'No Free Lunch' When It Comes to Coastal Resiliency

Apr 16, 2018

Sustainable Solutions Lab
Credit UMass Boston

Severe coastal flooding during storms in January and March of this year jolted Massachusetts residents and officials into an unwelcome awareness of just how vulnerable we are to rising sea levels. Last month, Governor Baker announced a 1.4 billion dollar bond bill to finance climate resilience efforts.


Now, UMass Boston has released an analysis that finds – not surprisingly – that that’s NOT enough. They say that near to mid-term adaptation measures for a portion of Boston, alone, will likely cost between one and two and a half billion dollars. They suggest a range of possible sources, including a carbon tax, a gas tax, increased insurance rates.


“It’s true that all of these are politically sensitive, but at some level we have to confront the issue that we are going to have to pay for resilience,” said David Levy, director for the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston. “It’s not free. There isn’t really a free lunch here. ”


One thing that could come out of a climate resilience bond is coastal buy-out programs, that would pay homeowners to turn over their flood-prone properties. Rebecca Kihslinger, a science and policy analyst with Environmental Law Institute, says such programs are becoming more common, as the costs of natural disasters rise.

But Massachusetts communities wouldn’t need to wait for a declared disaster to get started. The most recent federal budget boosted funding for FEMA’s Pre-disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which can help communities with the costs of purchasing coastal properties.


While buy-out programs are a political hot potato, Kihslinger emphasizes that they are usually voluntary, and there can be significant benefits to communities, besides the reduction in flooding costs.


“A lot of communities [..] have found opportunities,” Kihslinger said. “We’ve seen things like community parks, community gardens, some green infrastructure projects.”


Kihslinger says the most important thing is to plan ahead and make sure that the whole community is involved from the beginning. Perhaps the silver lining to this winter’s storms is that they’ve started a lot of conversations.