Hurricanes do not discriminate against the affluent and the less affluent.
Hurricanes, exacerbated by climate change, belong to a category of climate change related events (e.g., drought, sea level rise, wildfires) that impact all inhabitants of this planet, regardless of how much is in their bank accounts.
The science community is unified in how climate change will impact every citizen of America. Immediately vulnerable are those on the coast, occupied by both the rich and poor. The rich may choose to self-insure and prolong their luxury living, but ultimately all taxpayers are paying for their choices.
Donald Trump has already received a $17 million insurance payout for previous Hurricane Wilma “damage” to his wealthy, private estate Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. There wasn’t actually that much damage following Wilma, and the estate has been relatively lucky following Irma. How much taxpayer-funded compensation will he receive this time? Will we continue to subsidize luxurious real estates along our vulnerable coastlines? Our shorelines will be increasingly impacted as ocean temperatures warm and sea levels rise–ensuring progressively frequent and devastating hurricanes going forward. By the mid-century, vulnerable east U.S. coastlines are predicted to experience “Sandy-like” hurricanes every other year!
What about the poor who can’t rebuild and redecorate? They will inevitably retreat from the shoreline. The rich, however, will hold out. Eventually when basic government services become impossible (e.g., postal delivery, emergency services) even the rich will give in and retreat. By then how much more money will be lifted from the wallets of everyday citizens to subsidize elite lifestyles? Where will this money originate? Even extreme conservatives will find it hard to justify government subsidization of vital services to selfish developments.
Entities or individuals with the current means to develop along vulnerable shorelines must recognize their decisions impact their communities and our country as a whole. A collective multi-stakeholder effort (e.g., public officials, economists, journalists) is required to educate and raise awareness of the immediate and future risks of living and further developing infrastructure along the coast.
Economic alternatives must also be explored in order to ensure community sustainability. This type of anticipatory planning has varied considerably across vulnerable communities throughout the U.S. Some Florida cities (e.g., Tampa, St. Petersberg) have proactive measures in place. This will prove vitally helpful as they begin to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
Part of proactive adaptation to increasing climate change events is discouraging development in flood risk areas and permanently removing structures following disastrous events. Relocation of low-income communities will begin the necessary and inevitable shoreline retreat. Finally and most controversially, properties must be transitioned from private ownership to the public domain. This type of policy has never been popular, but must remain on the table as an option.
If and when Mar-A-Largo receives an insurance payout from Irma, it could lead the adaptation initiative and transition to a public recreation area for the remainder of time it would receive public services. The reality of how long this will be is definitely shorter than what people perceive. Science is very clear. Palm Beach County will be significantly flooded within 30 years! Incentivizing the wealthy to transition prime coastal real estate sooner than later will not only release private ownership from the burden of an increasingly at-risk property, it will also translate to precious shared savings.
Transitioning Mar-A-Lago would be a much needed strong, clear signal for the future of luxury coastal living. Leading in the face of harsh reality isn’t always fun, but it would command respect. Let’s collectively encourage this type of leadership.
As long as there is demand for those ocean views, there will be developers competing to supply. A true cultural shift is required to change the deep-rooted attraction to the shores. This needs to happen before the very beauty that compels us to the beach becomes the very thing that destroys our collective health and safety. Let’s prudently plan and adapt to the reality of climate change impacts before everything is Mar-A-LaGONE!