Climate Adaptation

CLIMATE ADAPTATION

I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.


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“ The continental United States endured its hottest year on record in 2012, and the planet’s 13 hottest years have all occurred since 1998," David Leonhardt reminds us in the New York Times today.

"Major storms and wildfires are increasing in many regions. The air in much of China resembles soup. The seas are rising faster than forecast only a few years ago, and the costs of extreme weather are rising, too… In the end, the strongest economic argument for an aggressive response to climate change is not the much trumpeted windfall of green jobs. It’s the fact that the economy won’t function very well in a world full of droughts, hurricanes and heat waves. ”

—    

David Leonhardt makes an economic case for tackling climate change in another op-ed in the NYTimes, “It’s Not Easy Being Green." He concludes with a rare and reasonable solution. Usually op-eds like this one concludes with a call to "action" and "we must do something," which frankly we should all be sick of hearing by now.

Op-eds and similar ‘calls to action’ need to conclude with a discussion of solutions, no matter their difficulty.

Perceived timings of economic crisis and climate change prevent action

Surprisingly bold call for adapting to climate change by Chiemi Hayashi of the WEF. She calls for heavy investments in climate adaptation now while leaders figure out how to tackle the current economic crisis.

She doesn’t quiet say it, but Hayashi implies that efforts to reduce carbon emissions have failed. And since those efforts have failed, we have to deal with two crises that are sneaking up on us right now: an economic crisis and a disaster management crisis.

Climate change threats are being neglected to tackle short term economic stresses but it would be wise to invest in climate change adaptation now.

The world is facing an unprecedented dual crisis. But with economic and environmental stresses playing out over different timeframes, deep-rooted biases in the way we judge risks may mean we are too preoccupied with firefighting short-term economic problems to tackle longer-term climate threats.

That is one of the key messages to emerge from the Global Risks 2013 report, published by the World Economic Forum. The report is based on an annual survey in which experts share their perceptions of how global risks may unfold over a 10-year time horizon.

Highlighted concerns left no doubt that the continuing fallout from the financial crisis of five years ago is likely to dominate leaders’ attention over the coming decade. Growth prospects remain relatively weak, and intense pressure on public finances is set to continue.

Meanwhile, experts rated the systemically most important environmental risk to be failure to adapt to climate change – in contrast to last year, when rising greenhouse gas emissions topped the results. This reflects a wider shift in recent conversation on climate change, from the question of whether our climate is changing to “by how much” and “how quickly”.

The transition can be seen in a spate of recent reports on climate adaptation efforts. Examples of adaptation initiatives include flood defences for coastal cities, strengthening the capacity of critical infrastructure to survive freak weather events, and researching crop varieties which are more able to withstand swings between extremes of drought and flood.

While the numbers involved vary widely according to different climate change scenarios, it is clear that the costs of investing in adaptation measures and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions are greatly outweighed by the likely future costs of failing to do so. One recent report by Mercer estimates the economic costs of climate change as likely to fall between $2tn and $4tn and (£1.25tn and £2.5tn) by 2030. In addition, we are observing nascent trends of climate change-related litigations, which could compound the cost of climate change significantly.

Logic dictates that it would be wise to bear the costs of investing in climate change adaptation now, rather than shouldering the greater future costs of climate-related disasters. However, humans suffer from several well-established cognitive biases which may hold us back from doing so.

The term “hyperbolic discounting” refers to the tendency to give immediate costs and benefits disproportionately more weight than delayed ones. Researchers have also found that we place too much emphasis on recent personal experience when estimating the future likelihood of a given risk occurring – for instance, taking out flood insurance immediately after a flood, and letting it lapse after a few years without a flood.

The cumulative effect of such cognitive biases is that we tend to find reasons to persuade ourselves that it is not necessary to focus on risks which are perceived to be long term, creeping and relatively uncertain. And while some degree of climate change is now inevitable, there remains great uncertainty about its likely extent and local manifestations.

The latter is especially significant, as climate adaptation is inherently local.

This is a great article. Honest and clear-eyed. I highly recommend my followers to take some time to read it. Via The Guardian

Crumbling levees threaten US with new Katrina — RT

So glad to see RT pick this story up. Infrastructure is what I work on, and the U.S. is in big, big trouble.

rtamerica:

Inspectors discovered 326 deficient levees across the US, whose likely failures could leave millions of people dead.

A breach could demolish homes and cost local governments millions of dollars. By failing to repair the defective structures, the US is choosing to risk the lives of its citizens who are walking on eggshells with their proximity to the flood zones. In its first ever inventory of the nation’s flood control systems, inspectors raised the overdue alarm that hundreds of levees may be unable to regulate water levels and prove useless in face of heavy rains. Such populated cities as Washington DC, Sacramento, Dallas, Cleveland and many others might be flooded at any moment.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has only issued ratings for 58 percent of the 2,487 flood control systems, which means inspectors could still discover hundreds more deficient levees. Many of the earthen levees are crumbling under the effect of trees, shrubs and animal holes. Decaying pipes and pumping stations could also cause the flood control systems downfall, while some of the levees are dangerously close to houses or even have houses built on top of them.

