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Rising Sea Levels Threaten Nearly a Trillion Dollars Worth of US Homes
George Dvorsky   Aug 25, 2016   Gizmodo  

Real estate database company Zillow is warning that nearly 1.9 million homes in the United States could be flooded by the end of the century. That’s about two percent of the nation’s total housing stock, amounting to $882 billion in value.

Should current climate models hold, 36 US cities will be completely lost by the year 2100, while almost 300 US cities will lose at least half of their homes, according to Zillow’s new report. Florida is expected to face the brunt of this water damage; more than one in eight properties in the Sunshine State are in an area expected to be submerged if sea levels rise by six feet. That’s about $400 billion dollars in current housing value, a figure that represents nearly half the country’s current housing market.

Image: Zillow

Zillow reached these grim conclusions by tapping into its online real estate database, and by collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which provided detailed maps. For the analysis, Zillow adopted the latest estimate for sea level rise, which predicts a rise of six feet over the next 80 years. The authors of the report only considered residential homes, and excluded commercial and industrial structures from their analysis (that’s another story altogether).

If sea levels suddenly went up by six feet today, about 1.87 million homes in the US would be affected. Around 934,400 of these homes are in Florida, amounting to $413 billion in property. Around 38,000 homes would be submerged in Fort Lauderdale, making it the hardest hit US city.

Other states that are expected to be hit include New Jersey (190,429 homes), New York (96,708), South Carolina (83,833), and Louisiana (80,080). Hawaii is poised to lose one in every ten homes.

“It’s important to note that 2100 is a long way off, and it’s certainly possible that communities take steps to mitigate these risks,” writesKrishna Rao, the Director of Economic Product and Research at Zillow. “Then again, given the enduring popularity of living near the sea despite its many dangers and drawbacks, it may be that even more homes will be located closer to the water in a century’s time, and these estimates could turn out to be very conservative.” 

What’s even scarier is that the effects of climate change are likely irreversible; no matter what we do from now until the year 2100, the levels of greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere will continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years. Scarier even still are the other ways that climate change can damage our infrastructure, such as superstorms, wildfires, and megadroughts.

As a consolation, some industrious real estate investors should grab some topographic maps and start scooping up inland areas that are poised to become the next sea front properties.


George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.

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