Creative Financing for Managed Retreat

By Amelia Taylor-Hochberg, CBI Climigration Intern

How Novel Financing Models Could Help Make Managed Retreat More Manageable

When considering migrating entire communities out of natural hazard risk areas, homeowners and local governments deal with a whole new can of financial worms. Governments may lack the funds necessary to buy out all needy areas, and banks aren’t attracted to assets that will literally and figuratively be underwater. Homeowners are between a rock and a hard place: as property values fall due to increasing risks, they may not be able to sell at a price that allows them to buy elsewhere.

This difficult subject has been the focus of CBI’s ongoing webinar series, “Funding & Financing Coastal Retreat”. The latest webinar, held on October 25, focused on creative mechanisms from within the private and public spheres to finance retreat due to climate change. In contrast to the federal government’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, where homeowners can voluntarily seek buyouts with FEMA money (post-disaster), these strategies can be more proactively employed to reduce risk in a wider variety of cases.

Of the diversity of financial tools discussed in the webinar, critiques of the more traditional options were weighed against the risks of promising but untested models. Green bonds for investments towards sustainability have been used already but are imperfect. There’s no way to guarantee compliance, and the market is still small, so holders won’t necessarily be able to sell whenever they like. More novel solutions — such as catastrophe bonds, conservation mitigation credits, and social impact bonds — might appear like the less safe bet, but ultimately be better suited to specific retreat situations. A major complication in all of this is the difficulty in determining the financial incentives for what comes afterwards — the economic value placed on remediated land is difficult to determine.

A range of financial tools were discussed in the webinar, from more traditional options, like municipal green bonds, to emerging models, like social impact bonds and catastrophe bonds. Green bonds have been used by municipalities and city agencies to finance sustainability projects like infrastructure upgrades, but have not yet been used to finance managed retreat. The more novel solutions for supporting sustainability and climate resilience work — such as catastrophe bonds, conservation mitigation credits, and social impact bonds — may be potential tools for managed retreat projects. However, using any financial tool requires a source of repayment to the investor(s). For managed retreat to access any of the financing tools discussed, an economic value has to be placed on the remediated land, and a repayment source must be identified.

One untested but intriguing avenue brought up by Jenna deAngelo, program manager at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, brought up one untested but intriguing avenue to minimize federal government involvement and taxpayer risk in coastal retreat buyouts: mortgage contingent loans. With these loans, at-risk homeowners cede their property to the government, which then issues them a commercial loan tied to the value of their home, rather than their income. The homeowner can then use the loan to buy another property elsewhere. The government now holds the mortgage to the home, and can sell it on the commercial market, transferring risk from the taxpayer to the private market.

If the occupant moves out of the house or passes away, the government retains the net equity and can sell the house and pay off the loan. Alternatively, the government could keep the house and turn it into public housing, as selling it could mean a loss, depending on the real estate market. This in turn brought up a larger discussion of equity issues surrounding climate-related displacement, and how financial support of communities is related to their socioeconomic makeup.

Although these kinds of loans haven’t been tried before within managed retreat strategies, they could offer an innovative approach to financing risky futures, compared to the context of federal funding. Mark Skidmore, professor in Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University, as well as the Director of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, pointed out that current federal disaster assistance programs are not risk-adjusted to where they are actually applied — so those living in risky areas (and the state and local governments) have no incentive to take risk-reducing precautions. This ultimately encourages people to to stay in risky areas, rather than seeking safer (both financially and environmentally) land elsewhere.

To learn more about creative financing strategies for managed retreat, you can watch the entire webinar here. Outlines from the featured presentations, as well as cited resources, can be found here. The webinar was hosted by CBI’s own Bennett Brooks and Osamu Kumasaka.

Participants:
Jenna DeAngelo is a program manager at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Prior to joining the Lincoln Institute, Jenna was a senior benefits administration analyst at Xerox Business Services and a human resources analyst at the MBTA. Jenna earned her B.S. in Economics and M.S. in Urban and Regional Policy, both from Northeastern University.

