Thursday, May 28, 2015

Love in the Time of Sea Level Rise

Before I go any further, a reassurance for my South Florida friends.  I am not moving.  I am not even thinking about moving.  I have a full-time job here and a house I love here and it's in a great location and I've waited a long time for this house in this location--and so I am not moving.

But any of us who live here, especially those of us who have bought houses here, must keep a wary eye towards the sea.  Once it was just hurricanes, and at least we could see those coming.  But now, sea level rise threatens us in all sorts of ways.

It's not just the rising water levels that may swamp us.  Long before the sea swallows our landscape, we will have to deal with salt water intrusion into our fresh water supplies.

If I had lots of money, I'd be buying/building plants that take salt water and turns it into fresh water.  I'd be the queen of the desalinization industry because I got in at the bottom of the market back in 2015.  Alas, I am not that kind of entrepreneur.

And before we run out of water to drink, we may not be able to insure our homes.  I have this issue on the brain because this is the week we've been getting our bills for insurance for the coming year.  I pay a mortgage, so I don't have to pay the bills directly--but they are staggering:  over $3000 a year for flood, and over $8000 a year for windstorm.  Still to come:  the regular home owner's insurance.

In the early 90's, when I lived 25 miles inland from the South Carolina coast, I paid $300 a year for insurance that would cover the total cost of a rebuild should disaster strike--we weren't covered for flood, however.

I have moved to a high-risk area, and if I owned an insurance company, I'd charge a lot of money to cover South Floridians too.  This post is not one where I will whine about my high rates.

I do want to note a shift, however.  In past years, when we've gotten these envelopes of doom from the insurance company, I've said, "How much longer can we afford to live here?"

It was a rhetorical question, but my spouse always answered, "We can afford it at least another year."  And we did, and we have.

It's a Zen practice, in a way.  We live in the moment.  I doubt that's what the Buddha had in mind.

When my spouse says we haven't saved enough for retirement, I think about how we might not be able to travel, the way my parents do.  Lately, it occurs to me that much of my retirement savings will go towards housing insurance.

Last night, when I opened the envelopes of doom, it was my spouse who said, "We can't afford this much longer."

I was the one who said, "We can afford it for another year."

I love this house and this location.  Happily, if we need to, we have options to cover the increased costs.  We may not be able to do this for decades, but we can last a bit longer.

And an even happier possibility, this blog post says that NOAA says that the pattern of more active, more destructive Atlantic hurricane seasons that started in 1995 might be over.

And yes, I realize that even in a less active time period, hurricanes that decimate communities can occur:  Andrew in 1992 and Hugo in 1989.

So, though I think of myself as a non-risk taker when it comes to being an entrepreneur, perhaps I do have a bit of that spirit.  I'm betting on mild hurricane seasons and continuing to dodge the occasional bullet.  I'm betting that the ocean will repossess my house around the time when I can no longer live here anyway (or better yet, when I'm dead).

My stupidest bet:  that local governments will figure out how to deal with sea level rise.  But history shows that humans do figure it out.  If I've figured out that desalinization plants are a way to make money, I'm sure that others have too--and some of them will have access to money and will proceed.

And maybe, just maybe, if the risk of living here decreases, my insurance rates will too.

But even if they don't, my spouse and I will figure out how to make a way through difficult circumstances.  It's the first time we've both been happy to be living in a place, after all.  I'd like to enjoy that for a time.

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