How Climate Change Is Ruining Retirement In America

76-year-old Jay Gamel still talks about his Northern California home in the present tense, as if nothing happened. “The place is paradise by any measure,” says Gamel, who is semi-retired. “The mountains are beautiful, the surroundings are beautiful. It’s a postcard. “

For 26 years, Gamel had lived, no, reveled in his little redwood cabin in the Sonoma County town of Kenwood, where he edits a local newspaper twice a month. Gamel, who moved there from Chicago, thought he would never leave the small enclave known as Adobe Canyon, in the Mayacamas mountain range, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. “That place is everything to me,” he says. “It has been my life. It is the center of my being ”. California wildfires burn retirement dreams. Or it was, until last October, when hot, dry easterly winds known as Diablos sparked a fierce wildfire in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Known as the Glass Fire, the flames razed more than 67,000 acres of vineyards and destroyed more than 300 homes, including Gamel’s. “It’s a heartbreak,” Gamel says, sighing deeply and audibly trying to stay calm. He doesn’t mourn the loss of the house itself as much as his piece of lost paradise. “Everything is burned. My trees are gone, and those who have not left will have to go, ”says Gamel. “I know the earth will heal, but long after I’m gone.” Even with aggressive efforts to reduce climate emissions, climate-driven events like the one Gamel is facing are unlikely to change direction any time soon. And that’s changing retirement for many older Americans whose homes are, or will be, in jeopardy. Read: I would like to buy a house in a warm place near the beach for $ 350,000. Where should I retire? New ideas about the best places to retire “All trends are going the wrong way,” says Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Centers for Environmental Information. Regional climate impacts have become so common that lists of “best destinations for retirement” are beginning to take them into account. In a recent ProPublica article titled “Climate Change Will Force New American Migration,” Florida State University sociologist Mathew Hauer predicts that 13 million Americans “will be forced to move away from submerged shores.” One of the most insidious climate impacts is high-tide flooding or “sunny day” floods, when rising sea levels cause coastal regions to flood even without a storm-driven storm surge. It’s happening with increasing frequency along the lower Atlantic and Gulf shores, both magnets for retirees. Read: My husband wants to be by the ocean, but I lived in Katrina and I love the lakes, where can we (semi) retire and rent for $ 2,000 a month? Smith notes that there have been more extreme rainfall events since 2010 than in the previous three decades combined. A recent study by Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization, projects that the number of affordable homes threatened by chronic coastal flooding is likely to triple in the next 30 years. The Cost of Charleston Flooding to Retirees A popular retirement place that has seen more than its percentage of coastal flooding: Charleston, SC “And you wouldn’t know it if you were walking the streets today,” says resident Susan Lyons of 77 years old, on a nice day in late November. “It’s seventy-eight degrees, the sun is out, it looks like a piece of heaven.” However, that piece of heaven is losing its halo for Lyons. A former newspaper reporter, she moved there from Long Island, NY in 2004 to find her own haven for retirement. Since 2015, Lyons’ anxiety has increased with the floodwaters, as he has seen more frequent flooding from storms and high tides in his neighborhood, 10 blocks from Charleston Harbor. “I didn’t really get it until all of this started happening here in 2015 and 2016, that we really are at great risk.” You get it now, after two hurricanes and an extreme precipitation event sometimes known as a “rain bomb” flooded your neighborhood three times in two years. Lyons has had to replace the HVAC ducts under his home twice, at a cost of $ 15,000 to $ 16,000 each time. “My retirement security, I don’t know, has been threatened by this,” says Lyons, who notes that many of his neighbors are taking six-figure sums out of their retirement savings to keep their homes out of harm’s way. “They’re coming up all over town,” says Lyons. “I’m not going to do that. It’s a great investment, first of all, in both time and money.” Lyon’s biggest concern about the floods: “It’s getting worse. There used to be some water on the street. Now the beltway around the Peninsula is flooded, so it cannot be used ”. See: 2020 brought 22 weather disasters costing $ 1 billion or more and capped the warmest decade on record Sunny day flooding in Charleston has increased fivefold since 2010. Lyons says they effectively isolated her and her neighbors vital medical services. “There is a medical center about 10 blocks north of here and access is completely blocked when it rains a lot,” he says. “So if you have a heart attack, you have to take a boat.” These catastrophic events sometimes leave victims dependent on outside help. After the Glass Fire, Gamel temporarily took refuge with his family in Austin, Texas, having no idea how “temporary” it would be. When his California neighbors launched an outreach effort for him on GoFundMe, more than 500 donors reached out and raised more than $ 25,000. “I’m going to cry if I think about it,” says Gamel. He is devastated and grateful. After close contact with the 2017 wine country forest fires, Gamel quadrupled its insurance coverage. That helped this time, but he knows he can’t stay in loose ends forever. The fires will not go away. (California recently barred home insurers from removing policies in wildfire areas for a year.) The 2020 fire season claimed more than 4 million acres in California alone, crowning a series of increasingly aggravated years.

Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters in the US in 2020 NOAA

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that changing weather is a significant factor in the increasingly catastrophic wildfires of recent years. Seven of the 10 largest wildfires in California have occurred in the past four years. In 2017, the city of Paradise, California, a popular destination for middle-income retirees, was all but wiped off the map. Grassroots efforts aim to wake up government leaders State and local government officials are beginning to feel the heat from some residents concerned about the effects of climate change where they live. Starting with a small email list, Lyons started a grassroots group, since then nicknamed Groundswell Charleston, to bring his concerns to city officials. At first it was slow. “The powers that be here just ignored him,” he recalls. “It was not discussed at all.” The torpid response from local officials is not unusual, according to AR Siders, an assistant professor in the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy. “This is incredibly difficult because it is not included in ‘disasters’,” says Siders, of chronic coastal flooding. “It is not a big one-time event, it is slow progress.” That often puts federal disaster aid out of reach, leaving cities to fund solutions with their tax bases already extended. “I think most of us, even thinking people, if I can call myself that, were surprised by the dramatic effect that climate change is having,” Lyons says. “It seemed decades away. And when you’re between 60 and 70, you think, ‘Well, you know …’ ”Lyons says he had neighbors who had already left Charleston, worried that falling property values ​​might eventually jeopardize their long-term retirement plans. As for her: “I’m determined to stay,” she says. “Maybe I’m crazy, but I love where I live. But it does eat up your bank account. “See: Climate Change Is A Big Risk To America’s Financial System, Major New Bipartisan Report Says Jay Gamel Is Less Sure About His Own Future And Whether He Will Return To California Permanently.” I am now really faced with an open door, an open road in front of me and I don’t know where it will go. ”It is a familiar feeling to Gamel, the same one that brought him to California in the 1970s, exciting then, but overwhelming as he approaches his ninth decade. “I’m really up in the air,” he says. “I have no idea what I’m going to do. Now I have to find a life.” Craig Miller’s career in broadcasting and journalism spans more than 40 years, though since 2008, he has focused on monitoring climate science and policy. Miller launched and edited the award-winning Climate Watch multimedia initiative for KQED in San Francisco, where he remained as science editor until August 2019. Prior to KQED, he spent two decades as a television reporter and documentary producer on major market stations, as well as like CNN and MSNBC. When he’s not working, his favorite place is his kayak on a scenic mountain river or lake. This article has been reprinted with permission from, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved. More from Next Avenue: