Friday, June 21, 2019

More Storms and Rising Seas: Which U.S. Cities Should Be Saved First?

Flooding area in Norfolk, VA.
While the Trump/Pence regime continues to insist that climate change is not real and, worse yet, is undoing Obama era policies and regulations that sought to slow global warming, communities and those living on the coast can see first hand that the sea levels are rising. Here in Southeast Virginia, every community south/southeast of Williamsburg has areas threatened by rising sea levels and most have not seriously begun to face the financial burden that will be involved to build sea walls and other infrastructure modifications.  As the New York Times reports, the potential partial cost the Virginia Beach is $1.7 billion.  Meanwhile, the city of Norfolk (estimated to need 69 miles of sea walls) is devising a plan where neighborhoods could establish themselves as special tax districts to raise funds to make the needed improvements to face rising waters. The overall problem is staggering and Republicans sticking their heads in the sand is not a solution. Small communities could potentially cease to exist in the future.  For the city of Hampton, the price tag for 68 miles of sea walls is $642.9 million - the fourth most costly in Virginia (look up your city here).  Here are highlights from the Times article:

WASHINGTON — As disaster costs keep rising nationwide, a troubling new debate has become urgent: If there’s not enough money to protect every coastal community from the effects of human-caused global warming, how should we decide which ones to save first?
After three years of brutal flooding and hurricanes in the United States, there is growing consensus among policymakers and scientists that coastal areas will require significant spending to ride out future storms and rising sea levels — not in decades, but now and in the very near future. There is also a growing realization that some communities, even sizable ones, will be left behind.
By 2040, simply providing basic storm-surge protection in the form of sea walls for all coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents will require at least $42 billion, according to new estimates from the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental advocacy group. Expanding the list to include communities smaller than 25,000 people would increase that cost to more than $400 billion.
“Once you get into it, you realize we’re just not going to protect a lot of these places,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the group, which wants oil and gas companies to pay some of the cost of climate adaptation. “This is the next wave of climate denial — denying the costs that we’re all facing.”
The research is limited in that it considers only sea walls, and not other methods for minimizing flood risk that may be more practical in some places, such as moving homes and shops away from the most flood-prone areas. The figures also don’t include the additional and costlier steps that will be required even with sea walls, such as revamping sewers, storm water and drinking water infrastructure.
Still, the data provides a powerful financial measuring stick for the tough decisions that countless communities — large and small — are starting to confront.
The cities that are quick to adapt to climate risks “are going to attract the jobs and the factories of the future,” said Eric Smith, president and chief executive officer for the Americas at Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. “There’s going to be communities that I think will be left way, way behind.”
 The new research identifies 241 cities of 25,000 people or more that will require at least $10 million worth of sea walls by 2040 just to protect against a typical annual storm.
Total cost of adding sea walls1. Jacksonville, Fla. $3.5 billion2. New York City $2.0 billion3. Virginia Beach $1.7 billion4. Galveston, Tex. $1.1 billion5. Charleston, S.C. $1.0 billion6. Tampa, Fla. $938.4 million7. Barnstable Town, Mass. $889.2 million8. Corpus Christi, Tex. $861.1 million9. St. Petersburg, Fla. $751.4 million10. New Orleans $725.1 million
Many cities, especially small ones, will not be able to meet the costs facing them.  Those that can’t will depend on federal funding. . . . So experts have proposed ways of focusing federal money where it can do the most good — even if that means some places are left out.
One approach would be for the federal government to spend the money based simply on where it would most reduce the future cost of damages, according to Craig Fugate, who ran FEMA during the Obama administration.
He acknowledged that Congress would probably object to that approach, since it would likely mean FEMA would concentrate its resilient-infrastructure funds in just a handful of states.
 Another option would be for the federal government to distribute climate protection money based on a city’s property value, its historical and cultural importance, and how much it contributes to the national economy, said Harriet Tregoning, who was in charge of the housing department’s Office of Community Planning and Development during the Obama administration.
Cities could increase their chances of getting money by reducing their exposure to disasters, perhaps by retrofitting their buildings, implementing aggressive building codes and zoning restrictions, and helping residents leave the most vulnerable neighborhoods, Ms. Tregoning said. And there could be extra points for cities that take in people forced to flee other parts of the country.
Mr. Smith, of Swiss Re, said that cities should take responsibility for protecting themselves from the rising toll of disasters, rather than waiting for the federal government.
In his view, the chief obstacle is the refusal by some local officials to acknowledge what is happening. “The challenge is, we’re fighting about whether or not there’s climate change,” Mr. Smith said. “They don’t want to embrace what’s right in front of us.”
Virginia Republicans have been denying for years what is actually happening choosing to use the euphemism "repetitive flooding" rather than admit sea level rise.

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