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American Opinion: Climate change already torments the poor. It will soon come for the rich

From the editorial: If it takes an existential threat to their vacation homes and beachfront land to finally get (the wealthy) to join the fight to save the planet, that, at least, would be a positive aspect to the latest dismal climate news.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
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A new study might finally get the attention of industrial leaders and others who have shrugged off the threat of human-caused climate change. It finds that more than half a million privately owned parcels of coastal property — the kind of property generally held by the well-heeled — could be underwater by 2050.

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
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Studies galore lately have warned that global warming trends today are surpassing even the worst-case scenarios of just a few years ago. So much new data and dire pronouncements from scientists have emerged, in fact, that it’s easy to let it become numbing. Even apocalyptic data, in the abstract, is still abstract.

But the analysis published this month by the research nonprofit Climate Central puts the issue into a context of dollars and acreage that could be useful driving home this urgent message to those who might otherwise be disinclined to listen to it.

The organization took existing data on predicted sea level rise and analyzed it against coastal property records across the U.S. What it found was that almost 650,000 parcels of privately owned land, across more than 4 million acres, will be below projected tidal boundaries by 2050. The lost real estate will be largely along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The report lays out some truly sobering ripple effects of the loss of this land, including eroding tax bases for local governments “as property owners object to paying taxes on submerged land.” That’s the kind of projection that might, finally, get through to people who have been blithely or doggedly refusing to acknowledge the crisis at hand.

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As one of the experts involved in the study told The Washington Post, “People really haven’t internalized that yet — that ‘Hey, I’m going to have something taken away from me by the sea.’” The specter of one’s upscale beachfront condo becoming effectively worthless in the relatively near future due to the shortsightedness of industrial societies could be just the wakeup call that’s needed.

The primary sufferers of the effects of climate change so far have generally been the poor — particularly developing-world citizens wracked by droughts and flooding in societies that don’t function well even when the weather cooperates. In the U.S., California wildfires, increased instances of Gulf hurricanes and other global-warming fallout makes the already-challenging lives of working-class Americans more so.

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The wealthy — a group that includes those who control an industrial sector that has for years stymied attempts to confront climate change — generally have the resources and mobility to keep themselves out of harm’s way, whether it’s societal upheaval or a slow-motion environmental catastrophe. If it takes an existential threat to their vacation homes and beachfront land to finally get them to join the fight to save the planet, that, at least, would be a positive aspect to the latest dismal climate news.

This American Opinion editorial is the view of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board. Send feedback to: opinion@wctrib.com.

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