The high cost of climate inaction, continued

hurricane sandy disaster relief costs climate change chart
Screen capture Mother Jones

Climate change is already creating major economic problems for businesses. But Kate Sheppard has a must-read in the latest Mother Jones on the immense costs to the federal government due to the shortsightedness of paying huge sums in annual disaster relief, while doing almost nothing to prepare for the inevitable next storm.

Sheppard writes:

Roughly 123 million of us—39 percent of the US population—dwell in coastal counties. And that spells trouble: 50 percent of the nation's shorelines, 11,200 miles in all, are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the problem isn't so much that the surf laps a few inches higher: It's what happens to all that extra water during a storm.

We're already getting a taste of what this will mean. Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost the federal government $60 billion. Over the past three years, 10 other storms have each caused more than $1 billion in damage. In 2011, the federal government declared a record 99 weather-related major disasters, from hurricanes to wildfires. The United States averaged 56 such disasters per year from 2000 to 2010, and a mere 18 a year in the 1960s.

Storms and flooding are becoming more common, yet the government is not investing enough in the preventative measures that could save money and lives over time.

Making matters worse still, Sheppard reports, are the politicians that refuse to even accept the nature of reality, like these Republicans running Virginia:

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell phased out a Governor's Commission on Climate Change after taking office in 2010. His attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli (who won the state's Republican gubernatorial nomination in May), has spent a good deal of his time in office seeking to prosecute former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann for his work on historic temperature records. And when state lawmakers requested a study on sea level rise, Republican state Del. Chris Stolle retorted that the term was "left-wing." (The Legislature settled on "recurrent coastal flooding.") And Virginia is better off than neighboring North Carolina, where lawmakers last year explicitly refused to consider scientists' current projections in coastal building decisions.

How can we begin to address this crisis when there is this much denial of the problem?

President Obama has, to his credit, recently moved forward his plan for reducing emissions, but even he isn't doing enough to make the case for investing in climate adaptation projects, as Jeff Goodell, a journalist that has been covering rising sea levels and glacier melt for Rolling Stone, pointed out during Obama's big economic speech in Florida, last week.


President Obama is right that we need to be investing in our infrastructure, but there's more that needs our attention instead of just roads and bridges. As sea levels rise, future catastrophic storms and flooding are inevitable, so it's not only the responsible thing to be talking about the need to invest in sea walls, flood gates and other preventative infrastructure. It is also good politics, as well.

In addition to Sheppard's report, Mother Jones and the Climate Desk also have videos showing how some families in Virginia are coping with rising sea levels by raising their homes. More here.

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Causes | Global Warming Science | Global Warming Solutions | Oceans | video

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