Climate Change and Retirement

By Tony Kendzior \ March 8, 2022

Retirement for many of is a 25 – 30-year trek into the future. And climate change is going to influence how those years are lived by many of us. And for the record, I first posted this in 2019, had it appear in the Gainesville Sun and decided it’s worthy of another blog post.

Here in Florida, we have 8,436 miles of shoreline. By 2050, experts tell us to expect 3 – 4 feet higher sea levels along the southeast coast. What will happen to people living there as storms appear with 10-15 foot storm surges and their lives get uprooted? Not to mention the pressure on existing ground water to get closer to the surface.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the following: In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10% of the total land area (not including Alaska and Hawaii). However, these same counties account for 40% of the total population of the US. The population density of shoreline counties is over six time greater than inland counties and growing. In the 40 years from 1970 to 2010, these same counties grew by almost 40%, to which you can add another 8% by 2020.

Some 860 million people, about 11% of the world’s 7.6 billion people, live in areas less than 33 feet above sea level. It doesn’t require a degree in oceanography to know seas pose a major risk to coastal populations, economies, infrastructure, and ecosystems around the world.

NOAA has a web site where you can enter an address, city or zip code, and see an image showing shoreline cities and counties. You can adjust the amount of sea level change and see what happens. If you’re curious about Miami Beach, click on this link: https://tinyurl.com/y2d8mj5c

You may now be asking what any of this has to do with retirement.

A successful retirement is more than having enough money. Where do you plan to live? Will it be a condo near the beach? How much do you plan to pay for it? Will you be able to afford homeowners insurance? Will you be forced to move if you become goofy?

Now that I’ve got you thinking about inland living, another climate change issue surfaces. It has to do with the availability of food. Chances are we’ll be better off than the rest of the world, but if the rest are hungry, we won’t escape economic, social and political pressures.

Several years ago, I discovered a geostrategic thinker and writer named Thomas P. M. Barnett. He’s written extensively about climate change and the nature of conflicts across the globe. He predicts that as this century evolves, the primary conflicts will be about the availability of food and fresh water.

Barnett asserts that the global capacity for increasing our food supply depends on two things: the weather and the health of agriculture in the US. That’s because of all the nations on earth, we have an abundant water supply coupled with vast areas of arable land. That will give us leverage over everyone, and some of those other folks are going to become desperate when they get hungry.

China has been in the news of late for trying to ‘re-colonize’ the African continent. Is it because strategically, they want a footprint that will help them feed themselves?

How are hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising sea levels going to feed themselves? We’re talking about people across the planet, not just the US, who will be moving inland and looking for somewhere else to live.

How will your life play out if you live in Charleston, or Houston or cities along southern California’s coast? What if you live in the coastal areas of India, or Malaysia, or Italy? Will you be able to immigrate to America and work to feed yourself and your family? What if you retire and have to leave your home in Boston? What if you’re unable to work and can’t move? Will you have enough money, after paying for healthcare, to keep yourself properly fed?

As a retirement planner, I tell people they should expect to live until age 100. At every step of the way of this multi-year trek into the future, you’re going to need shelter, food, health care and whatever else that brings joy to your life.

I have no idea how the next 30 years are going to play out. What I do know is that for those of us who reach retirement, new existential risks appear. It might be health issues, rising sea levels, paying for electricity to stay warm or cool, or having enough food.

Food costs money, and people to produce it. Will there be enough people willing to work in the fields of America? What will happen if we continue to throw up walls to limit immigration? Who will pay to maintain the infrastructure necessary to get this food to us? And then make sure it appears on store shelves in what will be a heavily populated stretch of inland Florida.