Katie Grace Deane is associate director of research and field development at the Center for Community Investment. Prior to joining the Center, she spent 7 years at the Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School where she led research on public policy and impact investment, sustainable investment trends, and place-based frameworks for community development. Katie began her career as a research analyst at the Tellus Institute, where she researched corporate sustainability performance indicators and the effects of university endowments on employment and the community. Katie has a BA from Williams College in Political Science with a Concentration in Leadership Studies, and is a member of the Miss Hall’s School Board of Trustees.

Mark Skidmore is Professor and Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University. He is also Director of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD). Mark holds tenure system appointments in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics and Economics. He has served as a consultant on a range of issues including economic development, government public finance and policy, and price determination. Recent research areas include economics of the public sector, economic development, and the economics of natural disasters. He has published the results of his research in journals such as Economic Inquiry, Economics Letters, Journal of Urban Economics, National Tax Journal, and Public Choice. Much of Mark’s research and outreach focuses on public finance policy and the relationship between public finance policy and economic development.

Podcast: Climate Disasters and Inequality

Climate Disasters and Inequality

Earlier this month, climigration issues were front in center in an episode of the ClimateX podcast series, Climate Conversations, sponsored by the MIT Center for Digital Learning.

This week, we’re discussing the human response to extreme weather and climate change, with Patrick Field, Managing Director at the Consensus Building Institute.

Pat explains his role in intricate climate change negotiations, and how governments fund and adapt to climate challenges in coastal and island locations.

Additionally, Pat explores the complex relationship between people and place, considering the role [of] market-based solutions in climate adaptation in the wake of natural disasters.
— Climate Conversations S1E14

Check out their original post for the audio and transcript for this wide-ranging interview on the challenges of and strategies for helping communities plan for the risk of climate disasters. 

 

 

Resistance and Retreat

Damaged homes seen on Sunshine Key, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

Damaged homes seen on Sunshine Key, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

Since late August of this year, three hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, and Marie – have devastated parts of the southern United States and its territories.  In the face of the destruction wrought by these powerful storms, we have seen remarkable and heroic efforts by individuals, companies and non-profits, local governments, state governments, and the federal government to respond.  In each case, individuals have come to the aid of their neighbors and friends.  Businesses and companies have sought to throw their doors and wallets open to provide shelter, food, and rescue.  Governors have acted forcefully and with focus before, during, and after the storms. These storms have revealed the strong social networks and incredible importance of social capital in responding to devastating natural events such as these.[1] 

Resistance in the face of these natural threats is a powerful and compelling human response. On the one hand, it is a force for good: individuals stocking supplies, boarding, ready to batten down the hatches, survive the storm and, out of the wreckage, help themselves and their neighbors.  This is human resilience at its best.

Stories of individual resistance took center stage in news coverage, and were frequently framed as a difficult calculation which could only be made in the moment, based on personal risk tolerance and binding life circumstance. One intrepid Florida Keys resident stayed back to watch over his 50-foot sailboat along with his two dogs, despite the Governor of Florida’s orders. He survived Hurricane Irma dogs and all, and remarked:  "Climate change is nothing more than 'Shit happens,'" he said. "And this [storm] right here? Shit happens.”[2]

But resistance, no matter how stoic, does have its costs: during natural disaster events, it can put resistors at risk at the expense of first responders and others when they do not heed the call to evacuate. Over the long term, resistance can leave residents fighting to preserve the past. Resistance, while admirable in many ways, can distract from or preclude the possibility of planning for a future where retreat or relocation may better serve residents, their communities, and their nation.[3]

The last of the three recent storms – Marie – and the unfolding devastation it has wrecked on Puerto Rico, hints at the impacts of unmanaged retreat as tropical storms become more devastating.[4] It is possible that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans, especially those with means and family connections in the mainland, will move off the Island, draining it of the social capital, labor, and talent needed to rebuild, while simultaneously stressing communities and local governments dealing with unexpected large scale migration of US citizens to the mainland.[5]

What the last month illustrates is how important it is to consider the role of coastal retreat, both now and in the future, as one tool of many to preemptively limit the damages of natural disaster. This is most obvious in neighborhoods for which devastating flood damage has become routine in recent history.[6] Shortly after Harvey’s floodwaters began to recede, Congressman Jep Hensarling from Dallas got himself into trouble—and received a great deal of criticism—for stating that U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay for homes repeatedly flooded via federal flood insurance.  He was quoted as saying, “At some point, God is telling you to move.”[7]

While the Congressman perhaps lacked timing and tact in the face of ongoing suffering during early recovery, the difficult truth behind his statement will have to be taken up by communities in the months and years ahead as they are threatened by increasingly frequent, powerful storms.

