13 Dec 2013

The cost of (not) adapting

I'm writing this from home on 7 Dec because our flight to Dallas was cancelled (hopefully, we'll make Ecuador via Miami) because "record" cold has cancelled 900 flights out of DFW.

The temperatures were just below freezing, but that was too much for Dallas's infrastructure (wires breaking and roofs sagging). Interestingly, it was also too much for Dallas's trees, which appear to have been suited for warmer temperatures (or, more foolishly, imported from warmer origins).

900 flights with about 150 people per flight means 140,000 interrupted trips. Residents in the area are experiencing power cuts, car damage, hospitalizations, piled up garbage, and other impacts from this "unfortunate" weather.

Many cities run perfectly well at lower temperatures (Buffalo!), so why is Dallas reeling?

Because Dallas's systems (and trees!) were built to withstand a more moderate variation in weather. Extra cold causes damage because there was no preparation for extra cold.

This vignette (and some extra time) helps me see how climate change is going to cause damage, slowly and mercilessly, to our human systems.* It also bodes poorly for the ecosystems that have not experienced these extremes, which is why climate change impacts will be worse in tropical areas.

We're hoping that Miami doesn't experience "record" floods :-|

Bottom Line: Spend money on adaptation now and prepare to pay more in the future, as our environment shifts onto an unknown path. Happy Friday the 13th.

*I wrote this in TEoA 1.2:
Scientists talk about a move from stationarity to non-stationarity, or a move from a pattern that’s repeating or predictable to no pattern at all. Non-stationarity means our understanding of climate is going to be less accurate, with more randomness and fewer patterns. Hundred-year floods will happen more or less often than once per century. Temperatures will vary in a greater range, even as average temperatures increase; droughts will get longer; floods grow stronger; and so on. These changes will be inconvenient and/or dangerous. At best, we will have to spend time and money on robust defenses and better responses to dangerous variation. At worst, we will face more conflict, suffering and death.

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