Readers here will know that I have not been kind when referring to Huffington Post and their various writers on the subject of climate change. Their efforts can best be described as banal support of conventional wisdom, which means on a variety of issues they have been very wrong.
So I’m pleased to tell you all that Huffington Post has a very good article on efforts to improve U.S. infrastructure to deal with current weather impacts. It is titled “Thinking Big on Climate Change,” by Ana Baptista. It talks about efforts to improve resilience to storm surge in New York and quite properly laments the failure to expand this protection to poorer communities in New Jersey and other parts of the Empire State.
“Senator Chuck Schumer recently announced that New York City will get $176 million in federal funding for storm protections. The ambitious project will fortify the Lower East Side and Southern tip of Manhattan, a densely populated coastline that is vulnerable to flooding. The plan includes state-of-the-art sea walls, temporary floodwalls, and expansive grass river beams to absorb waves and double as recreation areas when the sun is shining. It will improve the resilience of an area that needs protection against increasingly extreme weather and shield vulnerable public housing as well as the city’s financial nerve.”
The HuffPo story notes that the U.S. has been reluctant to fund badly-needed infrastructure projects and it makes some interesting points about how current climate affects the poorer even in the U.S. “The reality is that the United States has a structural deficit when it comes to funding climate resilience projects across the board. This deficit is exacerbated by the deteriorated infrastructure and lack of services in the most vulnerable communities. Low-income communities–often communities of color–experience the worst climate impacts and are usually the last to get help.”
“Investing in climate adaptation projects in low-income communities should be at the top of our priority list. The prolonged drought in California has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the poor from tribal, rural and farming communities. Farming communities in places like Porterville are seeing their wells dry up and have no reliable water infrastructure to fall back on. Poor-quality housing and infrastructure, proximity to environmental hazards and lack of economic security have hampered communities and individuals’ ability to survive and recover from climate related disasters.”
Of course I would characterize these efforts differently–preparing to meet the climate of today, not tomorrow (and insisting these efforts include a margin for impacts of future climate), this type of ‘Pre-Adaptation’ is exactly what we need to be doing today. Hurricane Katrina, also discussed in the article, was not a result of climate change, but we need to upgrade the infrastructure to handle the next, perhaps stronger, hurricane that hits New Orleans. That’s what they’re doing in New York and that’s what we need to be doing across the country.
The climate activist response in the past has been to dismiss adaptation efforts. They say adaptation only helps communities that can afford to build protection. They prefer mitigation, lowering CO2 levels so that disasters caused by human contributions to climate change are minimized, if not eliminated.
I consider the activist response short-sighted in the extreme. Weather-related disasters won’t disappear even if we keep CO2 at pre-industrial levels. We need to build up resilience, even in the U.S., to help us deal with the inevitable vagaries of the elements. After all, the worst floods, the worst storms, the worst droughts all preceded the era of our industrial level of emissions.
We need to prepare for the climate events we have seen come to pass–and to help others do the same. I am not calling for a cessation of efforts to reduce emissions. I am saying plainly that the type of adaptation discussed in Huffington Post today should have a higher priority.