He told me in heaven that every everything is fine
June 27, 2006 10:13 PM   Subscribe

Let's assume (no soapbox rants, please!) global warming is a reality, the ice covering Greenland is melting, and the ocean's levels are rising. If I own a home and land which, according to this map, would be underwater, what--if anything--would the government do? I live near a major (federal) interstate, two major shipping ports, and a rail corridor linking the two. San Francisco and Oakland International Airports would also be underwater. What happens? Would they build a gigantic dike, like New Orleans and Holland? Is my home and the land on which it's built a total loss? If so, insurance-wise, is this considered an "Act of God"? If I was to put my home on the market tomorrow, must I declare global warming and the rising ocean levels as a possibility for flooding?
posted by fandango_matt to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
I would assume valuable land will be be preserved e.g. the airports, but many areas probably won't receive the same treatment e.g. rural Louisiana.
posted by borkencode at 10:19 PM on June 27, 2006

Your home will drown. It probably won't happen in your lifetime, mind.... it'll be several hundred years before the water's high enough to be really a problem to most current real estate.

Humanity will be able to adapt without much trouble.
posted by Malor at 10:31 PM on June 27, 2006

I think this would be treated the same way that home losses on the Barrier Islands are treated as a result of storm erosion.

More or less, "Too bad, Bucko. You build your home in a lousy place, you take your lumps on your own." When storm erosion destroys houses on the barrier islands, the government doesn't reimburse anyone.

As to whether insurance would cover it, it depends on the policy, but as a general rule the more a policy covers the more it will cost you, because the insurance company is not in the business of giving away money. I suspect that absent a specific clause covering this, which I seriously doubt you'll ever see, then it would not be covered by insurance, either.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:34 PM on June 27, 2006

Footnote: Umm, "The Barrier Islands" are off the coast of North Carolina. Homes are lost there all the time after major storms, because the Barrier Islands are really little more than just big sand bars, and they change constantly.

There's similar coast erosion and change along Cape Cod in various places. Interestingly, a few hundred years ago the area including Provincetown was an island.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:38 PM on June 27, 2006

The government may do nothing - look how hard they worked to protect NOLA from Katrina. However, the bay area has a lot of wealth, a lot of politicially active people, and a lot of entreprenurial activity. If any low-lying area is going to survive global warming, I suspect it will be the Bay Area.

After the Bay Area, Manhattan and LA are probably the most likely to be retrofitted to survive global flooding.

Florida and much of the South will be deep under water.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:47 PM on June 27, 2006

That's a 7 meter sea rise which shouldn't happen for a good long time, almost certainly not in your lifetime. There are models that show the entire Bay Area being perfectly fine in 50 years time. When/If it gets to the point that the sea comes up 7m it may well make properties like yours un-sellable, I guess but it seems that people will buy houses built just about anywhere.

That story from The Bee doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the government to do much in the way of preparing for sea level rise.
posted by fshgrl at 10:54 PM on June 27, 2006

I think the answer is that no one knows or can even come up with a supported guess, there is no precedent for it.

Small scale erosion solution won't just scale up.
posted by 517 at 11:28 PM on June 27, 2006

There is some precedent for it. One or two villages in Alaska are looking for federal funds to move inland lock stock and barrel due to loss of sea ice and rising tides. So far the federales have declined to pony up the $$.

The UK decided a few years ago that it would no longer build hard coastal defenses, from now on you're on your own. I think they will buy out some properties. They did build the Thames Barrage but who knows how long that will be effective.

The Netherlands also has barrages. And polders, which other countries are starting to try now too.

Large scale subsidence is probably the best analogy in the US, that or large scale river movement. Up till now when you had a problem the USACE has shown up and done the work but they do a cost/ benefit analysis first and I know of some smaller communities where they've basically said "Oh well, too bad" and left them to flood.

There is a tremendous amount of modeling going on world wide to to try and predict the effects of sea level rise and to counteract some of them by stopping subsidence or building up salt marshes and the like. Geologic uplift neatly mirrors sea level rise in some parts of CA and the world too, reducing the risk.

So while there are no concrete predictions there is a tremendous amount of data and a lot of people working on it. Too bad there are also people building new houses on levees in a sinking delta!
posted by fshgrl at 11:55 PM on June 27, 2006

Flood insurance won't kick in until your property actually floods, and if global warming is real, the insurance companies will figure it out and stop selling you flood insurance (or hike the price so high you can't afford it) long before.

So what you really want is something like the government disaster insurance offered absurdly cheaply to people who build beach houses in hurricane country. I think John Stossel did an exposé on it once. I have no idea whether it would cover flooding due to global warming, but if the government will underwrite a policy for a house on the Carolina coast I can't imagine why they'd balk at something like this. After all, the current administration is pretty sure global warming doesn't even exist, they'd think it was free money.
posted by kindall at 1:41 AM on June 28, 2006

I fully expect that the same rich people who own coastal mansions, insurance companies, and Congress (and who also tell us that there is no global warming) will, once the coasts submerge, get laws passed to seize the new coastal properties for themselves. Everybody else will be SOL.
posted by kimota at 5:55 AM on June 28, 2006

Flood insurance is underwritten by the Federal Government (run by FEMA, heaven help us). Regular homeowners insurance does not cover it. So either rates will go up/availability will go down as Kindall suggests, or suddenly mortgage companies will require all homeowners to purchase it (probably under pressure from Fannie Mae, who will refuse to purchase mortgages that do not require flood insurance).

As for whether you should list this as a potential problem, ask your realtor. It is worth noting that Apple Computer lists terrorism and earthquakes as potential risks to business.

Malor is correct that this process will be very slow and odds are that you will not be living there (or perhaps even living) when that house floods. There will be a relatively brief period where it is "waterfront property," at which time it will probably be worth an absurd sum of money considering its soon-to-be-underwater state.

On a sort of related note, a cartoon.
posted by ilsa at 11:06 AM on June 28, 2006

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