a city that's going to be heavily affected; Shanghai in China; Rio de Janeiro in Brazil just to name a few. And I feel like this also raises a question about how these people as they become displaced, how it affects our world economy and how we can respond to that. We saw the enormous impact that 5 million Syrian refugees over the past several years have had you know in terms of a global crisis. I mean how many millions of people are we looking at around the world that are going to be affected by this?
[31:57] Well it's hard to split these numbers and it's hard to know exactly depending on what study you’re looking in or whatever, but in the cities you just mentioned alone I mean Osaka is 6 million people, it's going to be entirely underwater. Shanghai has over 15 million people affected, and sometimes it's whole countries. Bangladesh for example, much of their land is very low, I think a meter to 2 meters worth of sea level rise which is well within our predictions will displace, you know, 20% of their population that’s 30 million people in that country alone.
[32:26] 30 million.
[32:27] 30 million in just one place in this story gets repeated over and over all around the world. The United States alone, 6 feet of sea rise is 13 million Americans, 800,000 of them here in New York. There is a huge amount of people that are going to find themselves suddenly climate refugees, and refugees are expensive. You mentioned five million Syrian refugees who are in part climate refugees. A million of them are in Europe, a little over a million, and it's been dramatic the effects that they've had there. They’re expensive, they’re impacting the economy, they're also contributing to the economy but they’ve caused huge political crises, both in Europe and the United States, and all around the world like what do we do with these people? We saw here in that story earlier how expensive it is to move these climate refugees in the United States. It's the same thing with refugees in the United States, it's very expensive to house them. Europe is more efficient with it. I read that they're spending about $65,000 per refugee that comes in. Which adds up I mean if you're talking, so what did we say 30 million and 20 million in these other cities, 13 million in the United States, we’re talking hundreds of millions of people when we add everything up around the world who’re going to be climate refugees, and there's no country that's prepared for this, the global economy isn't prepared for this, the markets haven’t considered that this might be a problem. This is like a slow-motion collapse, and unlike temperature where we say “well maybe if we get this CO2 locked we can prevent this from happening,” with sea level rise it's already baked in; this is happening, the question is just how quickly does it happen and how bad is it going to get? You know is this a matter of by 2200 we're going to have hundreds of millions of climate refugees, or is this a matter of by 2075 or by 2050 we're going to have hundreds of millions of climate refugees? It’s not a question of if, it's a question of when.
[34:11] And you keep mentioning the markets, it's important to remember that markets try to price in future events into their investments so if some of these things do start to get priced in to the market we could begin to feel the effects much earlier than 2075.
[34:27] The global economy cannot survive the climate crisis that will occur with sea level rise; it cannot houses these hundreds of millions of refugees, and again these aren't like numbers I’m pulling out of like the most dramatic predictions ever, the UN itself has predicted a billion climate refugees by 2050. This is a catastrophe already happening that will happen and there's nothing we can do to stop this. This isn’t just a matter of Paris Agreement or anything this is already baked in.
[34:54] Okay David you make it sound very dramatic but we live in a world of economic efficiency; companies are very good at figuring out solutions, how to allocate resources, surely you know we're going to figure out a solution for this, these people that are going to be displaced we’ll find an economic role for them.
[35:14] No. No we won’t. Okay wait I got to slow down for a second right here because I feel like I'm standing on a street corner with tin foil on my head and I'm holding the sign that says “the end is nigh.” I know that's what it sounds like I'm saying right now, this is like crazy stuff, and we’ve got all these papers and stuff linked on our website if you want to read through the journals and everything and see that we’re not just pulling these numbers out of nothing, it’s at ashesashes.org. I'm repeating the talking points right now about this 10 to 12 foot sea level rise and what that means for the global economy, this bi paper, it’s a peer reviewed paper coming out in a very good journal that was written by James Hanson who’s a climate scientist, he was the head of the climate Center at Nasa, appointed by Obama, blah blah blah… He was their Chief climatologist like he knows what he's talking about, and he sees the world as completely ungovernable by the end of this Century because of this sea level rise. This is like not a kooky corner sidewalk chant, this is hard science, and the market is in total denial about this. The illusion of the free hand of the market, the intelligence of the masses, is just that: an illusion. And the only way we can do anything at all about this is just to sort of sacrifice these cities, to understand that all this stuff is going to happen, that the world economy is going to crash and the only way to get around this is just sort of just say we don't need this system anyway, what can we do to help each other, what can we do as a community, what can we do as a global community to prepare for this to figure out what the best way to house these people are and to start moving this place and sacrificing all this money that we've left on these cities, on this property that’s going to be eventually under the ocean.