Patrick Field is Managing Director of CBI and Associate Director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program. He leads CBI's Energy, Environment and Land Use practice. He often works with and between local, regional, state, and federal governments and is a dynamic trainer and lecturer, delivering curricula to professionals across sectors in the U.S. and globally.

Patrick Field is Managing Director of CBI and Associate Director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program. He leads CBI's Energy, Environment and Land Use practice. He often works with and between local, regional, state, and federal governments and is a dynamic trainer and lecturer, delivering curricula to professionals across sectors in the U.S. and globally.

 

[1] "HURRICANE IRMA:  Splinters, Cha Cha Cha and a 'rising seas thing’.” Adam Aton, E&E News reporter.

Published: Friday, September 15, 2017 in Climate Wire.

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Guidance on protecting people from disasters and environmental change through planned relocation.” The Brookings Institute, Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of International Migration, and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 in The Brookings Institute.

[4] “Does Harvey Represent a New Normal for Hurricanes?” Robinson Meyer.

Published: Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in The Atlantic.

[5]Mitigation induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape.Mathew E. Hauer.

Published: Monday, April 17, 2017 in Nature.com

[6] “Amplification of Flood Frequencies with Local Sea Level Rise and Emerging Flood Regimes.” Maya K. Buchanan, Michael Oppenheimer, and Robert E. Kopp.

Published: June 2017 in Environmental Research Letters

[7] "GOP rep on paying for flood loss: ‘At some point, God is telling you to move’.” Julia Manchester.

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 in The Hill.

 

Building Equity Into Climigration

Communities across the U.S., like the Alaska native village of Kivalina pictured above, are devising climate migration plans in response to coastal erosion and rising seas. Photo from: U.S. Department of the Interior | National Park Service

Communities across the U.S., like the Alaska native village of Kivalina pictured above, are devising climate migration plans in response to coastal erosion and rising seas. Photo from: U.S. Department of the Interior | National Park Service

There are a host of equity and justice issues related to climigration. The simple fact that people and organizations with more resources tend to be better equipped to manage change than those with fewer resources means that differences arise among people exposed to the same climate impacts. So what can we do to anticipate these differences and try to reduce the likelihood that managed retreat will create or further exacerbate inequities?

Lessons from Just Transition and Anti-Gentrification

One idea we’re exploring is learning from other frameworks with equity lenses that have been developed to address population movements. Here we focus on two, just transition and anti-gentrification, and seek to highlight some key strategies from each, and how those same strategies might apply to managed retreat efforts.

Although the subject matters differ – just transition provides a sustainable pathway to a zero-carbon economy and anti-gentrification to urban revitalization – both frameworks devise a set of strategies that maximize benefits and minimize hardships for communities adapting to social, economic, and environmental transformations.

The table below highlights some of the key strategies from both frameworks relative to funding, policy, and engagement to match the organization of this site around possible solutions. We elaborate on these ideas below the table.

Funding & Financing

Just transition emphasizes the need to support communities early, and in ways that address the problems they are likely to face as jobs shift from carbon-dependent to carbon-free industries and practices[1]. Similarly, investing in education, training, job-searching, and general community building for those who may have to move due to climate change could ease the transition and level the playing field for those with different resources to draw on.

For climigration, the most obvious early investment would be a fund to help people move, and to ensure it covers more than simple real estate transactions, as moving costs and other expenses fall harder on some than others. Other early investments might include education and training in the various federal, state, and local programs that provide funding for relocation. Perhaps a state or federal program could invest resources in providing a way for individuals in one retreating community to connect with counterparts in others to commiserate and share ideas. A local non-profit could be funded to do the legwork to investigate other neighborhoods for possible relocation, such as finding out about schools, public transportation options, and other community resources. Government and foundation or corporate resources could be reserved and set aside for transforming places from developed to undeveloped in smart ways that convert former private property to public assets the whole community can enjoy and that provide protection from future storms or other climate-related challenges.

