Albert Slap: Assessing the Economic Risk and Costs of Climate Change

For the second successive August, Louisiana is getting hit hard by rain. Last year, it was three days of heavy rains that dumped 20-inches of rain or more across much of south central and eastern Louisiana. This year, rains associated with Hurricane Harvey have been soaking parts of the state for days, with more rains predicted as the storm prepares to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico.

The August 2016 floods and the floods developing now might not be directly attributed to climate change, but they separately show the influence of climate change. Both floods are at least partially the result of the warming of the Gulf of Mexico and of the atmosphere. Higher temperatures allow for higher humidity. Water from the Gulf evaporates more quickly filling the higher capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture. That moisture comes down as rain over land.

South Louisiana and south Texas are both flat. We do not drain quickly. Too much rain over too long a time results in flooding.

Climate change will affect the availability of mortgages and the cost of property insurance.

And here we are. This is the new normal.

Albert Slap is a former law professor and environmental attorney who recognized that there was no readily available means for individuals to make sense of the implications of climate science and the phenomena happening around us. His Florida-based, Coastal Risk Consulting, set out to solve that riddle by combining publicly available science and data resources with detailed elevation tools to help provide risk assessments for residential and commercial property owners.

Florida and much of the east coast of the United States have begun to experience tidal flooding — that is, day-time flooding not associated with storms or even rain. In this interview, Slap says that the late summer and fall are the times when the flooding is most pronounce due to the interplay of prevailing winds and the moon’s gravitational effect on tides.

Florida shares with Louisiana the problem of sinking land in the midst of rising sea levels. Mortgage bankers and insurance companies are taking note. Slap posts trade publication stories regularly on LinkedIn about how actuaries in each industry are beginning to change the way they view climate change and the risk and costs that will be associated with it. He believes that in the not too-distant future mortgages will be scarce for properties exposed to climate risk.

As Hurricane Harvey batters Texas, the National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30 (the end of the current fiscal year for the federal government). As those who weathered any of the disasters that have struck Louisiana and Texas in this century know, NFIP insurance is just about the only chance homeowners have to approach full recovery from these calamities. But, the program is billions in debt due to payouts made from storms here and elsewhere.

What will happen after September 30? Will Congress renew the act, even temporarily? What will happen in the flood next time?

Some in Congress want to attract private insurance companies into the NFIP. Insurance companies deal with risk. Climate change and climate change-induced disasters are taking on the look of certainty, not chance. How does the idea of risk figure into that? How much will it cost to get the coverage (if it’s available)? What are people living in coastal areas to do if the coverage is not available when they suffer losses?

Climate change is happening now and getting real for more people — even those who profess not to believe that it is man-made. Albert Slap has seen it coming. He talks about it in this podcast.

Daytime tidal flooding is increasingly common in communities on the Eastern Seaboard.