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Liquidity issues in the future

A very real problem looms ahead for us, both as investors and citizens


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Liquidity issues in the future

Out of the 50 companies that make up the NSE's Nifty Index, 48 have at least some mention of climate change on their websites. All these companies are apparently doing something or the other that will either mitigate the effects of climate change, or will lead to more sustainable development or something of the sort. Which is fine, I guess. The idea that climate change will actually have a measurable effect on businesses and investments seems to be generally accepted now.

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However, apart from pro forma statements, people who are running businesses are generally inclined to behave as if any actual impact is either too far away in time, or will happen to someone else. Every time there's a flood or a storm, some people cry 'climate change' while others point out that there were always floods and storms and maybe it's just an impression that these events are increasing. The bottomline is that serious people, who handle serious matters like businesses and investments are not yet inclined to modify their actual actions in response to climate change. At this point, words are considered enough.

One of the reasons for this is that we all approach altruistic actions and self-preservation actions differently. At this point, it looks like that almost all of what appears to consist of climate change mitigation consists of altruistic actions. For example, use public transport, make your offices and factories more energy efficient etc. The time for actions that amount to direct self-preservation hasn't come yet. These would be things like not constructing a building or a factory at a particular location because it will get flooded at some foreseeable point and will then have to be abandoned. No one does that yet because such things are far in the future. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that sea levels will be up 18 to 59 centimetres by the year 2100. To serious people, that looks pretty manageable AND very far off when the discussion is about where to build a project next year or where to buy a sea-facing apartment right now.

However, things are actually not what they seem. Last week, I came across an article in The New Yorker titled 'The Siege of Miami'. This article described in gory detail how the daily high water mark on the coast of southeastern Florida have been rising at a shocking one inch per year for more than a decade now. Miami, a playground of the rich and famous, and America's richest city in terms of average purchasing power, now sees routine salt water floods that just appear out of nowhere whenever the tide is high.

At first, I actually thought that this was one of those vision of the future articles that was hypothesising about the situation in 2070 or something. But no, the article was actually from December 2015 and full of on-the-ground reportage. A little googling shows that this is, indeed, happening. In a major city of the world, serious people have stopped parking their Porsches and their Jaguars in the basements of their luxury apartment buildings because salt water immersion is not good for cars. People are discovering that their real estate investments are increasingly uninsurable, unsellable and unlivable.

So what about those estimates of just a few inches rise by 2100? It would seem that that's just an average, both in time and space. There will be coasts that will flood far earlier and far more. Apparently, it all depends on sea currents, shelves and even soil type. Miami and its surrounding area just happens to be the canary in the coal mine. In any case, the IPCC estimates already look very conservative. There are coasts in the world that look set to see far higher levels within twenty to thirty years. Moreover, because of the likely reversal of drainage systems and river estuaries, the impact will be felt early and far inland. Many of these are heavily populated and of huge economic significance. This is not the far future, it really has begun.

If you're googling these issues, you might discover that there are three other megacities in the world--economic powerhouses of their countries--that are in this queue right behind Miami. Two of these are Guangzhou and Shanghai, and the name of the third, you should try and find out for yourself if you're interested.

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