Reacting to Climate Events: a Thought Exercise

Imagine yourself living through any of the following scenarios:

Your California home has been destroyed by a mudslide, which appears to be an unavoidable act of nature. But upon closer review, you recognize that man-made events and acts of negligence may have initiated an event that would not otherwise have taken place. These may include insufficient building codes, poor city planning, or a municipality unwilling to take action against corporations that ignore climate change risks and recklessly release carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to the risk of wildfires and consequent soil instability. Most important, this event may have been precipitated by a city government, corporation, or construction company that actively withheld information from homeowners and the public—information that might have been useful or life-saving.

You live in a small town in Arkansas, and after a series of relentless natural disasters along the Texas coast, your town has experienced an unprecedented influx of Texas migrants. In a haste to both welcome the migrants and profit from their arrival, city building codes have been loosely enforced and reckless construction has generated a flooding hazard in your area and steeply diminished the value of your home.

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You have invested your business profits in municipal bonds offered by a major coastal city undergoing an economic boom. Later you discover that the bond offerings failed to mention a severe and imminent flooding risk along the coast. Studies indicate that sea levels on the coast are rising rapidly, and there is an 87 percent chance that many of the economic engines of the city will experience billions of dollars in storm damage over the next five years.

Everything is fine. You live in a suburban home 30 miles from the nearest coastline, and when you purchased your house, you were shown no evidence that the building stood on a flood plain. Your home inspection revealed no risk, your mortgage provider requires no flood insurance purchase on your part, and you have no concerns of any kind. The coastal city 30 miles away may experience more intense storm surges over the next few years, but this does not concern you. You live on a quiet cul-de-sac at the foot of a shady wooded slope. You can walk to work.

In each of these scenarios, including the last one, what would you do next? What if you discovered that specific information could have protected you from loss or harm, but that information was withheld from you for any number of reasons? What action would you take if you faced the same scenario again in the future?

We like to propose these types of thought exercises, since they help us map out the vast implications of climate change and the impact of a warming planet on the way people live, work, plan, invest, and interact with others. Join us in our mission to connect the dots between predictable and unpredictable events and protect those who may stand in the path of harm.