Drawing lessons from anti-gentrification is slightly more challenging, as the purpose of managed retreat is to help people move somewhere else, whereas anti-gentrification is focused on keeping people in place. Still some of the strategies that seek to mitigate inequities for the people who live in places that are changing around them provide inspiration for climigration.

Various funds and tax programs have been developed to ensure that people with fewer means can afford to stay in place as the property around them becomes more expensive and they would otherwise be unable to continue to live there. Some examples include an anti-displacement tax fund to subsidize the increases in property taxes for people who have lived in a community for a long time, Community Land Trusts (CLT) to provide land and housing that is permanently affordable, Stabilization Vouchers (and other housing protection vouchers) to ensure that long-term residents have choices in their own neighborhood rather than being forced to move to another, and Individual Development Accounts that provide matching funds for personal savings toward a large investment, such as a new home. Each of these mechanisms demonstrates a unique approach to ensuring that low-income individuals and families can weather the changes around them. Likewise, creative approaches are needed to provide matching funds, subsidies, or tax benefits to those whose costs for relocation may be beyond their means so they are not disproportionately harmed by the transition.


Policy

The just transition framework stresses the need for early assessments of social and employment impacts[2]. Committing to protect workers’ rights and providing social protection and necessary income support are key for a sustainable transition. This gives workers confidence in the security and opportunities that lie ahead. In addition to putting forth new policies, just transition recommends formalizing current ones, such as programs that address rescue and rebuilding efforts after climate disasters[1].

These policy guidelines can be applied to climigration. Coastal communities represent various socio-economic demographics. The social and economic cost of relocation can be drastically different for each community. Assessing the social and employment impacts of resettlement could help ensure that adaptation strategies better target the needs of the community. For example, a community might have traditional land rights that need to be considered when deciding where to relocate. Providing financial and social assistance to vulnerable populations via programs like safe, affordable housing and buy-in-for buyout programs could help create more resilient communities. In addition to implementing new policies that proactively respond to global warming, current government disaster assistance programs should also be securely funded and staffed to manage climate disasters once they hit.

A suite of anti-gentrification policies could serve as models for climigration, including city funding for middle-income housing production and senior home repair programs, changing fair housing rules to create housing vouchers for low-income residents, freezing property taxes for long-time residents and restricting large-scale and increasing mixed-income development[4]. Similarly for climigration, it’s in the public interest to work with communities identify risks to their housing security and provide the necessary resources to improve their situations if need be. Such measures could include building low-income and middle-income housing in areas less threatened by climate change, and issuing subsidies and vouchers for relocation. This technique is especially valuable in helping renters move as they do not benefit from direct home buyouts. Additional tax benefits and other measures to protect the most vulnerable and least mobile populations, such as senior citizens, should also be considered.

 

Engagement & Consensus Building

In both the just transition and anti-gentrification frameworks, social dialogue is key to a community’s sustainable transition. For a just transition to take place, it is necessary for all stakeholders be involved in social dialogue, consultation and “the monitoring of agreements, which are public and legally enforceable”[1]. Governments, communities and business should inclusively discuss their options, concerns and roles in climate adaptation plans. With input from every level, policies are more likely to be cohesive and sustainable.

One key principle of anti-gentrification is that communities “anticipate and proactively respond to change”[3] rather than waiting for the inevitable. Gentrification, like climate change, does not happen overnight, so communities that can see the writing on the wall should engage with city officials and planning departments as early as possible. This allows them to influence city, neighborhood, transportation, funding and development plans and monitor similar trends in nearby communities. Another principle of anti-gentrification is encouraging communities to develop a shared narrative that shapes and helps protect their identity. Forming flexible, local, and diverse partnerships with other organizations can help communities can strengthen their ability to preserve affordable housing in light of gentrification. Finally, to meaningfully address inevitable conflicts, anti-gentrification guidelines suggest using formal approaches to conflict resolution. By holding facilitated discussions, encouraging political participation and training local leaders, communities can successfully resolve tensions both before they escalate and after they erupt[3].

