Insurance industry is leaving home and business owners (and cities) in the dust by pulling out of high-storm areas.
A new report by nonprofit environmental coalition Ceres says the insurance industry is shunning Florida markets because of increased storm activity, while insurers have done little to prepare for climate change.
The Ceres report is littered with references to insurers applying special conditions to Florida. Excerpts from the report:
• Several insurers describe screening out securities or real assets from coastal regions (particularly Florida) and arid regions with perceived water scarcity such as the Southwest. Particularly following the spate of destructive storm and drought activity in 2012, these investment screening practices should be noted by real asset owners and bond issuers.
• Already, divestiture from coastal counties and municipalities is a reality. This ranges from simple embargos like that adopted by Hudson Insurance Company (“We have determined not to buy State of Florida bonds,”) to more general policies.
• Torchmark Group said in its survey response, “In response to the potential for major catastrophe losses, the companies have not purchased investments such as Florida Windstorm bonds, Oil Casualty bonds, etc. We continuously monitor conditions in all sectors that are, or could be, affected by future climate developments.”
Father Martin, parish priest on the island of Abaiang walks through the wasteland that used to be the village of Tebunginako garden. Rising sea water made the soils heavily saline and unable to support the Bananas and Taro vital to the villagers’ survival
If you enjoy the coast, know about your local heritage – or want to explore it further, you could make a real contribution to a national project which is being run by The SCAPE Trust and the University of St Andrews.
The Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk project is looking for volunteers who can visit threatened coastal archaeological and historical sites in their local areas to take photographs, record their current condition and contribute information to a national database of coastal archaeological sites.
Of the 1,000 archaeological sites around Scotland short-listed as the highest priority for action because of their importance and risk of loss as a result of erosion, nearly a quarter are in Orkney. Read more.
Salt water will mix and spoil freshwater supplies as sea-levels rise. This is called “groundwater inundation.” Recent study shows that rates of inundation are much higher than previously projected. This will become very problematic for cities, ecosystems, and forests near coastlines that depend on freshwater from the ground.
“With groundwater tables near the ground surface, excluding groundwater inundation may underestimate the true threat to coastal communities,” said Rotzoll, lead author of the study.
“This research has implications for communities that are assessing options for adapting to SLR. Adapting to marine inundation may require a very different set of options and alternatives than adapting to groundwater inundation,” states Fletcher, Principle Investigator on the grant that funded the research.
Groundwater inundation is localized coastal-plain flooding due to a simultaneous rise of the groundwater table with sea level. Groundwater inundation is an additional risk faced by coastal communities and environments before marine flooding occurs because the groundwater table in unconfined aquifers typically moves with the ocean surface and lies above mean sea level at some distance from the shoreline.
Rotzoll and Fletcher combined measurements of the coastal groundwater elevation and tidal influence in urban Honolulu with a high-resolution digital elevation model. With this, they were able to assess vulnerability to groundwater inundation from SLR.
An ancient Cypress forest was discovered at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Not a hoax. Hurricane Katrina stirred up the sand on the bottom of the Gulf, exposing a 50,000 year old forest.
For thousands of years, sand protected the ancient forest from rotting. Now that the sand has been removed, the trees are being torn apart by critters, fish, and exposure to water.
Here’s a video, which I can’t embed because tumblr hasn’t completely figured out How to Internet: Underwater Forest.
The forest is about 10 miles off the coast of Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico and lies under 60 feet of water (about the height of a 6 story building). Researchers say you can see tree rings, and even sap when the wood is cut with a saw. In fact, they say it even smells like freshly cut Cypress.
The trees apparently lived along a river.
Why is there a forest at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico? Sea level rise from melting glaciers. Sea level rise chewed away and drowned millions of miles of coasts around the world after the last Ice Age, but I’ll leave that for you to google and for future posts!
This is what climate adaptation looks like. Partnerships between cities (for the zoning and permits), residents (to protect their property), universities (for the climate science), and private sector (engineering and construction expertize).
Many properties in Boston may have to waterproof their buildings – raising critical electrical systems to higher levels or building barriers against storm surges — as sea levels rise from climate change.
The city is stepping up a campaign to prepare buildings for rising seas that could significantly flood neighborhoods during storms.
The public-private plan comes at the same time a Boston Harbor Association report spotlights high-risk areas, such as Long Wharf and University of Massachusetts Boston, and outlines how property owners can best protect themselves from water.
Hurricane Sandy and last week’s massive snowstorm have added new urgency to the issue, city officials say. This “will help make our waterfront and the rest of Boston better prepared to handle future storms and get the city back in business as quickly as possible,” Mayor Thomas Menino said.
In the next six months, the Boston Conservation Commission will develop new flood-plain maps to take in to account future storm surges atop higher sea levels. A wetlands ordinance will also help guide property owners to prepare for higher sea levels, said Brian Swett, chief of Environment and Energy for the city.
I devoured Lord Stern’s now famous report six years ago (has it been that long!?). At the time Stern’s report was very controversial. It focused primarily on the economic impacts from climate, and had included some incredibly high numbers. It was widely thought to be out-of-touch with reality - that his numbers were wildly overestimated and his analysis of the models was flawed. True, this reception has softened somewhat over the years.
Now Stern says he didn’t go far enough.
Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”
The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”
He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.
“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”
“This ice cave is on the edge of the glacier where it enters into an lagoon near Svínafellsjökull. It is only possible to access it when the lagoon is frozen. Ice caves are in general unstable things and can collapse at any time. They are however much more stable in winter when the cold temperatures harden the ice. Even so we could hear constant cracking sounds inside the cave. It was not because it was going to collapse but because the cave was moving along with the glacier itself. Each time the glacier moved a millimeter loud sounds could be heard.”
This is in Iceland, which is a short 4-hour flight from Boston. And apparently there are tours.
Climate adaptation is law in the state of Maryland. Infrastructure projects must include climate analysis.
On December 28th, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Executive Order (EO), a landmark initiative to increase the State’s long term resiliency to storm related flooding and sea level rise. The Executive Order directs all State agencies to consider the risk of coastal flooding and sea level rise when designing capital budget projects.
It also charges the Department of General Services with updating its architecture and engineering guidelines to require that new and rebuilt State structures be elevated two or more feet above the 100-year base flood level.
The Executive Order also allows the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to:
work with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, local governments and other parties as appropriate;
develop additional Coast Smart guidelines within nine months for the siting and construction of new and rebuilt State structures;
and improve vulnerable infrastructure such as roads, bridges, sewer and water systems, and other essential public utilities.
Recommendations for applying the new construction guidelines to non-state infrastructure projects that are partially or fully funded in the State’s capital budget will also be developed.
Additionally, the Executive Order tasks the Scientific and Technical Working Group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change with providing updated sea level rise projections for Maryland.
Global mean sea level rise 1880-2011. Some coasts will experience more rise than others. New York City and parts of New England have had about a foot of sea level rise since the early 1900s. Other coasts will experience less rise. Either way, it’s accelerating quickly, and coastal communities are in more trouble than politicians are telling you.
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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