What Are We Willing to Pay to Fight the Rising Sea?


As the ocean rises, homeowners in Avon, a tiny town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, are confronting a tax increase of almost 50 percent to defend the only road into town. Residents want somebody else to pay for it; local officials say they’re on their own.

But the proposed fix, spending at least $11 million to add one million cubic yards of sand to the beach, is temporary. That’s because the sand will wash away again. Residents want a more lasting fix; officials say there isn’t one.

Quotable: “We’re just masking a problem that never gets fixed,” a longtime resident of Avon said.

Why it matters: Avon’s dilemma is a prelude for countless towns and cities along America’s coast, which are increasingly being forced to raise taxes or borrow money to protect their homes, roads and schools. As seas keep rising, so will the cost of holding back the water.

Even as automakers start selling newer, cleaner electric vehicles, older gasoline powered cars could stick around on the roads for decades. As we show in a visual piece, the slow pace of “fleet turnover” poses a major challenge for climate policy.

The numbers: If the United States wanted to move to a fully electric fleet by 2050, then sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines would have to end altogether by around 2035. That would be a heavy lift.

Why it matters: The slow pace of fleet turnover, experts said, means that policymakers may need to look at additional strategies, like reshaping cities to make people less dependent on cars, if they want to meet ambitious climate goals. — Brad Plumer

When more than 180 nations came together to place strict controls on the export of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, it was supposed to transform how the world handled plastic.

Environmental groups had hoped the new rules, adopted in 2019, would stem the mountains of scrap plastic that countries like the United States dump on developing nations, where much of it ends up polluting rivers and streams.

But remarkably, trade data for January, the first month the new rules came into force, showed that American companies seem to simply be disregarding the new rules. The numbers showed:

  • Exports of scrap plastic from the United States actually edged upward, to 48 million tons from 45 million tons the previous January.

  • Exports to poorer nations were virtually unchanged from a year ago, totaling 25 million tons. Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia remained major destinations for American scrap plastic.

By Christopher Flavelle