Last week a flood zone home in a beachfront North Carolina town partially collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean, scattering boards and debris that floated as far as seven miles. The cream-colored clapboard beauty with the bright-blue shutters was built in 1980 and had recently been listed as a vacation rental. Its dismantle must have been shocking to residents of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where the home was located, but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on a national scale.
Why? I think it might have something to do with Celsius.
Fifty percent at risk
The flood zone home that collapsed into the sea recently wasn’t the first: In 2020, another oceanfront home vanished, according to NBC news. That year, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that 50% of the world’s beaches could disappear by 2100 because of coastal erosion.
Sea levels have been rising for more than a century, but in the four decades since the cream clapboard house was built, rates have increased dramatically — as much as an eighth of an inch each year, according to NOAA. These higher sea levels mean more dangerous storms and increased flood risks.
The homes that washed away weren’t originally intended to be located on the water — in 1980, when the cream-colored one was built, it was far better protected. But as the coastline eroded, the sea moved closer and closer.
Given these recent events, you would think the American market for beachfront property would begin to decline, right? I thought so, too — until I did a little research.
In 2019, a Climate Central study found that housing growth rates were faster — by sometimes as much as three times — in flood-risk zones in a third of all coastal states. Analysis of building patterns after catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey found that more flood zone homes are rebuilt in vulnerable areas.
Researchers from Yale and Cornell found that prices in expensive waterfront property aren’t declining because “the threat of sea level rise does not factor into buyers’ decisions.”
When do we start worrying?
Maybe this is because flood zone home buyers hope that “solutions” like sea walls or storm barriers will save their houses. But this is a privileged and possibly delusional perspective.
The data is clear: If the world follows Paris agreement protocols to cut greenhouse-gas pollution — which, clearly, it is not — homes like these will face a minimum 10% flood risk annually by 2050.
A recent poll showed that one in three Americans are now concerned about climate change — but the politicians who represent us are perpetually stalemated on climate change solutions. Why aren’t we doing more? I think it might have something to do with the metric system.
The United Nations warns that the “world is on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.” But what does that mean to an American who computes temperatures in terms of Fahrenheit? The threat seems much lower at 2.7 degrees Celsius than it does at the equivalent 5 degrees Fahrenheit, right?
Do you think presenting information in Celsius and Farenheit would encourage more Americans to get involved in the fight against climate change? Please share your thoughts in comments, below. Thanks!