A report commissioned last year by the Environmental Defense Fund entitled Climate Fueled Weather Disasters: Costs to State and Local Economies details the economic damage caused by extreme weather events such as floods, fires and hurricanes.
All of the events covered in the report resulted in property damage of at least $1 billion. Since 1980, the frequency of such events in the United States has increased fourfold. And according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “since 2005, the federal government, including FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), has spent at least $450 billion on disaster assistance.”
The report also quantifies projected future costs of extreme weather events, which will inevitably be catalyzed by rising global temperatures and continued greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, recent data from the Rhodium Group indicates that the most livable climate in the USA is shifting inexorably northward; that the Mississippi River valley, which stretches 2,348 miles through the center of the country, will be “swamped” by “dangerous levels of humidity”; and that rising sea levels will overwhelm our coastal cities before the end of this century.
The Army Corps of Engineers can only perform so much flood control. At some point, many currently highly populated areas will become uninhabitable. The question is, at what point does the cost of staying home in a danger zone actually outweigh the cost of leaving and putting down new roots in safer climes?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006, more than a million people were displaced throughout the region. Many of them ultimately returned, but a large portion of them did not. In New Orleans, for example, the population in 2012 remained at just 76% of what it had been in the year 2000.
A study published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists projects that, over the next 45 years, one in 12 Americans living in the southern half of the United States will uproot and leave their homes in response to climate disruption. This may even be a conservative estimate.
Today, many businesses are starting to take climate considerations into account as they make plans for the future. The questions they are starting to ask include: What are the potential threats, in the locale where we are situated? If we have to leave, where could we go? Could we reestablish this business elsewhere if we have to?
One way or another, businesses – just like individuals and families – will be compelled to respond to drastically changing environmental conditions that will impact their viability and sustainability. Food, water, shelter, and community … these essentials may no longer be so easily accessible in the years and decades to come.