As our planet steadily warms and the climate changes, one thing is for certain — it is incredibly hard to predict what the long-term future holds.
There is a ton of data that shows Earth’s climate is warming, but the change is occurring so rapidly that the existing data doesn’t necessarily provide scientists with a way to make 100 percent accurate predictions. Plus, we can hardly get weather predictions right for the next week, so imagine trying to make accurate predictions for decades into the future.
All of that said, there are six predictions that we can generally make regarding the future of our planet and our money.
1. Water will cost more
Water is, hands down, our most precious resource on this planet. Scientists predict that potable water may become increasingly rare in the next 50 years — at least, based on our current climate models and methods for collecting and storing water. At least half the world’s population relies on groundwater for personal consumption (with urban demand expected to grow by 55 percent by 2050, according to National Geographic), and groundwater is supplied by precipitation.
Global warming is expected to increase downpours, so one might expect that our groundwater supply should be in good shape. However, that’s not the case. Groundwater builds up slowly over time, through melting snowpack and steady precipitation. If climate forecast models are accurate, then it’s possible that the next 100 years will see northern hemisphere snowfall amounts decline dramatically (between 10 percent and 30 percent, according to National Geographic). Increased precipitation, when it comes in the form of monsoon-like deluges that are too voluminous to be absorbed, simply causes flooding.
In addition, warmer global temperatures will contribute to problems with water quality, according to both the Union of Concerned Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Rising seawater in low-lying coastal areas can contaminate freshwater reserves. In areas of drought, on the other hand, concentrations of freshwater contaminants are expected to increase, which can lead to potential health concerns for humans.
Precipitation deluges can also cost municipalities millions if excess stormwater floods damage sewage treatment plants (as happened in Seattle in February 2017). This can lead to a costly backup — or in the case of the Seattle treatment plant, millions of gallons of raw sewage pouring into Puget Sound. All of this makes it extremely likely that the cost of potable water will get much higher in the next 50 years or so.
2. Energy will cost more
North America has enjoyed a boom in cheap oil and natural gas in recent years, thanks to fracking, a means of extracting oil and gas from rock shale using pressurized water. But as climate change causes freshwater supplies to dwindle and water costs to rise, expect to see either a falloff in fracking-related production of fossil fuels or a drop in demand.
Other means of power generation may come under threat, too. Many of the country’s rivers may actually see less water flow due to shifting precipitation patterns and accelerated evaporation rates. Less water flowing in our rivers will mean less water to power hydroelectric dams. Did you know that water is used to cool coal and nuclear power plants, too? Without access to that water, power brownouts are a possibility in many areas, especially during times of peak power usage.
Fortunately, advancements in green technologies like solar and wind energy production (coupled with new efforts to manufacture batteries for home storage of electricity) promise possible relief. These technologies, along with microgrids — local energy grids that can disconnect from main power grids and run autonomously — can also help alleviate problems that arise from the aging of the already hopelessly outdated U.S. utilities infrastructure.
3. Food may cost a lot more
A warming climate is a mixed blessing when it comes to food production. Warmer weather and higher levels of carbon dioxide can mean happier crops and larger yields, but that’s assuming that new diseases and pests don’t also thrive on the warming conditions. Because the cost of food depends on so much more than crop yields, it’s very difficult to say how food prices may rise in the future.
According to National Geographic, some crops’ yields will increase, while others may see a significant drop. Among the predictions scientists are making:
- Corn yield may decline by as much as 20 percent in the Midwestern United States, and 16 percent in Brazil. And if the cost of corn and other basic cereals rises along with the cost of water, the cost of meat production will also rise.
- Potato farmers in northern Europe may expect an increase in production, whereas farms farther south will become increasingly drought-prone.
- West and East Africa may support more industrial agriculture, but China and India are expected to experience massive losses of arable land.
As the climate continues warming, Americans may see a serious shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables, causing price hikes. California produces the vast majority of the fresh produce eaten in the United States, including citrus fruit, artichokes, broccoli, nuts, plums, and tomatoes. The state’s vast farmlands are expected to suffer from more frequent droughts and heat waves as the climate continues warming.
Seafood is also likely to become rarer and pricier as rising carbon dioxide levels cause oceans to acidify and harm or kill off species like salmon.
4. Flood prone real estate may lose value
Temperamental weather is one thing, but the warming atmosphere and oceans are also giving rise to more intense and numerous hurricanes and other ocean-centered storms.
The tempests, combined with rising sea levels, are expected to devalue coastal property significantly over the next 50 to 100 years. According to the National Ocean Service, in 2010, 39 percent of the U.S. population lived in counties directly on the shoreline, with another 8 percent expected to join them by 2020. Consumers who own properties right up against the coast face not only physical dangers from rising sea levels, but also increasing costs, particularly for homeowners and flood insurance. You can expect to see premiums and deductibles rise in areas affected by climate change-related flooding.
It has taken some time for the U.S. real estate world to react to the predictions about climate change, perhaps because North America hasn’t experienced as much climate change-related damage as initially predicted (or perhaps because 60 percent of Americans don’t believe that climate change will affect them personally, according to research from Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication). However, changes are taking place. New York Times data shows home sales have dropped about 7.6 percent in high-risk flood areas of Miami-Dade County, even though home sales have increased 2.6 percent nationally.
5. Homeownership will cost more
Real estate agents like to say that there are three factors to consider when buying a home: location, location, location. Well, it’s more true now than ever. While homeowners previously considered issues like neighborhood safety, the quality of the local school district, or local amenities, now homebuyers will also have to factor in issues like: Will my home be swept away in a freak flood? Are forest fires becoming a possibility in this area? The answers could point to significant dangers or at the very least, higher costs.
Buying a home in an area that is negatively affected by climate change will affect more than your mortgage options and your insurance: You may also pay a fee just to live dangerously. Homes built in unincorporated fire-prone areas, for instance, may be charged an annual fee to help pay for firefighting efforts. This has already been proposed in Washington State.
6. Health care costs will continue to grow
Anyone who has been to Beijing or Bangkok knows how terrible air pollution can affect your health. From asthma to emphysema, a more polluted atmosphere (which is currently a huge contributor to our warming climate) can mean a host of new health issues.
Warmer weather, combined with higher levels of carbon dioxide, can also cause plants to vigorously produce more pollen — meaning worsening symptoms for people with allergies.
And a wetter, warmer climate encourages the spread of insects like mosquitoes, which carry deadly diseases. Speaking of insects, the bark beetle that is killing off vast swathes of forest in the Western United States and Canada is creating so much dead wood that it’s contributing to larger, deadlier forest fires in the dry summer months. Those, in turn, further hurt asthmatics and people with other pulmonary issues.