1 Sep 2017

So what now, America?

I was going to call this post "I told you so, America," but I want to change people's perspectives and motivate action more than be right.

First of all, let's all agree that the flood damages to Houston were worse due to poor planning that paved wetlands and allowed the city to sprawl into flood plains.

Second, subsidized flood insurance (or the lack of a requirement for insurance) means that many people fail to consider the risk of flooding when choosing where to live. (Me complaining about this 10 years ago, an update 5 years ago, and my student this year.)

Third, climate change means that many models and assumptions are wrong. Houston has experienced three "500-year storms" in the past 50 years (or in the past 3 years?) and the number of storms is increasing, worldwide:


Fourth, people and cities around the world are going to experience greater damages as climate change (emphasis on change) raises sea levels, redirects ocean currents and increases storm strength. Greater threats to weaker populations (Bangladesh just flooded) will result in economic loss, political instability, forced migration and many other impacts that will spill over to countries that are not immediately affected by climate.

Fifth, there's no need to spend €2-3,000 to get access to "expert opinions" at Stockholm's World Water Week (it ends today). The right actions are obvious:
  1. Stop subsidies for living in risky places
  2. Restore the buffers that can protect cities from floods
  3. Build more absorption/storage capacity into systems to cope with flood -- or drought!
  4. Plan for the next 50-100 years, not the next election cycle
These costs may bother people, but we're talking about investing $ today to save $$$ in the near future. (NYC decided to not build flood defenses just before Sandy hit.)

What will that future look like? Check out my project -- Life plus 2 meters -- to read some visions of how we might (not) adapt to climate change. I bet that some people in Houston would have wished they had read the book... and planned for a future that arrived a little sooner than expected.*

Bottom Line: Make sure that your city has plans -- and is taking actions -- to cope with living in a climate-changed world. You can do that by pressuring politicians to plan for the long term and supporting spending that will realize those plans.

* We published Volume 1 last year. The deadline to submit new visions for Volume 2 is 15 September!

8 comments:

  1. I agree with your 4 actions. They are about resilience to extreme weather, regardless of their cause, or whether they are getting worse. But, you need to be aware that if you build flood defences in one place, you push the problem to another, you don't remove it.
    I hope you are aware that a graph of increasing 'disaster loss' is not an indicator of whether storms are getting worse. Its a measure of: increasing populations in risk zones, an increasing tendency to insure, and the impact of the land use changes you mentioned.
    I hope you are also aware of the large uncertainties in predicting event return periods. The statement about '3x 500-yr storms' is much more likely an indicator of those uncertainties than a worsening of storms.
    The most recent IPCC report finds minimal correlation between extreme weather events and global warming. If you read that section carefully, the only strong correlation is in 'more warm days and fewer cold days', but that's hardly 'extreme'. Also, low confidence in any correlation with tropical storms (= hurricanes).
    I like much of what you write, but would be nice to see a bit more rigor in the science and less 'popular' alarmism.

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    1. I don't mind rigor BUT (so ignore what I just said ;), there's ZERO doubt that CC will lead to more variation (frequency and intensity) than we're used to (thus the problem with 1 in 500 years...), so I am not alarmist as much as "better get prepared..." as I think that the data (and correlations) are lagging but arriving "just as predicted."

      Put differently, do you need data to know that drink and YOUR teen results in poor judgement, or do you follow a mental model that says the risk is there when thinking of how to avoid such outcomes?

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    1. Zero, as in mathematical certainty, yes. Every paper ever written about the greenhouse effect starts with the fact that adding more heat will result in more atmospheric mixing, which will "speed" up events, making them more variable.

      Here are some scientists who discuss the correlation:

      http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/global-warming-rain-snow-tornadoes.html

      I'm only an economist, but I know when it's a good idea to rely on scientists. That's now.

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    2. Consumerchoice deleted their original comment, but I'm putting it back, for the sake of others:

      "in response to I agree with your 4 actions. They are about resilience to extreme weather, regardless of their cause, or whether they are getting worse. But, you need to be aware that if you build flood defences in one place, you push the problem to another, you don't remove it. I hope you are aware that a graph of increasing 'disaster loss' is not an indicator of whether storms are getting worse. Its a measure of: increasing populations in risk zones, an increasing tendency to insure, and the impact of the land use changes you mentioned. I hope you are also aware of the large uncertainties in predicting event return periods. The statement about '3x 500-yr storms' is much more likely an indicator of those uncertainties than a worsening of storms. The most recent IPCC report finds minimal correlation between extreme weather events and global warming. If you read that section carefully, the only strong correlation is in "more warm days and fewer cold days", but that's hardly "extreme"

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  3. hi David and others, from my dissertation: in NL 17 million people pay an annual 50 euros in taxes to maintain and upgrade the dike system, to provide for a chance of death due to fl0oding of 10-5 or less. To which US number can we compare this? Annual flood insurance premiums pc? Bottom line: theres st to say for century-long investing in flood risk reduction infrastructure...

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    1. By 10-5, Ties means "a chance of 1:100.000"

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