[36:54] What do you mean when you say abandoned the system?
[36:57] I mean quite literally abandon capitalism, because capitalism is what led to this, capitalism is what caused all this resource extraction that's overshooting what is responsible and what is sustainable, and looking at other alternative systems whether it's something that's market-based, whether it's something more dramatic than that. Whether you're a techno-utopian fan and you figured out some AI-controlling bitcoins or whatever. We need to start looking at alternatives because the system we have does not work; it's gotten us into this mess in the first place and it is not going to get us out. It's going to implode one way or the other and so we can either let it explode in 20, 30, 50 years and deal with that fallout, or we start preparing now and saying well what alternatives do we have? How can we get this in place? And how can we prepare for this thing that we know is coming and save all these people and save ourselves and save Humanity?
[37:50] Is there any evidence that people are embracing alternative systems and solutions that can point us in the right direction?
[37:58] When you say people I mean it's a big question. Let’s look at what cities are doing right now. Most of these cities are right now preparing for that much lower sea level estimation and hoping for the best. What's that old saying “hope for the best and prepare for the worst?” Well these cities are hoping for the best and barely preparing for that. Again, I just want to emphasize how much this would be. By the end of the century, New York is going to have every day High Tides twice a day that are 2 feet higher than the Sandy storm surge tides, which you know cause 65 billion dollars. Imagine that twice a day, every day, forever. That's the future we have so there are some preparations these cities are making, you know they’re beefing up infrastructure, they're building flood walls and stuff, but it just isn't enough and it's not going to be fast enough to make a difference. There are individuals and groups trying to elect more radical people into power who have more dramatic opinions on economics, a lot of socialist, a lot of a Democratic Socialist trying to get into power and so that they can start easing the economy to some other direction. I’ve got a lot of friends that are working with organizations that are trying to get these cities and states to defund from fossil fuels with their investments, so things like Pension funds and stuff which adds up to a lot of money, trying to get out of these irresponsible industries that are causing this change. All these things add up and it doesn't do a whole lot of stuff. I'm not seeing a lot of people talk about radical solutions, though every now and then you see a billionaire who’s like “we'll just live in boats in the ocean” in like what was that old movie… Waterworld.
[39:28] Waterworld yeah.
[39:30] Yeah something like that.
[39:31] It seems less useful to focus on activities that are going to lower our continued contribution since it already seems like we're at a point of no return, and that we should be focusing a lot of our resources on developing better systems of living and interacting with the world that we can actually do in a world of rising sea levels.
[39:51] Yeah I mean what's so interesting about this problem in particular is that it is baked in, and the question just becomes how quick and how much, more how quickly than anything. Again, we know Miami is going to be gone at some point the question is whether it's 50 years from now, 100 years from now or 200 years from now, and that the fact that we're even still talking about developing this up is sort of just mystifying to me. I can understand not bulldozing and leaving it but continuing to invest in these places is very short-sighted I think. And I think people are going to start realizing that and you're going to see a crisis in these coastal communities as people just can't take it anymore and they leave. You know I saw demographers have a lot of people abandoning these coastal cities; Miami is supposed to have a 20% population loss in the next three decades. So that makes dealing with these problems even more difficult. As people leave you lose that tax base, as banks start updating these mortgages to factor in sea level rise property values fall, you’re drawing less tax from property taxes, you have a smaller tax base to begin, and you see this death spiral in the budget while the city has to have more money in order to prepare for these things. And I think that's the way it's going to play out. These cities are slowly going to starve to death in terms of money to prepare for this and people are just going to slowly leave and these coastal towns that were once vibrant centers of economic activity in the United States and in the world are going to slowly become ghost towns.
[41:13] Except for the people who cannot afford to move anywhere else.
