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Editorial: Business world has begun preparing for the coming effects of climate change

The oceans are rising and a warming Earth is the reason. The debate over causes continues to rage, though most scientists agree humans are a key driver. But it’s happening. Even businesses are taking account of it, because they see it’s going to cost them money.

Consider real estate. As buyers become more concerned about waterfront property, builders are taking note. Some are constructing houses farther back from the oceanfront, in part an acknowledgement that sales in flood-prone areas are slumping.

It’s not just real estate either. As a recent New York Times story printed in The Buffalo News observed, industries including coal, oil, agriculture and utilities are starting to account for potential future costs of a changed climate. But real estate is especially exposed, as rising seas and intensifying storm surges change the calculations of property owners and the real estate companies that trade in them.

“I don’t see how this town is going to defeat the water,” said Brent Dixon, a resident of Miami Beach, built on a barrier island off South Florida. Dixon says he plans to move north and away from the coast in anticipation of worsening king tides, the highest predicted tide of the year. “The water always wins,” he told a Times reporter.

Climate change skeptics need to absorb that. When even business begins accounting for the costs of a warming Earth, it’s time to be serious. Businesses aren’t going to spend money they don’t need to, but they will to protect their interests. This is more evidence that the climate is changing, with profound consequences, and that the country needs to respond to it.

The question now is whether it will. President-elect Donald Trump has been among the skeptics, pushing the idea that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China to make U.S. industry less competitive. China may fervently wish that Americans weren’t so competitive, but it isn’t making the ocean threaten homes in Miami Beach. A warming Earth is doing that.

Trump has softened his stand recently, acknowledging there is “some connectivity” between climate change and human activity, and backing away from his promise to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. Now he says he is “looking at it very closely.”

Nevertheless, Trump – whose Mar-a-Lago estate sits on the barrier island of Palm Beach, Fla. – has chosen Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a skeptic of climate change, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  It’s a worrisome sign as a man who was elected based in part on his professed business acumen seems willing to ignore crucial facts that other business leaders acknowledge.

Climate change is real. Scientists know it and, more and more, so do business people. Two-thirds of Americans believe climate scientists should play a role in driving policy decisions, according to a Pew Research poll that otherwise showed deep divisions about climate change.

Let’s listen to the scientists and the business people. They follow different paths, but they are winding up in the same place.

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