Build the Walls – the Cost of Rising Seas

June 22, 2019

As more and more Republicans dare to admit the obvious, that climate change is happening, we hear assurances that we’re simply going to “adapt”.

One adaptation often suggested is to “be more like Holland”, build dykes and seawalls, and, poof, no more problem. Next time you hear that from your GOP rep, ask him how exactly the “free market” economy is going to finance those sea walls.
Another example of privatized profit and socialized risk. You’ll pay for all of this.


Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common in the United States with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration listing 14 separate billion-dollar incidents in 2018 alone. With coastal communities at high risk from rising sea levels and storms caused by global warming, a new report shows just how desperate the situation has become. 

Even though estimates about rising sea levels vary, the Center for Climate Integrity has published an analysis which estimates that the U.S. will have to invest $416 billion in constructing seawalls between now and 2040. At state level, Florida is expected to have to spend $76 billion on seawalls over the next two decades with while Louisiana will have the second-highest bill at $38 billion. 

When it comes to the cities at the greatest risk, Jacksonville in Florida will have to spend $3.5 billion improving its storm-surge defenses while New York will have a $2 billion outlay and Virginia is expected to pay $1.7 billion. Galveston in Texas will have the fourth highest bill of any city with $1.1 billion which equates to $21,282 for each of its residents. 

That begs the question: who is going to pay for half a trillion dollars worth of seawalls? It quickly becomes obvious that most cities will have trouble paying, particularly considering Galveston’s hefty bill per inhabitant. That means many will have to turn to federal funding, with Staten Island setting a recent example. It is building a five-mile seawall which is supposed to withsand a 300-year storm. It is expected to cost $615 million with $400 million being covered by federal funding. Considering the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy which caused 13 deaths and $19 billion in economic losses, an expensive but effective seawall can prove a wise long-term investment.

But seawalls don’t save Miami, because South Florida is built on porous limestone & the water just bubbles right up through it.

Watch this video

13 Responses to “Build the Walls – the Cost of Rising Seas”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Thanks for the (cynical) laugh of the day. Don’t forget to add in all the $$$ that will need to be spent along the rivers of the interior to allow us to “adapt” to the ever-increasing rainfall and flooding there. Also add in all the $$$ that will be needed to “support” the farmers who are having their land and crops destroyed by the water. Maybe Biden and the other “old guys” will also want to spend a lot of $$$ on CCS so that we can keep burning coal.

    Not to worry about where all that $$$ is coming from though—we can save a lot by cutting social Security, Medicare, public education, science research, and all those other “socialist” boondoggles. Three cheers for the greedy rich!

    (PS “dyke” should probably be spelled with an “i” in this context)

  2. Graham Jeffery Says:

    Do these $ figures include the cost of maintaining and repairing these sea walls? A strong storm can do an extraordinary amount of damage, even if the main structure holds. I think many smaller communities will have to be abandoned to sea-level rise and coastal erosion because property values won’t be high enough to justify the expenditure of construction.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Do these $ figures include the cost of maintaining and repairing these sea walls?

      Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahahahah!

      I think many smaller communities will have to be abandoned to sea-level rise and coastal erosion because property values won’t be high enough to justify the expenditure of construction.

      As Richard Alley pointed out, this will be one of the extra costs we’ll be paying: Communities will build walls to fit their budgets, then after spending money on something they’ve convinced themselves will protect them for many decades, will be devasted when a flood that’s just over the top of the walls happens in, say, ten or twenty years.

      Spoiler alert: The poor will suffer the most.

      • Graham Jeffery Says:

        Rhymes… You’ve hit the nail on the head.

        I’ve seen enough docs on TV about coastal erosion in France and England to know the best solution is…
        1. Move well inland
        2. Say goodbye to the landscape of your youth.

  3. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Sea walls are not going to help Miami. The limestone will let the water through underneath. This applies to a big chunk of Florida, not just Miami.

    • jerrydogood Says:

      Miami has a land subsidence problem. It has a government agency to deal with it. The land is subsiding due to pumping of fresh water and diversion of surface waters. Ocean rise is not the actual cause of Miamis flooding problems.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        JerryDG’s two comment here show him to be a denier—-subsidence is NOT a major problem in Miami, and quoting tidal gauge data is something that most deniers gave up on long ago. Don’t waste our time with tired old BS, Jerry—-try to come up with something new (and good luck finding anything that says anything other than that Miami is doomed).

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Miami has a land subsidence problem.

        Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Factually incorrect. False.

        The City of Miami is built on porous limestone. It is not subsiding. Satellite altimetry confirms that.

        The separate, smaller City of Miami Beach is built on the shift-prone sands of barrier islands, where wells would only give you salt water.

        Please tell me your source of this misinformation, so I can track it down and kill it.

    • speleophile Says:

      Porous limestone can be sealed at least temporarily by injecting grout. The basic technique dates back to the 1890s. I expect it will be used along with seawalls to extend the useful life of some areas of Miami.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        We’re going to GROUT the entire underpinning of South Florida?
        Why not waterseal and gorilla glue?

  4. jerrydogood Says:

    NOAA tidal gauge data shows ocean rise trends of 3 inches in the next 100 years. All that money for a 3 inch higher seawall?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      NOAA tidal gauge data shows ocean rise trends of 3 inches in the next 100 years.

      Please tell me where I can find a tidal gauge that reports future sea level rise.

      All that money for a 3 inch higher seawall?

      Storm surge heights will be growing at a much faster rate than the sea level itself.

      In any case,
      (1) Sea walls don’t work on those cities which are built on porous limestone.
      (2) Sea walls that are built on subsiding coastlines have to take into account any local ongoing subsidence, defensible perimeters and expected local storm conditions.
      (3) No one predicts as little as 3 inches of SLR over 100 years. That’s silly.

  5. chucksterweb Says:

    Climate Change Isn’t Only Changing the Course of History, It’s Making History Itself Harder to Study
    It could ruin archeological sites before we get the chance to study them

    Interesting article in Mother Jones. Not the most important issue but nonetheless…It reminds me of the fact that Acid Rain from coal fired power plants doesn’t just destroy lakes and streams, it also dissolves marble. Another serious threat to our cultural relics.

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