California’s climate change bill could top $100 billion
Rising sea levels and extreme storms could displace 480,000 people and damage businesses and airports, a new study says.
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Instead, the study presents a picture of an adaptation challenge that changes drastically with location and requires a full palette of measures – from building or strengthening sea walls and levees to protecting land inland of wetlands so that the wetlands have room to migrate as sea level rises.Skip to next paragraph
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Nor is the risk largely borne by wealthy movie stars with expensive homes lining Malibu’s beaches.
Lead author Matthew Heberger says he expected that the hardest-hit segment of society “was going to be a lot of rich white folks.” In some counties, that was true. But not for others. Contra Costa County on San Francisco Bay, for instance, has significant low-income minority and immigrant populations at risk, he says. Formal studies and past experience indicate that low incomes and language barriers undercut residents’ abilities to make their homes flood resistant or to take full advantage of emergency services.
Also at risk are power plants that dot the coast, representing a combined generating capacity of more than 10,000 megawatts. So are Oakland’s and San Francisco’s airports.
The study estimates that building or shoring up levees and sea walls to protect such assets along the coast represents a $14 billion investment, with an annual maintenance bill of $1.5 billion a year.
The chance of a really big storm
Although the benchmark is a 100-year storm, that’s only an average; such storms can strike more frequently, the study points out.
Statistically, during the lifetime of a typical mortgage, there’s a 25 percent chance that one of these storms will hit. That likelihood rises for structures such as rail lines, bridges, roads, or power plants, which typically last far longer than 30 years.
And the concept of a 100-year storm itself is fuzzy, Dr. Flick cautions. Weather records in California don’t go back far enough to allow researchers to confidently say what a once-in-a-100-year coastal storm looks like.
Instead, he suggests, the study’s storm benchmark should be viewed qualitatively as “a really big event,” akin to the storms that pounded the coast during the 1982-83 El Nino or the 1988 Martin Luther King Day storm off Los Angeles.
Still, the report begins to allow planners to ask focused questions about adaptation, says Heather Cooley, one of the study’s authors. And it should serve as a guide for the more-detailed studies that will inform local adaptation decisions.