The 1 Percent Victims of Climate Change
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because melting ski slopes are a bitch.
By Laura Secorun Palet
Henry Clarke is a young, sexy ski instructor living by the slopes of Villars-Sur-Ollon, a swanky ski resort in Switzerland. His life is aglow with picturesque landscapes and wintertime sports, pretty ski students and après-ski extracurriculars. But don’t get jealous just yet. Clarke could soon be a refugee.
Of climate change, that is. In the Swiss Alps, temperatures are rising three times faster than in the rest of Europe, so glaciers and ski slopes are endangered species. And as the snow melts so does the cushy lifestyle the area provides. Clarke and his jet-setter skiing clients may, ironically, be left out in the cold. “I am scared I will no longer have a job in 10 years,” he says.
When we talk about global warming and its tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts and concomitant catastrophes, we naturally think of the poor and the displaced, particularly in developing countries. To be sure, those are the people who are disproportionately and most tragically affected. But that doesn’t mean the 1 percent is off the climatic hook. If you own a beachfront Miami villa (or just dream of it), your fantasy vacation home may soon be underwater. And if that dream home is in Pedralbes, Barcelona’s wealthiest neighborhood, you’ll now be welcomed every morning by a swarm of nasty tropical tiger mosquitoes to go along with your Nespresso, courtesy of a changing climate. In the end, the rich will pay for their private jet’s lack of fuel efficiency. A moment of silence, please, for global warming’s affluent fallen.
The economic losses from climate change could be major — a study in the Mountain Research and Development journal estimated the current annual economic losses in Swiss winter tourism due to climate change at $1.9 billion to $2.45 billion. And, according to a study by the University of Maryland, Colorado will lose $375 million in revenue and 4,500 jobs by 2017 due to skier attrition from lack of snow. Winter sports are not the only ones affected — the fancy food chain could soon be in trouble too. The number of lobsters caught in New England has fallen by 80 percent since 1997, partly due to climate-change-induced shifts in the temperature and quality of the water.
You’ll now be welcomed every morning by a swarm of nasty tropical tiger mosquitoes to go along with your Nespresso.
Take real estate. The value of luxury homes in coastal areas sinks as the ocean rises. According to a study by housing consultants Miller Samuel, the average cost of a house in the Hamptons dropped almost 30 percent in 2014 to the first quarter of this year because potential buyers are scared of climate change ravaging the area. Evan Mills, a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says property insurance prices are going to skyrocket in coming years in coastal areas. “It’s just inevitable,” he says. Meanwhile, fishermen are finding it harder and harder to satisfy the world’s most sybaritic appetites — from Australia’s coral reefs to Maine, where the shrinking of the lobster population is threatening a $1 billion industry employing thousands of people. Even oysters aren’t safe: Ocean acidification is already affecting the viscous treats, making oysters grow smaller, with thinner shells.
To be sure, no one is saying the world’s poorest won’t take the brunt of climate change — they will. According to the U.N. Development Program, developing countries currently suffer 99 percent of the casualties attributable to climate change. The children of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation, may soon have to scuba dive to school, while the dwellers of mega-slums in Kenya’s capital are increasingly likely to get malaria, dengue or yellow fever. Mosquitoes love the heat.
Plus, wealthy real estate agents in Florida or ski resort owners are certainly more equipped to deal with climate change than the poorest Bangladeshi. For starters, rich folks can adapt faster. “Wealthy fishermen will upgrade their gear to start fishing for more resilient species, or spend money in marketing to up their prices,” explains Sarah Lindley Smith, manager of Northeast Coastal Ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund. She says some are moving into more climate-proof businesses like tourism. This is also what Aqua Dome is doing — the spa resort, recently opened in the Austrian Alps, plans to service tourists long after the slopes have closed.
The wealthy can even take out “climate-change insurance” for their lives and tsunami-vulnerable homes. And while most of these solutions are still out of reach for the world’s poorest, there are some lessons to be learned. Developing countries can “learn to be more proactive and start investing in the right direction,” whether it’s insurance schemes or adaptation measures, says Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative for Greenpeace.
Yes, as the symptoms of global warming continue to spread so will the signs of economic selectivism. But at least the less fortunate can take solace in the fact that, as Ash puts it, “no one can escape global warming.” One day Paris Hilton may well have to scuba dive to nightclubs.