Rising seas, more intense storms and a change in the earth’s climate are causing plenty of problems across the Southeastern United States, as many people frustrated by recent hurricanes can attest.
But communities continue to build in places that are the most vulnerable to storm damage – and that needs to change, one University of South Carolina researcher says.
During a climate conference this week in Columbia, USC’s Robert Hartwig said the public and local governments need to get serious about the danger and expense of building in high-risk areas.
“The fundamental question was getting people out of harm’s way,’’ said Hartwig, an expert on risk and insurance who is a professor in USC’s Darla Moore business school. “One way to get them out of harm’s way is don’t let them get in harm’s way.’’
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Nonetheless, state and federal policies encourage development near the ocean, he said. The flood insurance program has been criticized as subsidizing coastal development because policies don’t reflect the true risk of building near the sea.
“We are absolutely addicted to coastal development run amok.’’
Hartwig’s remarks came on the opening day of a regional climate conference looking into how communities can adapt to rising temperatures, more extreme weather and surging sea levels. The conference, held every two years, is in Columbia for the first time after sessions in Charlotte. About 250 people are attending the conference at the Columbia Convention Center.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is to speak Wednesday on his experiences in the Holy City, which faces challenges with flooding even on sunny days as sea levels rise. Clint Shealy, an assistant city manager in Columbia, was slated to speak Tuesday as part of a panel on how communities find money to address-climate related problems.
Since 2015, the Carolinas have had their share of intense storms, flooding and hurricanes, which many scientists suspect is tied to climate change. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that industrialization has contributed to a rise in greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, which is causing an array of problems.
The Carolinas’ most recent bout of extreme weather occurred when Hurricane Florence drenched the area, flooding entire towns. Seaside homes sustained major damage, as did many in the interior of both states.
Many of the most costly hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred since 2000 because development has become so dense on the coast, said Chip Konrad, who is with the Southeast Regional Climate Center and the University of North Carolina.
That is a concern because stronger hurricanes with heavier rains can be expected in the future, Konrad said. Rising sea surface temperatures are fostering development of intense hurricanes, scientists say.
“This is really somewhat more a function of there being a lot more coastal development,’’ Konrad said
Hartwig, director of USC’s risk and uncertainty management center, said communities need to take tougher stances on high-risk development, even when the prospects of jobs are dangled as a reason to allow it. He said politicians should commit taxpayer money to buy out homes that are in flood plains or to pay to elevate buildings at risk of flooding.
Hartwig’s research focuses on insurance markets and risk management.
“I, for one, really wish that I would see governors and presidents visit vulnerable areas — before disasters happen — and dole out the equivalent amount of cash that they are doling out afterward,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, it gets you a lot of (support) to fly down afterward, and open the federal and state coffers.’’