All of these strategies can be applied to climigration, particularly the efforts to develop shared narratives. Climate adaptation can be an emotional experience due to the potential loss of social, cultural and historical ties to a place. Discussing what a community wishes to preserve as a legacy, and taking the opportunity to consider what they would like to change in their new environment could be incredibly valuable. Also, as with gentrification, climate change adaptation is a controversial issue. Often, communities disagree among themselves and with government officials on whether and how to plan for and remediate the impacts of climate change. For this reason, all stakeholders would benefit from similar conflict mediation mechanisms. Facilitated discussions would help parties resolve misconceptions, distrust, and disagreements.

Isabella Szabolcs is a consultant at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps research climate change adaptation strategies and natural resource conflicts. She also develops multimedia content for CBI.

Isabella Szabolcs is a consultant at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps research climate change adaptation strategies and natural resource conflicts. She also develops multimedia content for CBI.

Carri Hulet is a Senior Associate at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps communities tackle difficult decisions, such as those related to climate change. Carri leads CBI’s climigration efforts.

Carri Hulet is a Senior Associate at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps communities tackle difficult decisions, such as those related to climate change. Carri leads CBI’s climigration efforts.

 

[1] (2017). Just Transition: A Report for the OECD. Retrieved from Just Transition Centre Website: https://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/g20-climate/collapsecontents/Just-Transition-Centre-report-just-transition.pdf

[2] (2015). Frontlines Briefing: Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet. Retrieved from International Trade Union Confederation Website: https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/ituc_frontlines_climate_change_report_en.pdf

[3] Brown, S. (2015). Beyond Gentrification: Strategies for Guiding the Conversation and Redirecting the Outcomes of Community Transition. Retrieved from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Website: http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/w14-12_brown.pdf

[4] Price, D. (2014). 7 Policies that Could Prevent Gentrification. Retrieved from SHELTERFORCE Website: https://shelterforce.org/2014/05/23/7_policies_that_could_prevent_gentrification/

Making Sense of Drivers and Barriers to Managed Retreat

By: Kara Runsten, CBI Climigration Associate

Miyuki Hino’s study, “Managed Retreat as a Response to Natural Hazard Risk,” published in Nature Climate Change, provides new insights to climigration research. In it, Hino and her coauthors study 27 instances of managed retreat and create a framework for understanding drivers and barriers to climigration in a range of contexts. They find that retreat has a high likelihood of occurring in what they term “Mutual Agreement” situations, where residents feel the risk of a hazard is unbearable and the benefits of retreat spread to the broader society. I had the opportunity to chat with Hino a few days ago both about her paper and its broader implications.

Managed Retreat is a Two-Party Negotiation

During the study, the researchers discovered that managed retreat is essentially a two-party negotiation between residents and an implementing body (e.g., a government entity). Mapping the cases based on the dynamics between the two parties produced a comprehensive picture that showed unique clusters representing different types of retreat (e.g., post-disaster voluntary relocation and isolated communities seeking relocation due to coastal erosion and flooding). This simple four-quadrant conceptual model represents a bird’s-eye view framework for understanding case-specific complexities. Key findings from each quadrant include:

  • Mutual Agreement: Retreat has a high likelihood of occurring because residents feel risk is unbearable and benefits of retreat accrue to broader society. Political will to implement retreat is high and the societal cost-benefit ratio justifies retreat. This dynamic corresponds to cases of post-disaster voluntary relocation.
  • Greater Good: Retreat has a moderate likelihood of occurring because benefits of retreat accrue to broader society, but residents feel the risk is bearable. Political will to implement retreat is high, and the societal cost-benefit ratio justifies relocation. This dynamic corresponds to cases of managed realignment and perhaps also some cases of mandatory resettlement.
  • Hunkered Down: Retreat has a low likelihood of occurring because residents feel the risk is bearable and benefits of retreat accrue only to residents. Political will to implement retreat is low and the societal cost-benefit ratio does not justify relocation. Although retreat is not usually initiated in these cases, some cases of managed resettlement may exhibit this dynamic.
  • Self-Reliance: Retreat has a moderate likelihood of occurring because residents feel the risk is unbearable, but benefits of retreat accrue only to residents. Political will to implement retreat is low and the societal cost-benefit ratio does not justify relocation. This dynamic corresponds to isolated communities seeking relocation.
Image from "Managed Retreat as a Response to Natural Hazard Risk" Nature Climate Change, March 2017