[41:16] Right and you're actually sort of seem like a weird gentrification, like a sea level rise aware gentrification happening in some of these places. So again in Miami the poor areas tend to be higher elevation because decades ago they were forced away from the beaches where rich developers wanted to come in and build houses for the wealthy, and so these people were pushed inland and lived on higher land, you know they didn't have the beach views and they didn’t have the coastal stuff and they were like this was an undesirable place to live. But now over the past two years or so these developers have been sort of secretly buying up these high-elevation places and preparing them for development. You know these are like 13 ft high sections of Miami and they’re going to be little islands for the rich, and these people who are living there right now who can't afford to move anywhere else are going to be forced into the low-lying areas and they're going to be the ones that are going to be these climate refugees moving out because they can't afford to live anywhere high enough. You are already starting to see in real estate listings and stuff people list elevation of places, because this is sort of in the back of people's minds right now and while it hasn't started affecting the market yet, people are getting sort of nervous and aware of it.
[42:24] We saw the enormous crisis that the Syrian refugees sparked around the world, and that came as a surprise. So if we can become more aware of what we're facing around the world in terms of sea level rise, perhaps we can be better prepared for some of these climate refugees. Just by being aware and kind of setting the stage early rather than later in terms of absorbing these people into regions outside of their coastal homelands.
[42:50] The one thing we do have on our side right now is time. Though this catastrophe is happening very quickly - in a blink of an eye in terms of the geologic scale - you know this is still we have the time of a generation we got 30 years. That's a lot of time for preparing for this, for moving people out, for preparing these cities and not in ways like building seawalls or adding pumps and stuff but acknowledging that we need to start moving population away from these centers, moving them inland a little bit. There other concerns we have so those refineries that are on the coast, they’ll be underwater, we need to worry about those, preparing for replacements for that. There's a lot of nuclear plants that are 6 to 10 feet above sea level right now. They're prepared for 30 foot floods but when you add in the additional sea level rise and the strongest storms we can expect from that, these places are going to be inundated and so we should start considering well what do we do? Are we going to revoke these licenses, are we going to start preparing them for decommission, because decommissioning itself requires the storage of fuel on site for a long time, and we really need to start thinking about these questions now while we have the time, rather than in 10 years or 20 years when we realize that this is way worse than we thought it was going to be.
[43:57] Certainly sounds like not the best issue for a profit driven approach.
[44:02] No and that's I think why there's so much denial about this because as soon as somebody acknowledge that this is a problem and the whole house of cards falls and we’re going to lose tens, hundreds of billions of dollars maybe even trillions like I said: 2 trillion dollars of real estate are in danger, and expected to be worthless by the end of the century. That's in the United States alone. It’s a lot of money at risk and so everyone is playing chicken right now being, you know who's the last person that's going to pretend this is not happening and as soon as that crashes, well we're going to be in for a fun ride.
[44:32] I feel like this episode ends a little bit sad in a way because it just doesn't seem like there's any real concrete solution. But as long as we go forward aware, that's the first step and hopefully we will begin to formulate some plans that could at least mitigate some of the disasters, and some of the consequences, and I think that's what we should think about; that's who we should look to in terms of our leaders in our communities. Do we have this type of approach, like this preparation approach, or are we just driven by self-interest and short-term profits? And supporting those people who are looking more long-term and who are willing to take on the work of preparing for some of this is going to be extremely important. So it starts with awareness and then it ends with action and that's what we should be focused on.
[45:20] That's a really great point Daniel I love that phrase “starts with awareness ends with action”, but yeah I mean and as a consumer there's things you can do, continuing to try and reduce your carbon footprint, don't buy property on the coast unless it's very high, and even those of you who are thinking you're smug in California and in Oregon on these height Coastal Cliffs, you're in danger too, those are going to erode away. So don't buy this property, if you have this property sell it, call up your grandparents in Florida let them know you don't want to inherit a house that’s going to be underwater. Get them to go somewhere else; we have action because so much of this is a market problem interesting enough, we do have a little bit more power as consumers. If we sort of give up on this lie that this coastal real estate is going to continue being worth more and more forever, then maybe we can start creating real change as people realize this is a danger, this is going to happen so what are we doing about it now?
Don't take your vacations on some beach resort go to the mountains instead.
So thanks everybody for listening, we hope you enjoyed this episode. We have a great show coming up next week that we're really excited about. We're going to look away from climate change at some other issues but you'll have to tune in to hear more and we hope you join us.
And as a reminder if you want to learn more about anything that we talked about today we have tons of links to articles, science journals and more on our website ashesashes.org or you can follow us on your favorite social media @ashesashescast. Thanks for tuning in everybody. Until next week.