As sea levels rise, we're still spending billions rebuilding on flood-prone shorelines

A one-meter rise in sea levels will render large swaths of America’s current Atlantic and Gulf coastlines unrecognizable. It is not a question of putting every beachfront home on columns four feet higher than the ones they are currently on; bridges, highways, sewer systems, and all the rest must be reconfigured. This is no longer hypothetical: the latest climate reports paint an exceedingly grim picture, with catastrophic ocean changes now all but certain unless the world, collectively, takes extraordinary measures immediately.

The current FEMA mandate, in other words, is not sustainable. Rebuilding the same flooded prisons, schools, city halls, and the roads to reach them, only to have them re-damaged after the next major storm is one thing; it will be another as the land currently being rebuilt on slowly becomes, well, not land. Long before the maps get redrawn, it will be storms that make the point clear; even six-inch-higher seas will inundate places that have not been inundated before, each and every time the winds pick up.

Condemning entire Louisiana counties, or even the strips of summer homes on the Carolina Outer Banks, is nobody’s idea of a winning campaign slogan; it is likely that our elected policymakers will not utter a peep about it even as it happens. It is unpleasant. It makes people angry. Above all, it depresses property values.

And if anything, we’re sliding backwards. You can thank the Grand Idiots of Conservatism for that one.

In August last year, President Trump rescinded an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that required consideration of climate science in the design of federally funded projects. In some cases, that had meant mandatory elevation of buildings in flood-prone areas. Then in March, FEMA released a four-year strategic plan that stripped away previous mentions of climate change and sea-level rise.

At the moment, this is a topic still primarily talked about by climate watchers, the insurance industry, and irritated budget hawks; as the damages done by warmer, wetter. and more powerful storms begin to add up, it’s not likely to remain that way. The ocean doesn’t give a damn whether the high planners of Washington acknowledge it or not; a hurricane has never needed an invitation.

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