Strengthening the Climate-Proof writing and research team

Chelsea McInnis, writer for Climate-ProofHello Climate-Proof community! It’s me, Chelsea. I am super excited that David has asked me to join the Climate-Proof team as a contributing writer.

A recent migrant to California, I am now at the center of climate vulnerability – I’ve been through extreme drought, wildfires, heavy rains, detrimental early Tahoe snowmelt, and flooding. Living in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, and on the banks of the Sacramento River, I have witnessed the costs that extreme weather can impose on my community. I plan to bring Climate-Proof readers the resilience initiatives I am researching.

I graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in history and began my career working for organizations such as the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Museum of American Illustration. Years ago, I started my own history blog which led to further opportunities to contribute to a slew of websites as a freelance writer and editor.

Although working from home is ideal (pajamas 24/7), I always try to find an enjoyable part-time gig that get’s me up and out of the house. Which is how I met David, in Rhode Island, while he was in the throes of composing his book Climate-Proof Your Personal Finances as none other than…his barista. Now I’m on the other side of the counter (and country) and couldn’t be more thrilled to contribute to Climate-Proof.

Humans aren’t alone in migrating due to climate change

You may not be thinking about relocating yet,
but trees are already on the move.

Trees migrating because of global warming

Thirteen million of us are predicted to move inland and to higher ground in the coming decades to avoid the inevitable financial costs of climate change. As global temperatures increase, sea levels rise, and the severity of storms intensify, it is no surprise that North America is already in the midst of another great migration - and people are not the ones on the move.

A US Forest Service study found that 70 percent of tree species are showing range migration towards cooler conditions. Before you start envisioning the quick mobility of the Ents from The Lord of the Rings, know that real-life tree migration takes far longer. Even so, entire species are on the move. In fact, it is projected that heat-sensitive species such as New England’s maple, beech, and birch trees may be gone from the Northeast by 2100!

Can your hometown shield you from climate-related changes and costs? If not, maybe you should make like a tree and leave (pun intended). Our Where-To-Live Indicators let you input any Zip Code throughout the country to see data on a town’s potential to protect residents from energy and food price raises, weather-related costs, drought, taxes, and other predicted challenges.

Three ways to build climate-proof savings

The right time to save money?
It's when you have some.

Squirrel storing foodThese are the good times, right? Unemployment is low, stock markets and the dollar are way up, soon Washington will cut our taxes. And what do good news and high hopes tell us? Time to upgrade our car? Redo the kitchen? Take that big vacation?

They tell me the opposite. It's time to spend less, save more, get more acorns into the tree. Here's why.

First, the economic expansion is eight years old this month; few downturns have held off this long. Second, many big investors want to sell assets but are holding off for a few more months, hoping that Tax Reform will lower the capital gains tax on those sales. That investment sell-off could come suddenly, if the tax cut arrives or if investors conclude that it won't. Third, home prices are at record levels, a scary sign after the last recession.

But my main concern is that rising costs predicted from climate change - for flood infrastructure, food prices, disaster recovery, home and flood insurance, state and local taxes, and more - could make today the financial high water mark of our lives. Especially if we don't start saving more.

But where to put our savings? The stock market may be cruising for a fall, and bank rates are below inflation. Here are three ideas.

Invest in job skills. The payback in earnings using climate-proof skills - yours or your family's - can be big and long-term.

Invest in relocation. Some hometowns are naturally climate-proof; others are in the crosshairs of climate change costs. You spend money to sell up and move, but the payoff can be huge, including - believe it or not - in your federal income taxes.

Invest in remote working skills. The cost of living in big employment centers often outweighs the higher wages. Remote-working lets you vie for competitive earnings while living where prices are already low - and relatively safe from future climate costs.

I'll be detailing these recommendations in coming posts.

Tidewater film leaves climate change lingo at the door

Is this the documentary we’ve been waiting for?

Sure, I enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood. I appreciated Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Listening to Gore’s southern drawl as he walked his audience through the warming of our planet was earth shattering (literally), but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something a community could do to kick off local protective actions now. Films on climate change are a bit one-note. Most are long on causes and threats, but short on immediate protections and solutions (let alone discussion of personal costs). And there is always a polar bear.

Enter Tidewater, a new film directed by Roger Sorkin, which recently took home the Green Fire Award at the San Francisco Green Film Festival. You may notice something missing from the trailer for this documentary about sea-level rise in Hampton Roads, VA - it's the absence of the words "climate change," "global warming," and "carbon."