Image from "Managed Retreat as a Response to Natural Hazard Risk" Nature Climate Change, March 2017

Appropriate policy methods to instigate retreat differ based on the quadrant in which a particular case is located. For example, “Greater Good” cases, where the implementing party is more excited about retreat than residents, require the government agency to develop incentives to convince residents to move. Embedding the effort to retreat in economic and community development projects is one way to attempt to change residents’ perceptions about retreat. For example, after a flash flood required relocation, a community in Australia developed an economic growth plan and strategies for incentivizing new commercial activities in the destination town. The general discourse there implied that staying in place was equivalent to being stuck in the past—moving on was the future.

Retreat can be the right choice

Informed by her research, Hino’s advice to communities experiencing repeat damage over time from coastal storms would emphasize that retreat isn’t always a negative option; there are many social, economic, and environmental reasons that can make it the right choice for people and communities. For example, the U.S. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (categorized as “Mutual Agreement” in the model) uses government funding to purchase disaster-stricken homes from property owners who would like to reduce risks to their safety and their wallets by moving away from the coast. The properties are transformed into open space, providing a natural barrier that reduces flood risk for the rest of the community.

Local government should Stay tuneD-in and transparent

Hino also stresses that local governments should take into account residents’ perceived risks about both natural hazards and retreat when they plan for the future. Factors like the transparency of the planning process and the proposed relocation site can affect those perceptions, helping or hindering efforts to retreat.

She also highlights that an important yet understudied topic in this field are the conditions under which community members farther away from the coast feel they benefit from investments in retreat. Getting the larger community on board might expand policy options beyond buyouts of individual coastal homes.

As for buyouts, Hino points out the surprising divide between those looking at climigration through the lens of buyouts versus community relocation versus retreat. While they are slightly different points on the spectrum, she thinks there is no reason we can’t apply lessons across types. By doing that, we might find innovative ways to look at retreat in the future.

 

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.

 
 

Dealing with Difficult Questions: What End-of-Life Planning Can Teach us about Managed Retreat

By: Kara Runsten, CBI Climigration Associate

One surprising connection made during the CBI-hosted workshop Community Transformation at the Water’s Edge in December 2015 was the possible similarities between managed retreat planning and end-of-life decision-making. While the two topics might seem quite different, there is much the climate change adaptation world can learn from physicians, nurses, patients, and families dealing with this most sensitive period of life transition.

Up to 80 percent of nursing home residents do not have documented treatment wishes in their medical records. This limited amount of dialogue and planning is common for difficult questions and mirrors the lack of conversation about managed retreat in coastal communities. Finding ways to assess the situation and facilitate conversation is essential to planning for the future. 

An article titled “Facilitating End-of-Life Decision-Making Strategies for Communicating and Assessing”[1] serves as an access point for comparison between the two issues. The article describes healthcare provider behaviors that facilitate or hinder end-of-life decision-making by patients and their families. Below, I summarize some main takeaways from the article and how they relate to coastal retreat.

Communication

The study found that opening the lines of communication early was one of the most important actions providers could take. This included:

1.     Being willing: The provider should open the lines of communication for end-of-life decision-making to occur. Patients whose providers shy away from the topic or delay starting the conversation often take on burdensome treatments and/or do not have enough time to prepare for death.

The same is true for managed retreat. Government and military officials, non-profit leaders, and local community leaders can create the space for the discussion and encourage communities to talk about this adaptation method as a credible option.

2.     Being clear: Providers who used clear words to identify the issue, such as “death” and “dying” were seen as more successful at facilitating end-of-life planning. Providers who used unclear language or euphemisms often led patients and families to hold onto false hope that delayed end-of-life planning.

Being clear about climate change and its implications for a community is important. Sensitive language is appropriate, and one should be cognizant of the impact of language choices that are culturally appropriate, but clarity and simplicity facilitates a productive discussion.

