As sea levels rise, more and more American homes and businesses will experience frequent, disruptive flooding that makes everyday life impossible. More than 300,000 of today's coastal homes are at risk of this untenable flooding within the term of a 30-year mortgage.
Yet property values in most coastal real estate markets do not currently reflect this risk. And with short-sighted investments and policies at all levels of government concealing this growing problem, homeowners, businesses, communities, and investors are not aware of the financial losses they may soon face.
In the coming decades, many coastal real estate markets will be strained by flooding, some to the point of collapse, with potential reverberations throughout the national economy. Individual homeowners and businessowners, banks, lenders, investors, developers, insurers, and taxpayers are poised to sustain large collective losses. Shrinking property tax bases could spell decline for many coastal cities and towns.
We have scant time remaining to brace our communities, and our local and national economies, for this challenge. While there are no easy solutions, knowing our risk—and using that knowledge to create bold new policies and market incentives—will help protect coastal communities. Whether we react to this threat by implementing science-based, coordinated, and equitable solutions—or walk, eyes open, toward a crisis—is up to us right now.