Matthias Ruth, an econ­o­mist at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity who focuses on cli­mate impacts, says the key is to pro­vide a finan­cial return for plan­ning ahead. “We know that what once was the 100-​​year flood­plain now is the 10– or 5-​​year flood­plain. So what we need to do is give the incen­tives to either for­tify build­ings, ele­vate them, flood-​​proof them, or have a con­trolled retreat.” Instead, “we pre­tend it’s not an issue and we put ever more infra­struc­ture into the coasts and ever more people.”

Ruth ticks off the expected costs of cli­mate change on the coasts—seawalls, flood insur­ance claims, dis­aster response, not to men­tion dis­lo­ca­tion, stress on com­mu­ni­ties, and lost social con­nec­tions. And what if, after a major storm like Sandy, there were an ice storm or maybe another hur­ri­cane the fol­lowing year? “It’s these one-​​two punches, the cumu­la­tive effect that they have on our infra­struc­ture, our social sys­tems,” he says. “What we already see is wor­ri­some, but this is going to be an order of mag­ni­tude more worrisome.”

 

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