Via RT

massurban:

The Atlantic Cities: 

“The Generator Is the Machine of the Moment”

In the days that followed Hurricane Sandy, the developer of the luxury condominium 150 Charles Street hunkered down with his team of architects and engineers to rethink the building’s design.

Just steps from the Hudson River, the construction site was partially flooded. “Their mandate was to figure out how the building would have stayed open in a storm like this,” said Steven Witkoff, the developer. “They came back with a list of five things, and we implemented every single one.”

The efforts delayed the project by some six weeks and added as much as $3 million to its cost.

It was one of a number of projects that convened their engineers and construction teams to reconsider their plans after the rising waters rushed over the city’s embankments and into the basements of countless residential buildings across Lower Manhattan.

Now, more than two months after the storm caused millions of dollars in damage, novel and costly waterproofing techniques are being employed, including the addition of backup generators and floodgates, and the relocation of mechanical equipment. The owners of buildings that predate the flooding are also looking at these measures, although retroactive installation is so complex and costly that some may decide not to do anything.

“If you are in the flood zone and you are marketing a new high-end property, it will need to stand up to the test of another superstorm,” said Stephen G. Kliegerman, the executive director of development marketing for Halstead Property. “I think buyers would happily pay to be relatively reassured they wouldn’t be terribly inconvenienced in case of a natural disaster.” [Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times]

This is a great read for adaptation and infrastructure folks. Purchases of large-scale pumps, generators, and other flood proofing measures are on the rise, especially in storm prone and coastal cities. I was walking along 5th Avenue recently and saw a motley work crew pumping the flooded basement of a uber fancy high-rise apartment building. “Why are you taking pictures of hoses?” my friend asked me. “Invest now,” I told her, “pumps are the future.”

As more people move to cities and suburbs, do rural areas still matter?

Pretty harsh article on the state of rural and farm communities. Rural communities are getting older, having fewer kids. I know a few farmers out here in western Mass., and they’re focused on local niches. Most are just barely paying the bills. There’s little time to focus on long-term growth, and frankly becoming a farmer isn’t very interesting to a lot of young folks. Ayuh. Times, theyah changin’…

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a dire warning to the 51 million farmers, ranchers and other residents inhabiting rural America before a farm group in Washington last month. His message: Rural Americans are becoming less relevant in the country’s increasingly urban landscape, and unless they find a way to reverse the trend, their voice will continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington and around the world.

“Unless we respond and react, the capacity of rural America and its power and its reach will continue to decline,” Vilsack said. “Rural America, with a shrinking population, is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we better recognize that, and we had better begin to reverse it.” In the past four years, he said, more than 50 percent of rural counties have seen their populations decline.

Vilsack pointed to rural America’s diminishing impact as a reason Congress was unable to pass a farm bill in 2012 during an election year. More than 80 percent of lawmakers are not representing rural areas, making it an uphill battle for those outside of urban areas to be heard in Washington.

Via Desmoines Register

Why might China need up to 500 personnel in its embassy in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, a country of 320,000 people?

The U.S. Embassy in Iceland might be 70 people. Europe’s largest presence is France, with only a 20 person embassy. Why would China need one with 500 people?

The answer? Natural resources. Aluminum, rare earth metals, oil, gas, copper, gold, and possibly diamonds are irresistible wealth opportunities in the Arctic region. Melting ice will give way to new mega-mining operations like never seen before.

Then Mr. Degeorges answered his own question about China’s need — or desire — for such a large embassy in Reykjavik: “It gives you the long-term perspective that you can expect in Iceland.”

Indeed.

Everyone is jostling for space in the melting Arctic these days, it seems, as my colleague Elisabeth Rosenthal recently reported. That includes China, which has no Arctic territory.

Yet as the Arctic ice cap melts, it is revealing riches — principally minerals, including important rare earths, but also water, oil and gas. Greenland potentially has up to 10 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves, Mr. Degeorges said.

NYTimes

This. Looks. Amazing!

tribecafilm:

Stephen Maing’s fascinating documentary about the rise of digital censorship in China, High Tech, Low Life, inspired audiences at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Now playing at the IFC Center until January 15th!

(IFC, I’m not the best at this, but I know enough to say: you all need to learn how to use tags. Know your audience.)

Republican Congress approves $9.7 billion in disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims. The balance, $51 billion, is set for a January 11th vote.

Republicans are calling for cuts to other parts of the government to offset the relief, marking a new era in disaster relief response.