Sorkin hopes the film will appeal to viewers who tend to associate these words with liberalism. “It’s really intended to nationalize the story of Hampton Roads as a real national security concern,” Sorkin says. “Stories matter to us, and the building blocks are the words that you use to tell stories. Certain words press people's buttons and produce visceral reactions,” he says.

This documentary isn’t about how climate change is hurting the polar bears; it’s about how it's hurting us – hurting us now. The film is produced by the American Resilience Project, a non-profit founded to advance policies to help us adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Although streaming options aren’t available now, you can arrange for Tidewater to be shown locally. It could help you and other viewers engage your community to take protective actions on specific issues threatening you right now.

Do you have a favorite documentary on climate change? Let me know in the comments below!

When joining a solar garden, location is key

To lower your energy losses
stick close to transmission lines

Solar carport reduces transmission losses-As global temperatures climb, the demand for electricity is increasing, and solar is becoming one of the cheapest sources. As we pointed out a few weeks ago, many are turning to solar community gardens to climate-proof their energy costs. This can decrease your electricity bill, but many patches of land being used for solar panels may not be so efficient.

new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed the siting locations of 161 solar energy facilities in California. Researchers found that a majority of the solar sites were located in natural shrub and scrublands and less than 15% in developed areas.

Why should this matter to you? If your solar site is outside areas where people live, it may not be so cost-effective. The farther energy has to travel, the greater the energy losses (energy lost = reduced electricity credited to your account). And these new transmission corridors cost more to build, which raises your startup solar costs as well. Sourcing energy from an urban parking lot covered with solar panels is one way to stick closer to transmission lines and reduce energy losses. One solar carport installation at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ produces 8 megawatts of power, or enough energy to power 1,000 homes!

If you are considering making the switch to a solar garden, choose an installation in a dead-space area in your town, such as over a landfill, parking lot, or on a rooftop to help lower your transmission losses.

Climate costs up, federal protections down

Trump abandoning Paris is nothing
compared to Congress abandoning us.

Federal budget - Republican

Yes, Trump just sold out world efforts to fight increases in our long-term costs from warming. But in the next few months prepare for a much bigger betrayal of America's ability to protect itself. And most of us don't see it coming.

The administration's abandonment of the Paris Accord, the Clean Power Plan, and auto emissions standards all hurt the fight to reduce carbon emissions, the causes of warming. That's critical, especially for future generations, but even if emissions ceased today, the world will continue to heat up, building costly effects of warming, like stronger storms, drought, flooding, and health hazards over many decades. To counter those growing effects, we need to have local protections. This summer Trump's and Congress' budget could take those away from us too.

Consider FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund for temporary housing, debris removal, emergency protective measures, repair, replacement and restoration of disaster-damaged public facilities, and disaster unemployment assistance. Republican tax plans would cut the federal share of these costs in most disasters from 75-100% down to 25%.

What about the SBA’s Disaster Loans Program, which supply funds to help businesses, homeowners, and renters repair and replace damaged property? Republicans argue this program discourages us from buying commercial insurance.

If the Republican budget is passed, NOAA's advancing weather forecasting and modeling programs, as well as new satellite data gathering will be gone or heavily downgraded. Many local programs, like research and help for coastal communities guarding against storm surge and rising seas, would be eliminated entirely.

The list goes on: solar energy loans, requirements for climate impact statements on federal projects, most EPA programs to fight the effects of warming, Medicaid, dozens of federal initiatives to tackle here-and-now threats - all would be cut or eliminated.

We may be indignant (not to mention ashamed) as our government ducks out of the Paris accord and abandons the rest of the world. But we need to start resisting as they begin abandoning us.

Dodge growing commuting costs. Switch to carpooling.

Save money and connect with neighbors.
Find a rideshare network in your area.

Mobility Austin rideshareAs climate change erodes the comfort and convenience of driving, traffic congestion costs are expected to grow 50% by 2030 (costing the average American household $2,301 per year). Using a rideshare network could help you avoid the rising costs and hassle of commuting alone.

If you live in a smaller city like Austin, TX, rideshare transportation is not often used. With no problem parking downtown, using a personal car for drive-alone trips is simply what these city-dwellers do. But that's about to change as climate change continues to threatens roads, and a growing population makes commuting slower and more costly.

Movability Austin says the city’s transportation system is already at capacity during rush hours – and growth is coming to the city faster than new transportation facilities can be built. The group is improving mobility to, from, and within the downtown by working with companies and their employees to find carpools and other rideshare services already available - at far less cost than using your personal vehicle.

