If you have watched the 2017 movie Baby Driver or any of the ten seasons of The Walking Dead, then you have probably seen the diverse landscapes of Georgia. With an estimated population of over 10 million, the Civil Rights Movement’s birthplace has not been spared by the effects of a changing climate.

Already, Georgia is averaging around 20 days of dangerous heat every year. Climate scientists project this number to have clocked over 90 by 2050. Georgians will remember the historic 2007 drought that cost the state’s agriculture industry a crop loss of $339 million. Yet, droughts of the future will have an even more significant impact on crop production with countrywide implications.

What’s more, the 100-year coastal floodplain is increasing; by 2050, this area will have increased from 650 square miles to over 900 due to the rising sea level. Almost half of Georgia residents live in wildfire-prone areas. They are at an increased risk of losing their homes and properties as climate change takes its toll.

Savannah Reeling under the Effects of Climate Change

Annual average danger day count in Savannah, Georgia, based on current emission trends. Source: Climate Central

The effects of climate change can be felt everywhere in Georgia, but few places have been as hard hit as Savannah, the oldest city in the state. The city is known for short winters and long, steamy summers. It is Georgia’s third-largest metropolitan area. It accounts for $220 million of the state’s total value of homes at risk of coastal flooding by 2050.

At present day, there are five more flooding events than the average number just 40 years ago. Given that the city’s waterfront is essentially its prosperity engine, this increase in flooding during high tide is a worrying trend. Yet, by 2045, scientists predict that the flood events will increase 10-fold, with 10% of those extensively affecting houses, businesses, highways, parks, and infrastructure.

There was a time when it was rare for Savannah to issue mandatory evacuations. That era seems to be passing if the mandatory evacuations issued in the last three years are anything to go by. These emergencies are increasing due to an increase in the intensity and frequency of coastal storms and sea-level rise.

Brunswick’s Poor

Socioeconomic variables in Brunswick, Georgia, expressed as a percentage of the highest U.S. value. In 2018, poverty and income inequality levels were higher than 26% and 37% of all U.S. counties, respectively. Source: Augurisk.

Climate change disproportionately affects the urban poor. The impact is quite evident in Brunswick, Georgia, where 30.4% of its population lives below the poverty line. Of the city’s 15,291 residents, 56.6% are black and account for most of its poor, who are at an elevated risk of adverse climate change impacts.

Current projections put the number of at-risk homes in Brunswick at 800 by 2045. The city is one of several coastal communities in Georgia that will be vastly affected by sea-level rise. Climate scientists project that the sea level will have risen by around one meter from its levels today by the end of the first decade in the 22nd century.

Georgia’s 100-mile Lifeline

Georgia’s economy is powered by extensive networks of transportation, energy, and shipping infrastructures, many of which are on its 100-mile coastline. Climate change is bringing with it heavier precipitation, higher temperatures, and sea-level rise, threatening to exert tremendous strain on the state’s economy.

For instance, Georgia’s $64 billion manufacturing industry makes up 10.98% of the state’s GDP. Any significant disruptions in the highway infrastructure can lower these numbers; Georgia’s manufacturing sector heavily relies on these highways for goods transportation. As climate change-related events become more frequent, so does the need for repairs and maintenance.

In many cities worldwide, infrastructure has suffered under-investment and neglect for decades. Today, it makes up over 60% of GHG emissions. There is a need to transform these infrastructure systems to combat climate change and embrace those that are more sustainable and resilient for the future.

In recent years, Georgia’s extensive rail system has been sustaining increased damage due to a growing number of hurricanes, extreme temperatures, as well as increased precipitation as a result of global warming. This is bound to cause a rise in the annual operational and maintenance costs, especially if no substantial steps are taken to adapt to the changing climate’s new realities.

Georgia has an average annual insurance cost of $684 for people who purchase their plans through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). As the risk of flooding becomes more apparent, it is expected that there will be a notable drop in the value of coastal properties and, potentially, a regional housing market crisis will ensue. The mortgage costs might exceed their home values for homeowners as rising flood insurance premiums become the norm.

In 2016 hurricane Matthew caused over $62 million in damage in Chatham county. Many homeowners were surprised to find out that they had to pay a 5% deductible before their insurance could kick in. That would mean the owner of a $200,000 home would be required to pay the first $10,000. Wind damage deductibles will increase as storms and hurricanes become a frequent phenomenon across the state.

Planning for Sea Level Rise in Georgia

As the reality of the rising sea level sets in, Georgia is counting the cost. Aware that failure to take action could wipe out wetlands, historic structures, and communities, the state’s leadership at various governance levels has been taking action.

Georgia plans to spend more than one billion dollars on solutions for the sea-level rise. The solutions that have been proposed include building seawalls, drainage improvements, and dredging projects.

The Coastal flooding hazard score at Tybee Island, Georgia, is severe. According to NOAA’s Intermediate-High scenario, by 2050, the county’s sea level is expected to rise by 1.41ft. The red color represents areas that frequently flood. Source: Augurisk.

In Savannah Harbor, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is working on a $973 million dredging project that will deepen the harbor. St. Marys is already rolling out a resiliency project that will cost more than $160 million. On the other hand, Tybee Island has adopted a seawall project and a number of drainage solutions that will cost more than $50 million.

Georgia is also using living shorelines as alternatives to bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardened structures. This approach to addressing coastal erosion has already been demonstrated through projects on Little St. Simons Island and Sapelo Island. The other natural approach to addressing sea-level rise is through habitat preservation. Georgia is conserving land and water across the state to protect areas that absorb wave energy, expend floodwaters, and sponge up storm surges.

Conclusion

Georgia has made significant steps forward towards climate change adaptation. That said, more still needs to be done. The state residents should take individual responsibility and find creative ways to combat the changing climate.

People looking to buy homes in Georgia must seriously consider the flood risk of the area they wish to live, including the cost of flood insurance and wind damage deductibles. Augurisk coastal flooding assessment is an excellent flood risk assessment tool you can use.

In addition to Georgia residents taking personal responsibility, the state legislators and policymakers need to do their part. They must pass new laws to combat climate change and find ways to help residents survive the effects of climate change that are already being felt.

Augurisk is a risk assessment platform for Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Societal Risks. We help people and businesses assess climate risks associated with their properties, so they can better prepare for the future.