Tallying Up the Infrastructure Costs of Climate Change

alaska road

In the wake of Minneapolis' tragic bridge collapse, policymakers and economists have been scrambling to reassess the state of the nation's oft deteriorating infrastructure. Concerns about their potential vulnerabilities to extreme weather events — such as hurricanes, flash floods and sharp temperature abnormalities — brought about by climate change have also pushed these reevaluations to the fore. And not a moment too soon, says University of Alaska resource economist Peter Larsen.

When he first started calling transportation officials across Alaska in late 2006 to ask whether climate change had damaged any roads or bridges he would often get laughs. But that didn't stop him: he continued calling — searching for infrastructure that was deteriorating as the permafrost thawed beneath it and for facilities threatened by coastal erosion and flooding — until he and his colleagues had mapped every inch of Alaska's infrastructure and put a price tag on what climate change might do to it. And a hefty price tag it is: up to $6.1 billion dollars between now and 2030 to fix or replace structures and up to $7.6 billion between now and 2080 — figures he came up with after tracking down the state's 16,000 structures and putting dollar signs on the potential wear and tear with the help of engineering estimates and the latest climate projections. Of course, that's already on top of the billions Alaska spends on maintaining its current infrastructure. As the country's fastest-warming state, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg for Alaska, Larsen notes. Yet Larsen cautions other cities and countries should be taking heed of the state of their infrastructure.

While most cost-estimating has focused on GDPs, trade and other such figures, Larsen's work is different in that it gauges the effect of climate change by adding up all the dollars of adapting to a warmer world, one bridge and one building at a time. In other words, urban planning 101. It will essentially boil down to officials and residents having to weigh the costs and benefits of investing in new infrastructure or climate change adaptations. As Joel Smith, a consultant on Larsen's work, put it: "You don't have to make an investment but you should at least consider it. To not consider it is derelict."

And seeing as most of that infrastructure is already present — just not in great shape — it shouldn't be too much to ask to have our local and federal governments tackle this pressing issue.

Via ::Environmental Science & Technology: The climate cost calculator (news website)

See also: ::Combating Climate Change Cheaper Than Originally Thought, ::Subsidizing Climate Change
Image courtesy of Kolleggerium via flickr

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