3.     Clarifying prognosis of goals and treatment: It is helpful to clarify the goals and expectations for treatment. Sugarcoating potential results of a treatment could lead patients and families to delay end-of-life planning.

Similarly, helping communities understand the risks they take on by staying in the same climate-vulnerable location as well as the various options for mitigating and/or adapting to these risks is important when planning for the future.

Assessment

Successful providers were also experienced at assessing situations and using these assessments to spark the planning process. Key traits included:

1.     Recognizing deteriorating conditions: Successful providers were able to recognize when a patient’s phase of illness turns from chronic to terminal.

Community leaders may play this role in coastal communities. By recognizing a deteriorating condition and initiating dialogue, they can start building social capital within the community and begin this important conversation.

2.     Assessing understanding: Ensuring the patient and family members have a clear understanding of the full picture of the situation is important to facilitating dialogue about mortality.

Likewise, communities may be more likely to consider retreat as an option if they understand the nature of the changes they are facing, including the likely frequency of storms and the long-term effects of sea level rise. 

3.     Assessing end-of-life wishes: Successful providers ask patients directly about their wishes in an end-of-life situation.

Communities should talk openly about the nature of the transition they want. When, how, with whome, and under what circumstances the transition should take place are all issues that should not be imposed, and should align with community members' interests. Also, people should be invited to envision what they want to leave behind as a legacy - how they want the place they are leaving to be remembered and used or enjoyed in the future. 

4.     Assessing patient and family goals and expectations: Making sure everyone is on the same page aids planning and sets appropriate expectations.

Managing expectations, being open and transparent with everyone who might be affected, and thoroughly evaluating the benefits and costs of retreat as an option can help ensure such a strategy’s ultimate success. Unrealistic expectations can lead to surprises and unsuccessful implementation.

[1] Norton, S. A., & Talerico, K. A. (2000). Facilitating End-of-Life Decision-Making: Strategies for Communicating and Assessing. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 26(9), 6-9.

 

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.

 

What's in a Name?

By: Kara Runsten, CBI Climigration Associate

When it comes to word choice surrounding the idea of coastal transformation, that which we call a rose by any other name would not necessarily smell as sweet. Take, for example the word “relocate.” To a government official, this word may seem a practical and efficient term to use when discussing this issue. To marginalized groups and impacted communities, on the other hand, this term may evoke memories of discriminatory displacement policies.

Another good example of the importance of word choice can be drawn from the current refugee crisis. According to the UN Dispatch,[1] many politicians use the term migrant (i.e., a person who travels for work or economic reasons) to downplay their responsibility for caring for a displaced refugee (e.g., a person escaping armed conflict or persecution). While deporting refugees can be illegal or at least highly frowned upon by the international community, deporting migrants can be spun as a reasonable approach to protecting a country’s borders.

There are both positives and negatives to having no standard lexicon for discussing the topic of coastal transformation. On the negative side, having no established common language makes the issue harder to discuss, but on the plus side, this provides an opportunity for exploring appropriate, respectful, and effective terminologies with stakeholders in each community and shaping their use to the context at hand.

Let us take a moment to explore some possible words to describe the phenomenon of coastal transformation, which can be used as a starting point for discussion when engaging communities and defining a common language.[2]

As the buckets suggest, different terms may be appropriate in different situations. In communities where it is important to reframe the issue in terms of hope and ability to preserve a collective identity, words such as “renew” may be more appropriate. If communities are trying to attach a sense of urgency to the issue, a term such as “escape” might be more effective.

The most important takeaway is that explicit conversations about language are essential. Initiating an open, frank dialogue around these terms at the beginning of any discussion about this issue can help stakeholders form a common, mutually acceptable language to use when communicating with each other. This can go a long way toward building community identity and congeniality in the subsequent planning process.

[1] http://www.undispatch.com/refugees-vs-migrants-the-word-choice-matters/

[2] All definitions above are from Merriam-Webster.

 

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.

Kara Runsten is a Master of City Planning candidate at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning focusing on climate change adaptation, environmental dispute resolution, and stakeholder engagement.