Here’s why climate change should be part of your retirement plan
Hurricane season begins this month. Soon, talking about the weather and the impact of climate change will no longer be just about making the conversation, but planning and, for some, the urgency and action at a stage of life commonly described as a time to retire and relax.
David and Rachel were years ahead of everyone else in planning for retirement. Not just by saving and investing, but by knowing where they were going to live and what they were going to do when there. You could call them super planners. The kind of people financial advisers must love, while the rest of us pure mortals who don’t even know what time to pick up our kids from school see them as something between amazing and boring. .
Over a decade ago, when retirement was a distant idea, David and Rachel bought a condominium in one of Florida’s beach towns. Layout, location and views were the things that retirement brochure dreams are made of. This is where they would retire. In the meantime, the condominium would generate rental income from tenants looking for breathtaking views and fall out of bed to access the beach.
Looking away as if imagining herself there overlooking the ocean at sunrise, Rachel remembers “We loved this place, we visited regularly”. David, nodding in agreement, “yes, all the fun was there, the restaurants, the shops …”
Then, years ago, they started to notice something that became more and more common. Sandbags piled up along the road hold back the rising waters. David noted, “It wasn’t hurricane season, there hadn’t even been a recent storm, and the water on the road was there every day. He continued, “We couldn’t just sit there, rumors and reports suggested that climate change would only make the flooding worse over time – we imagined we couldn’t get in or out of our condo depending on the level. of water. ” Nervously, Rachel rang the bell saying, “What if there was a hurricane, how high would the water be then?” What if we had to go to the doctor? Reluctantly, they sold their dream retirement home.
Rachel and David, like many retired people, manage their lives in a cone of uncertainty. No, not financial uncertainty, but uncertainty related to climate change. The cone of uncertainty is often used to describe where hurricanes might land. We all know of the TV weather charts that show lines forming a cone from which a hurricane “could” strike and do the most damage. Today, climate change has introduced a new cone of uncertainty about where to live in old age.
Graduate students in my Global Aging class and colleagues at MIT AgeLab recently explored the question: Should climate change be a factor in retirement planning?
Consider this. According to NASA, evidence is emerging of a link between climate change and
extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes and storms most certainly affecting preferred coastal retreat destinations. Although they receive less media coverage than hurricanes, the rising waters are also affecting the retirement destinations favored by urban downsizers on the waterfronts of the Carolinas, New England and even as far north as my friends. Nova Scotia and the Maritimes.
Western retirement destinations are not spared. Warmer weather in desert climates threatens the quality of life at golf resorts all year round. Rising temperatures are also believed to be contributing to conditions that increase the frequency and ferocity of wildfires that threaten dreams of retirement in the mountains and canyons of the west.
And, even those who are aging in place (lingo for staying in your current home until retirement) need to think about how the climate can affect their quality of life as well as the costs of retirement. Previous extreme heat waves in Chicago, for example, claimed the lives of many elderly people. For others, air conditioning, once used only a few days a year, is now used for a few months and is now an unanticipated retirement expense.
How could climate change be taken into account in retirement?
Hard to believe, but there are age deniers out there. Yes, the science is there, we are all getting old. As we age we are likely to have more chronic health issues, mobility issues, living on our own, and the need for things that were once subtleties like air conditioning are now health necessities.
Unfortunately, during major storms and other weather events, the majority of those left behind, hospitalized or killed are seniors. It is estimated that 70% of those who died in Hurricane Katrina were seniors. Older people in Puerto Rico, especially older men, were the most likely to die from Hurricane Maria of 2017. Similarly, of the 1,500 people who died in the 2019 Paris heatwave, half were seniors.
Here are some starting questions to factor climate change into your retirement.
Where to retire? Retirement is like real estate. The quality of the retreat depends, in part, on three things, location, location, location. As much as it can be “knowable”, do you place your future older self and your loved ones with reduced mobility, fragile health, special nutritional needs, at the center of the climate cone of uncertainty?
Have you planned for what could become an annual, if not routine, expense to prepare your home for an upcoming storm or seasonal weather events? The costs can be more than just the price of plywood and nailers for people in hurricane country. As we age, we may need to identify and hire professional services to prepare our homes to respond to unpredictable weather events.
What about the cost of repairs after flood, wind and fire damage? Will the rising cost of insurance be an expense to consider in planning for retirement as the weather changes? In some areas will the necessary insurance even be available in the future?
Likewise, will air conditioning become a major cost factor for some, while the increased costs of managing humidity, mold and mildew will be a consideration for others?
On a more existential level, does your dream retirement destination community provide adequate emergency transportation, health care, food and shelter for the elderly – not just services designed for seniors? evacuees younger, healthier and more mobile?
Planning for retirement isn’t just about funding dreams and goals later in life. It’s about doing our best to plan and prepare for uncertainty. Many of us would never trade a walk on the beach, a view of the mountains, the spectrum of colors in a canyon, or even the comforts of home we have lived in for decades, but be prepared for the conditions and the possible costs of climate change should now be part of our retirement plan.