So when the going gets tough, how long do people stick it out. The following discussion is based around the Hurricane Sandy + global warming issue, but could be extended to any number of scenarios where the danger has a reasonable time frame of recurring.
Can We Predict When People Will Abandon the Jersey Shore?
David Levitan, Discover magazine, 20 March 2013 (no hat tip)
Diamond City, North Carolina, is not actually a city, in that no one actually lives there. People did live there, though, back in 1899. That was when a major hurricane hit the community, on a small barrier island near Cape Hatteras. Homes were destroyed, animals were killed, and graves were uncovered or washed away in the storm according to a conservation group in the area. By 1902, all 500 residents in Diamond City had picked up and left.
The people there didn’t have computer climate models, or rapidly rising seas, or any understanding of increasing storm vulnerability; they just had a desire not to deal with what they assumed would be a constant problem. That problem, of course, is one that anyone living on the East Coast is confronting, especially with the waters of Hurricane Sandy still slowly receding from our coastal consciousness. The question is, when should people in New Jersey, Long Island, Maryland, and elsewhere start thinking about leaving behind their own versions of Diamond City?...
Straw that breaks the camel’s back
McNamara says that locales are particularly vulnerable to desertion if the economics aren’t good to begin with. “Right before [a major] storm the financial returns on their investment are just barely overwhelming the costs of being there, but then the storm comes,” McNamara says. “That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Presently the model paints a general picture, but the researchers are working on adapting it for use in specific communities, essentially predicting when certain coastal property has negative value and the residents simply get up and leave. In general, though? Sea level rise of 10 mm per year could send some of America’s coastal residents running inside of 50 years from now.
It goes on to note that government disaster aid tends to extend the amount of damage that people are willing to accept in their exposed positions.
Note that this is a huge issue further south. North Carolina, Florida, and the Gulf Coast States in particular have seen a lot of expensive damage over the last few years, and are some of the most frequent direct landfall hits for major hurricanes- North Carolina sticks out further into the Atlantic than South Carolina or Georgia. That the coastline is a popular retirement destination still boggles my mind. When I was younger, I always figured that the large homes near the shore in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (leveled by Hurricane Hugo) were the second homes of very wealthy people. It never occurred to me that someone whose earning years were behind them would risk most of their nest egg in such an exposed location.