Does your town have a Transportation Management Association like Movability Austin? Locate your closest TMA by using this directory, and see what services they offer. In addition to using Uber or Lyft, try an online carpool service such as Carpool World, a free rideshare listing service that pairs you with other users seeking carpool companions. Save hundreds of dollars in transportation costs, reduce your commuting stress,  and climate-proof your future costs by making a carpool part of your daily commute.

Innovate4Climate: new climate finance ideas

Do you know a local startup that could use financial advice?
This conference may help.

Climate change will burden you with new costs and lifestyle disruptions. Your tax and insurance bills, food and transportation costs, and even your employment are all under threat from warming.

Today, the World Bank Group launches the inaugural “Innovate4Climate – Finance & Markets Week” in Barcelona, Spain from May 22-25th. The event brings together government, business, banking, and corporate finance leaders who are focused on shaping the next generation of climate finance and mobilizing investment for national climate action plans.

The event includes a two-day conference, workshops, and a networking and exhibition area that will accelerate climate-focused investment and solutions. The ‘Moving the Needle on Early Stage Clean Tech Financing’ workshop will address the hardships local startups face when they do not have access to financing or face too many constraints from the government (like with Chicago’s proposed urban agriculture zones). A discussion on how to unlock risk capital for startups geared towards climate challenges such as clean energy, water supply, and climate-smart agriculture may be of help to startups in your hometown.

Check out Innovate4Climate’s website (above) for more information or follow the official #Innovate4Climate hashtag on Twitter for the latest exhibition news. You can get ideas from the events in Barcelona this week that may help cut the costs of climate change in our town.

Avoid sea level rise. Raise your neighborhood.

The town raises the street.
Property owners raise the adjacent buildings.

Raising streets to offset sea level rise

I just visited Port Angeles, WA to see how they coped with flooding . . . back in 1914. Built on mudflats, it was common for the young seaport to flood with every rainstorm and high tide. Their solution: raise the waterfront area.

Concrete walls were built along each side of Front Street and its cross streets creating the retaining walls for large pools where the street had been. These pools were filled by sluicing dirt from the clay cliffs above the town and piping it into the pools. When filled, the row of dirt pools were covered with wooden planks (and eventually paved) to become the new street. Sidewalks were constructed on wooden pilings over the old ones. The street-raising process took only six months!

This left the buildings and old sidewalks far below street level. One-by-one owners over time raised or rebuilt their buildings to the new street level. In some places you can still walk around under the new sidewalks at the original street level.

Today in many communities along America's coastline, owners are considering how to protect their buildings from sea level rise. If you live in Savannah, Annapolis, Huntington Beach or another city where sea level rise threatens to flood historic neighborhoods (not to mention millions of newer structures), you might publicize the Port Angeles experience to your neighbors and town officials. What they did over a hundred years ago to make their waterfront safe from flooding could be a model for your actions today.

Corn prices are only going up

Plan ahead for the biggest threat to your food budget

corn-on-the-cob

Ray Gaesser, a corn farmer in Corning, Iowa, endured the effects of climate change last year when heavy rains made it more difficult to dry his crop. “We had to put [the corn] in our grain storage and run air through it at least for a few weeks,” Gaesser said, and the drying process led to higher energy costs.

Extreme weather over recent decades in corn-producing states like Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota has greatly hurt corn production. Following the severe drought farmlands went through a few years ago, heavy rains are now causing soil destruction, making it difficult for corn to thrive.

Monsanto says it's coming to the rescue. They invested more than $1.5 billion in research and development efforts last year to design better corn seeds that can withstand these extreme weather conditions. The catch - Monsanto seeds designed to combat climate change are considerably higher in price.

So let’s get this straight – Climate change hurts corn production, which raises corn prices, and Monsanto seeds boost corn production, but their high cost of seed raises corn prices? Sounds like a lose-lose situation. And corn is such a major pillar of the U.S. economy, a hike in its cost affects more than just our food containing corn. The price of meat (36% of U.S. corn yield is used to feed livestock) and fuel (40% is used to make ethanol) will both rise.

As warming and technology push up the price of corn (and you can do little to evade this crop staple) you can only plan ahead to leave room in your budget for higher food prices. Have you planned your household budget long term? Take advantage of the Budget Bookmark found within Climate-Proof Your Personal Finances and online, a budget template showing only the items most vulnerable to the effects of warming.