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Water Sentinels:
Protecting Coastal Communities from the Effects of Climate Disruption

More and more people have been moving to our nation's coastal areas to live, but coastal communities are likely to face severe challenges in the years ahead. The Sierra Club has joined a diverse coalition of environmentalists, consumer advocates, taxpayer groups, free market think tanks, insurance companies, and reinsurance associations to advocate for policies to protect vulnerable coastal communities. Find out more about the coalition at

Climate scientists agree that:

  • Sea levels have been rising and are expected to rise 7 to 23 inches by the year 2100.
  • Hurricane winds speeds could increase 2 to 13 percent.
  • Rainfall associated with hurricanes could increase 10 to 31 percent.

This means that more coastal residents and their property will be at risk.

Reducing Risks

In addition to reducing our climate-disrupting carbon pollution, we can take commonsense steps to reduce risks to coastal residents.

First, we need to restore our coastal wetlands and increase protection for barrier islands. These natural areas provide the first line of defense for communities against hurricanes. We need to fund coastal restoration programs and ensure that our remaining wetlands and streams, which help absorb floodwaters, are protected.

Local officials need to make smarter decisions about where to allow development in light of the expected effects of climate disruption. It's irresponsible to allow homes and businesses to locate where they are likely to be in harm's way. In addition, we need to ensure that federal policies don't subsidize or provide incentives for people to build in areas prone to flooding and storm surges.

For existing coastal communities, much can be done to make homes more resilient and better able to withstand higher winds and floodwaters. Strengthening and elevating homes can better protect people, and we should provide targeted assistance to low-income residents in existing communities to strengthen their homes. This approach can help protect people and property. It's also much more economical to strengthen homes now than to repair or replace them after a hurricane.

Push for Real Solutions

Expanding the existing National Flood Insurance Program to cover wind damage, or creating a federal catastrophe fund, will do nothing to actually reduce risks faced by coastal communities.

Just as the federal flood insurance program has failed to reduce flood damage, adding wind insurance or creating a new federal catastrophe-insurance fund will fail to reduce property damage from wind. Instead, these approaches would provide a perverse incentive to encourage development in risky coastal areas. That's not the right way to protect people and property, and it would expose taxpayers, including those who do not live in at-risk coastal areas, to significant financial costs.

When it comes to addressing natural catastrophes, we need to recognize the high and growing risks to communities in coastal areas and take action to reduce those risks, rather than simply spreading the costs of catastrophes among a larger number of people.

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