An email landed in my inbox last night that made me question reality. “Hello Danielle,” it began (my name is Katie):
We are Higher Tides Realty. We see climate change as an advantage instead of it being destructive.
The sea level will rise but new future water front property will be created.
We help clients find property that will grow in value from global warming’s effects and help them relocate to safer areas.
Our primary goal is to stop our clients from loosing money from impending disasters and inform them of global warming’s positive and negative side effects.
Global Warming is inevitable. We need to acknowledge the threat and embrace the positive side effects now.
On first reading, the email seemed like genius commentary on how capitalism values profit above all else — even the survival of the planet — but a look at the Higher Tides Realty website made me suspect (and maybe fear) this is indeed an actual business. Here’s the promo video:
Unable to tell for myself if this was a joke or a thing, I turned to my colleagues for input. After a robust discussion about whether Higher Tides Reality is A) a business or B) a conceptual art project, the overwhelming consensus was B, art project — especially after our social media manager pointed out that the the logo is awfully phallic.
But I still wasn’t convinced. The founder, Jake Collins, looks pretty legit on LinkedIn. His profile says that he previously worked at Capitol One and Century 21, which seems like a good background for a climate change industrialist. But then there was this curveball: Collins went to Brown, a university more likely to spawn performance artists than realtors.
There was only one way to find the truth, so I called Collins at his office in Queens, New York.
“Hi Jake,” I said. “This is Katie Herzog from Grist. You may know me as Danielle. Tell me: Is this a joke?”
Collins reassured me that Higher Tides is definitely not a joke, and — despite the logo — I believe him.
The idea for Higher Tides, Collins told me, came after his family’s home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Afterward, Collins realized that not only is climate change a real and present danger, it’s also a business opportunity: “I wanted to say something about climate change and apply my skills as a real estate agent as well. I found that this is a viable business opportunity. Yes, it’s obviously ridiculous but it is a niche market that hasn’t been tapped yet, so we decided to run with it.”
What Higher Tides does, in essence, is help people decide where to move based on climate models and projections. “We are looking for clients that either want to relocate because the water level is rising or the temperatures are changing or the ecosystems around them are completely dying off,” Collins said.
And it’s working — or at least, starting too. Collins says the company currently has 15 clients, all in the New York area, but they’d be happy to consult with anyone around the country.
Collins in not blind to the fact that he is profiting from something that will destroy lives. But, he says, this approach also makes climate change seem more real, more pressing to the folks who hear about it.
“Let’s assume climate change cannot be stopped,” he says, “that Paris and COP21 get nothing done. By doing this, it makes me feel more safe. In the next couple years, I’m hopefully going to help a lot of people, and I hope that people will see that either we fix global warming now or this is our reality.”
My colleagues still aren’t convinced that Collins wasn’t pulling one over on me, but I believe him. If climate change really is inevitable, so, it seems, is profiting from it.
Katie Herzog is Grist's social editor.