My Home is at Risk From Climate Change — Should I Stay or Should I Go?
You were either one of those people who had already stockpiled toilet paper when you saw where Covid was going, or you were one of those buying extra newspaper.
The ability to anticipate where a trend is taking us is fraught with complexity, and when it’s a trend that might directly impact the wellbeing of ourselves and our family then the stakes can become incredibly high.
Climate change is arguably the most complex trend of all — we know it’s here and that it’s only going to accelerate but predicting how it will impact us isn’t so straightforward.
I’m spending time unpacking this particular topic because I’m seeing more and more people, some of them close friends, make big climate-related decisions based on only partial understanding.
They’re selling their house and moving to the countryside
They’re even deciding not to have children
And I’m often being asked ‘where should we move to?’ in reaction to climate change.
The thing is, I simply can’t give a straightforward answer because it depends, depends, depends.
What I CAN do is give you a heap of purposeful questions that will help you make smart decisions that are right for you and your family. This set of questions relate specifically to your own home (whether you own or rent doesn’t matter) and should help you develop a better awareness of how climate change might pose a risk for where you live.
We’ll look at this complex topic layer by layer…
Firstly, climate change can impact us in numerous ways — some of them can have DIRECT impacts on our home, for example a climate-driven storm can rip our roof off; water restrictions due to drought might prevent us from saving our garden and it all dies (‘shoulda got those rainwater tanks!’); or a heatwave might be so intense that we can’t stay at home because it’s too hot.
[The climate risk examples shown in all of the following images are examples only and are NOT exhaustive]
The next layer of impacts can be indirect, and this is where the impacts get complex and numerous. An example might be the local power grid going down during a heat wave, so your local shops can no longer trade and their refrigerated food / stock spoils if backup generators aren’t in place. This indirectly affects you in that you can’t access their services, and also has a knock-on effect in your local community and economy.
Another example might be the main access road into your neighbourhood is flooded during a storm event, and whilst your home is ok you can’t leave (or enter) your neighbourhood because your only access is cut off — you’ve been indirectly impacted… some might argue that’s a direct impact but work with me here.
Scale of Impact, or Who is Best Placed to Deal With It?
The next layer relates to scale. Some climate risks are very localised to your home, like the roof being ripped off example above. Other risks are at huge scale — for example an extended and brutal heat wave impacts an entire region, even multiple States. Or sea level rise impacts an entire city or economy — especially when airports and seaports are compromised.
This is when we begin to realise that there are a number of potential direct climate impacts that we have little or no control over.
We can strengthen our home’s roof to better withstand a storm, but there’s not much we can do individually to ensure our only access road isn’t flooded — that would be the City’s responsibility. And at larger scale again the viability of our infrastructure, agriculture and water supplies is at such a scale that only State or National governments can manage.
So a critical point in this is that climate resilience for your home is a team effort — you may not be able to manage all of the risks on your own, and it requires that the City and higher levels of government are also part of your climate risk and adaptation response.
Using Layers of Maps to Organise Adaptation Roles & Responsibilities
Arguably the challenge of Adaptation is even more complex than Mitigation. This fractal approach of layered maps helps…
How Much Risk Can You Tolerate?
To avoid putting you to sleep I’m not going into the detail of how to work out how likely it is that a climate impact might happen or how severe the consequences are, and these diagrams don’t include those considerations (you can visit other posts of mine to explore these issues).
But I can prompt you to ask ‘where are we comfortable to draw a line between Direct and Indirect impacts?’.
What is our minimum functional home in the context of climate change impacts?
And here are the BIG questions: can we adapt to ALL of those climate risks below that line? Who’s responsible for those adaptations, who pays for them, and who does the work?
Is Adaptation Viable?
The thing is, designing adaptations is the easy part (I can say that because that’s what I do). In pretty much every scenario we can determine what adaptations are necessary to address a climate risk, we can predict with some certainty how likely it is that various climate impacts will happen, and we can anticipate what their consequences might be.
But as you might now realise from these diagrams, there are possibly some direct climate risks that you can’t afford to adapt to, or that the City hasn’t allocated the funding for (notice that I didn’t say they can’t afford it…).
Or, as I commonly find, no-one has developed an adaptation strategy for.
So in part answer to the question ‘Should I stay or should I go?’, it depends on whether or not you can address all of the risks that sit under your ‘minimum functionality’ line.
If you can’t adapt to any of those climate impacts and they actually happen — with the consequence being that your home is unliveable or your health, wellbeing or even lives are at risk, then leaving may be the only option.
One of my ‘spotting the trends’ conclusions is that if the City doesn’t step up to lead on climate adaptation then they are at significant risk of economic ruin.
- Climate change impacts range from direct to indirect, and from localised scale to large scale
- There may be direct impacts for your home that can only be addressed at larger scale — City or government
- Climate adaptation is a team effort and requires collaboration between all levels of government — everyone has a part to play, and adaptation at home may be unviable without this.
- The gap between what adaptations are necessary and what is affordable can be bridged — through innovative finance, re-allocation of capital, and re-prioritisation of infrastructure strategy
This is an instalment on this topic and doesn’t capture everything you need to consider, particularly when you’re deciding whether to ‘stay or go’.
The next chapters will explore timelines (who are you planning for), ‘resident stickiness’ (what things influence your appetite for climate risk), and neighbourhood prepping.