Climate change means more flooding across the South Climate change means more flood risk from rising seas, hurricanes and heavy rain. Black communities in the southern U.S. are in the crosshairs, according to a new analysis.

Climate-driven floods will disproportionately affect Black communities, study finds

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TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Climate change means more flooding in much of the U.S., and flood risk will increase by about 25% in the next 30 years. A new study predicts those future flood waters will disproportionately hit Black communities in the South. NPR's Rebecca Hersher has the story.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes and heavier rainstorms - that is the triple whammy that many parts of the country are already dealing with. All three are caused by climate change, and all three cause floods. Reza Marsooli studies flood risk at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and was not involved in the new study.

REZA MARSOOLI: It is very expensive. And if you accumulate that cost over time, then it's going to be a shocking number.

HERSHER: Last year alone, floods in the U.S. caused upwards of $20 billion in damage, according to early estimates. In the future, the cost could be even higher, the new study finds. The authors estimated flood risk in the U.S. will increase by about a quarter between now and 2050.

OLIVER WING: So this isn't a pie-in-the-sky projection.

HERSHER: Oliver Wing is a researcher at the U.K. flood modelling company Fathom and is one of the authors of the new study.

WING: These risks are very likely to be experienced by people that are alive right now.

HERSHER: The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The analysis relies on a complex national flood model that takes into account the effects of climate change, as well as terrain and where buildings are located. The model suggests that the biggest increases in future flood risk will be in the South. And when the authors looked at the racial demographics of the places with the highest flood risk, they found that those communities had a higher proportion of Black residents. There's no way to avoid this floodier immediate future. It's already baked into the climate that humans have created by burning fossil fuels.

WING: And the thing we do right now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, will probably have an effect beyond 2050, but it won't have an effect on flood risk today. And so what that means is we actually have to just accept that this is going to take place and find ways of dealing with it.

HERSHER: But cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to avoid even more catastrophic flooding later this century. In the meantime, Wing points out, it is not too late to help people. Some buildings that are in harm's way can be protected from flooding.

WING: In many ways, the solutions here are conceptually simple. Don't build any more stuff in the way of floods.

HERSHER: New development in many flood zones is currently accelerating despite the risks. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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