NASA climate scientist Mika Tosca explains how more wildfires and more flooding will spell big trouble for properties around the world in the coming decades.

  • Rising seas threaten 1.9 million homes nationwide, and the area at risk of wildfires is poised to expand between 100 and 700 percent over this century, due to climate change.
  • However, the increased installation of clean energy and climate awareness can help us avoid a 'tipping point,' according to a NASA scientist.

LOS ANGELES — More wildfires, more flooding, millions of lost homes and people displaced.

These are just some of the more certain outcomes of human-induced climate change, and all three will spell big trouble for properties around the world and the United States in the coming decades — including coveted luxury houses along the U.S. coasts and in California.

That’s the bad news delivered by Mika Tosca, a climate scientist at NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, during her talk today before 500-plus attendees at Inman Luxury Connect in Los Angeles.

“We’re likely to see rising sea levels threatening coastal development,” Tosca said. “A huge proportion of the United States and global population lives within five miles of the coast.”

Slide on sea-level rise from scientist Mika Tosca’s presentation at Inman Luxury Connect 2017. Credit: Mika Tosca/Union of Concerned Scientists

It’s not just the slow and steady rising of the seas that the real estate industry should worry about. “It’s actually from storm surge and high tides,” Tosca explained, highlighting Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma as some recent examples where even parts of cities not usually vulnerable to coastal flooding were flooded.

Areas especially at risk of sea level-rise are those within three feet or fewer above sea level — as the sea level is expected to rise at least three feet by the end of the century. California, Louisiana, Florida, New York and New York City were some areas Tosca singled out where properties are at risk of rising sea levels.

A recent Zillow report found that nearly 1.9 million homes across the U.S., including some 33,000 homes in Miami and nearly 32,000 in New York City, would be underwater if sea levels rose six feet, which is a higher-end projection for the year 2100.

Zillow seal-level rise map

Miami housing risks due to seal-level rise in a 2017 Zillow report. Credit: Zillow

New York City housing risks due to seal-level rise in a 2017 Zillow report. Credit: Zillow

Another Zillow report found that coastal cities have in recent years seen the greatest increase in “$1 million neighborhoods,” those where 10 percent or more of the homes are worth $1 million-plus.

Tosca also noted the recent heat wave experienced in Los Angeles over the past week, with temperatures rising to 20ºF over seasonal averages in some places — to a whopping 101ºF in Woodland Hills — as an example of what to expect.

“That’s something we’ll likely be seeing much, much more going forward,” Tosca said, citing a study from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies showing that extreme cold days have become rarer since the 1950s, while extreme hot days have become more common.

“Unfortunately, also, hitting home here in California, this is probably going to mean more forest fires,” Tosca said, later adding, “The amount of fire that is projected to increase in a warmer world is an increase of anywhere between 100 percent and 600 to 700 percent, and that’s just with 1ºC. And if we’re projected to see 6ºC of warming, you can imagine what’s going to happen.”

Slide on wildfire risk due to climate change from scientist Mika Tosca’s Inman Luxury Connect 2017 presentation. Credit: Mika Tosca/Union of Concerned Scientists

The audience of real estate professionals from around the world gathered at the historic, old-Hollywood glam Beverly Hills Hotel and listened with rapt attention to Tosca’s dire warnings of the near-future, many holding up their smartphones to take photos of Tosca’s presentation deck projected on big screens.

The contrast between Tosca’s bleak predictions and the opulent setting, with everyone dressed in fine suit jackets and dresses, was stark. The scientist spent a good portion of her talk and subsequent Q&A with host Brad Inman helping explain all the data that supports climate change.

Image of NorCal fire devastation. Credit: California National Guard/Flickr/CC-by-2.0

Tosca noted that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas released by burning common fossil fuels like coal and gasoline, traps radiation from the sun in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the global temperature — about 2.2º F or 1.8º C over the last approximately 250 years, according to recent data. And the Earth is poised to warm further still, another 1 to 6ºC (1.8 to 10.8ºF) by 2100, according to projections.

However, Tosca was not all doom and gloom. She pointed to previous times when governments around the world came together to solve environmental crises by enacting new treaties and regulations, such as the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which reduced the size of the hole in the ozone layer.

Tosca advocated that attendees request access to more low-carbon, green energy in their neighborhoods, and said trends of fewer coal plants and more clean energy installations such as wind and solar were encouraging.

“The concept of unfettered growth and sustainability don’t have to be decoupled, they can go together,” Tosca said.

Email Carl Franzen

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