Introducing the Cost of Climate Change


Robert Rodriguez/CNET

This story is part of The Cost of Climate Change, CNET’s coverage of how the changing climate impacts a range of financial issues.

“I think you should sell your home. It’s only going to get worse,” I urged my mom on the phone. “What are you waiting for?” 

My parents, both in their 60s and living in Northern California, were hiding indoors with air purifiers on max to avoid inhaling the smoke and air pollution caused by nearby wildfires. It wasn’t the first time.

I worry about their safety and mobility in a part of the country that’s been hard hit by the effects of our warming planet. In the last few years, drought, extremely hot temperatures and wildfires have become more frequent in their region. Conditions only seem to be intensifying, and I wonder: What financial moves today can lead them to a more sustainable life in the future?

I’d thrown out the idea of downsizing to a more climate-friendly part of the country before to no avail. But this time, my mom listened.

As I cautioned my parents, I had a parallel set of concerns for my own family and community on the East Coast. My husband and I were in the midst of draining rainwater out of our basement following the severe and swift passage of Tropical Storm Ida. Like many neighbors in Essex County, New Jersey, we were ill-prepared and were now paying the price.

What investments could we make to mitigate damage the next time a flash flood or heavy storm hits? Should we buy more insurance? Install a metal roof? Give up and move to Montana?

I’ve dedicated my career to exploring all types of money conundrums — but these newer considerations, prompted by the increasing urgency of climate emergencies, are of a different scale and scope, and they impact all of life’s biggest financial issues. 

As scores of governments, NGOs and scientists convene in Glasgow, Scotland, over the next two weeks to share research, policy positions and potential solutions for our warming climate, we felt that it would be worthwhile to explore the more practical and personal side of climate change in the US. 

The CNET Money team has spent many weeks and hundreds of hours researching and speaking with leading academics, economists, financial advisers and — most importantly — people who have already felt the impact of climate change firsthand. We have insights and strategies to share.

Over the next two weeks we’ll outline some of the ways we might want to think differently about budgeting, real estate and retirement.

Today’s features include:

On Thursday, our focus turns to protecting our home and properties in the face of extreme weather, including new ways prospective homebuyers may want to analyze the biggest purchase of their lives. Also, what does it cost to install solar panels?

Next week, we’ll tackle the cost of climate on our spending patterns and our retirement plans. How can we create more sustainable investment portfolios?

Though our coverage encompasses a great deal, in many ways it only begins to scratch the surface. There are far larger, and more existential, concerns to address than affording flood insurance or creating a sustainable investment portfolio. I am personally concerned about how weather disasters widen wealth gaps and curious about the implications of cryptocurrency on our environment — and how we can use our money and political power to hold businesses and politicians more accountable. As individuals, we can do a lot to protect ourselves. But who’s looking out for us?

All this is to say it’s only the beginning. We hope this first installment of The Cost of Climate will guide us toward healthier, sounder money moves we can begin making today. We’re dedicated to making this an integral part of our ongoing coverage at CNET Money. There’s much more to come. 

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