Morton Marcus: Climate changes everything

You probably noticed the Earth, including Indiana, is experiencing climate change.

Warmer temperatures, earlier Springs, shorter Winters, historic storms are nothing new, but they impose expensive stress on households, businesses, and governments.

Builders, developers, insurers, regulators, financiers are reassessing the risks they face, the opportunities they have. Those reassessments are developing in progressive states like California and Connecticut as well as in troubled Florida and Texas.

What’s being done in Indiana? Are building codes being changed in your community? What needs to be done by farmers, small business owners, schools, utilities, cities and homeowners? Will your friendly roofer guarantee a lower insurance cost because of the products and methods used on your home?

How do we divide responsibility, authority and financing among public and private agencies? Certainly, some will refuse to participate if government mandates are involved. They might, however, accept government funding to anticipate or repair the damages caused by floods, fires and other ravages of nature.

These questions arise because Indiana’s “stability” may be a handicap. According to the Census Bureau, nationally 27% of housing structures were built before 1960. In Indiana that figure is 32%, the 16th highest in U.S. The states of New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts had 49% or more of their housing built before 1960.

Does this mean 19% of the nation’s housing built in this 21st century are less at risk than older structures? Are new homes in Nevada, Utah and Arizona better able to protect their residents than those built in earlier times?

Population growth is closely associated with newer housing. It is not surprising Hamilton County has 45% of its housing built 2000 and later. Each of four other suburban Indianapolis counties had more than 25% of their housing built in this century..

Elsewhere are Indiana counties with slow growing or declining populations. Randolph and Cass counties, led these struggling locales with 50% or more of their housing units built prior to 1960. Statewide, 32 percent of Indiana’s housing were built before 1960. How well prepared are those homes for climate change?

With an aging population, Americans and Hoosiers alike have to consider the portion of that population living in older houses with the stress of climate change.

We have one-quarter of Indiana’s housing occupied by a householder 65 and older. Combine that with the nearly one-third of Hoosier housing built before 1960 and we get approximately a quarter-million Indiana housing units occupied by Hoosiers who may not be able to afford or manage the changes required by climate change.

We think of ourselves as living in a stable environment despite having so many homes about the same age as their residents, homes built before 1960 for a population born before 1960. Isn’t there something we should be doing?

Morton Marcus is an economist. Reach him at [email protected] Follow his views and those of John Guy on Who gets what? wherever podcasts are available or at Send comments to [email protected]