Climate Change and Your Retirement

Old man and wife at beach wearing yellow hats

Photo by Brett Meliti on Unsplash

If you are like most people in their 20s and 30s, planning for your retirement means maxing out your 401k contributions at work. You might have an IRA account too. Maybe even real estate. You might be consulting a financial planner who tells you that you are on track for your target investment amount.

It won’t do you much good if your house is underwater, if your city runs out of water, or if the economy (and your stock market investments) totally collapses under the weight of climate migration.

Climate change has measurable effects already, but by 2060 the effects will be painful. ProPublica and New York Times Magazine just finished a multi-year climate modeling project. They are publishing the results in small increments. The big picture is too overwhelming to take in. I read through the modeling of the United States changes and of Latin America’s changes today.

For many, the biggest takeaway will be this: Think ahead if you are buying a home and settling down. It takes decades to build strong community support systems. You don’t want to be isolated in your old age. You will want to be where your family and friends are. So plan for climate change now, and arrange your life and location accordingly.

Here are a few important bits of insight regarding location.

Do Not Plan on Retiring to Florida or Arizona.

Florida will not only be very hot and hurricane-prone. The ground is sinking, the salt content in the drinking water is rising, and the sea is taking over the coastline. You won’t want to live in Florida by 2060.

Arizona, on the other hand, will just be too scorching hot. You won’t be able to survive the outside temperatures half the year as an old person. And the energy costs will escalate so much that air conditioning would destroy your retirement savings.

East Coast Beach Houses Will Flood

Unlike California, where mountains slope down straight into the ocean, the East Coast shore is made of sandbars and barrier islands and miles and miles of low elevation swampland. All of that swampland will be reverting to the ocean at least part of the year by the end of the century.

Real estate in Charleston, SC — currently a pricy and upscale investment — will be a death trap. Wilmington, NC, will be similarly difficult. Last year when hurricanes dumped a bunch of rain on the state, the city got cut off from services for weeks. Scrappy young people might be able to survive their house flooding and electricity being cut off for a week or two every summer. Will you want to deal with that when you are in your 80s? No. You won’t.

Central America Won’t Be An Option

Currently, luxury retirement communities in Central America are a cheap option for more adventurous US retirees. But that assumes a level of political stability that will likely disappear, even in traditionally solid countries like Mexico, unless we take drastic action between now and 2040. Even if Mexico and other Caribbean states do maintain strong government structures, the heat indexes and hurricane hit rates will be brutal.

North Dakota Might Be Nice

For the last century, retirees from the Midwest have migrated to the South to get away from brutal winters. But as the winters get milder up north and the summers get vicious down south, states like North Dakota, Michigan, and Minnesota could be attractive retirement locations.

Missouri Will Be Miserable

The heat won’t be the primary problem. The humidity will be the issue. You can survive 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) just fine if it’s dry heat. But with humidity over 70%, it starts to feel like Florida’s swamps. Your chance of heatstroke goes up.

Older people are more susceptible to heatstroke. So, if you want a retirement where you can do outdoor activities, you will want to be somewhere cooler or drier than Missouri.

For Mountains, Go East Not West

The Appalachians might start to look pretty attractive. Elevation will mitigate the heat. They get plenty of rain, so you won’t be worrying about water shortages. And with all the rain, they have very few massive forest fires. Contrast that to the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Nevada where fires already rage every summer and firefighters are hard-pressed to find enough water to put the blazes out.

Hobby Gardens Might Not Make Food

Lots of old people get into gardening. Some move out to the countryside and buy a nice tract of land. I know one former professor who planted a vineyard and is now in the wine-making business. All of that is fun and all, but it’s going to get pretty hard in the next few decades.

The ideal farming zone will migrate north. Currently, it hovers across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Nebraska. Depending on how bad things get, it will either move up to New England and the Midwest, or further up to our most northern states and some of Canada.

There are always exceptions — pockets of high elevation land, an area nicely irrigated by a river, a type of crop that loves the heat. Just plan ahead if your dream of old age bliss involves a luscious garden. My guess is good farming land will see a price increase.

The Great Flip

Retirees moving north. The Appalachia as a desirable property. Florida as an impoverished swampland. Million-dollar beach houses flooded and rotting.

If it seems weird and dystopian, it’s because it is. But that’s where we are in our climate crisis right now. We should absolutely do everything we can to slow down (dare I even say stop) our carbon emissions and the climbing temperatures. But in the meantime, we need to get savvy about planning our futures.

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