CBS

Art insurers face record loss from Superstorm Sandy

Hurricanes and floods are not just an environmental or “flooded basement” issue, it affects many aspects of society. Historic sites, libraries, and museums are especially vulnerable to storms as their collections are simply irreplaceable.

While this excellent report by Reuters focuses on insurance companies, what really is at stake is our cultural heritage.

image

Hurricane Sandy devastated several galleries in NYC, destroying thousands of precious paintings and sculptures. While much of the higher-end pieces are insured, they are lost to history and only exist in memory.

Worse, for the artists and galleries, insurance companies are reconsidering covering these precious treasures…

Fine art insurers face claims of up to half a billion dollars, their biggest ever payout, to compensate the owners of artwork destroyed when Superstorm Sandy flooded galleries in New York.

Work by 1960s graphic artist and illustrator Peter Max accounts for the bulk of the loss, landing insurers including Catlin with a claim of $300 million, an industry source said.

"This will be the largest single art loss to the market," said Filippo Guerrini-Maraldi, head of fine art at insurance broker RK Harrison.

Catlin declined to comment.

Axa, the world’s biggest art insurer, expects to pay out $40 million, art claims director Colin Quinn said, and brokers and underwriters say the total loss could reach $500 million.

That would wipe out virtually a full year’s revenues for the art insurance industry, forcing it to push up its prices.

"Some underwriters will lose appetite for writing fine art business after Sandy, the global capacity for fine art business will shrink, and as a result rates will go up," Guerrini-Maraldi said.

Galleries and art warehouses affected by Sandy could be forced to pay up to 25 percent more for insurance, and insurers could refuse to cover premises in low-lying areas of Manhattan against floods, one underwriter said, asking not to be named.

UNDER WATER

Sandy, which killed 132 people as it swept through the north-eastern United States on October 29, caused flooding in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, where many New York art galleries are located. Art warehouses in New Jersey were also affected, insurers and brokers say.

Sandy is expected to cost the insurance industry a total of $25 billion, making it the second costliest storm after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Via excellent reporting by Reuters

Tennessee’s Christmas tree market hit hard by drought

Shortage could result in higher prices in future, growers say

Record heat and abnormally dry conditions conspired to cause significant losses, especially among seedlings and saplings, local growers say. That could result in higher prices in the future, when those trees would have been hitting the market.

Tennessee ranks 13th nationally in Christmas tree production, with more than 166,000 harvested in 2007, the latest year for which U.S. Department of Agriculture figures were available. The state had 177 tree farms that year, with the biggest concentration in northeast Tennessee.

Via The Tennessean

The Scramble for Iraq’s oil wealth has begun. The country is nearly stable, a semi-functioning government is in place, and the oil business is about to explode.

A new oil rush is taking place in Iraq.

The country is emerging as a new oasis of opportunity, while the rest of the world struggles to emerge from the global financial crisis.

And as Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad, it is not just oil that is attracting hungry foreign companies.”

Via Al Jazeera (click here if video is not working)

The DC based Heritage Foundation is one of the most powerful, influential conservative think-tanks in the world. In fact, just last week, a U.S. Senator resigned his seat to work for Heritage.

Heritage mainly - and very successfully - lobbies politicians to cut taxes, incentivize private markets to replace nearly all areas of government, and to direct tax-payer money more towards national defense.

This is the formula, they argue, that will create more freedom for Americans.

They’re also very, very effective at criticizing environmental policy and the American education system, which, if we’re honest with ourselves, needs a bit of housecleaning.

Take their argument against providing relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. They’re arguing that Obama’s emergency relief for Hurricane Sandy victims is far too expensive. The main argument is that private and local institutions and non-profits should step-up and help more than the Federal Government. And that the Obama administration should encourage local communities to deal with their own hazards. This as opposed to the government incentivizing rebuilding in dangerous areas in perpetuity.

Heritage might be right about this. As a thought experiment, suppose I choose to live on an earthquake fault. I’m aware of the fault. I’m also aware that the you, the taxpayer, will rebuild my home when there is a disaster. You, the taxpayer, also give me special discounts on home insurance, discounts that are not available to everyone else. When an earthquake destroys my home, who should rebuild it? Now apply this thought experiment to a city. The city knows it’s in a danger zone. The politicians, businesses, and residents all know that Americans will pay to rebuild the city, no matter what. Heritage argues that this system is biased, immoral, and plainly unfair.

You may disagree, but that thought experiment is a real issue that should be discussed.

Still, Heritage is the anathema of the progressive left, which believes a strong state equates to a stronger populace (e.g., stronger social systems). You can find endless arguments for-and-against the Heritage Foundation all over the web. 

The above screenshot shows back-to-back blog posts, which I argue below, demonstrate the immoral, and therefore incongruous behavior by Heritage and many old-school conservatives. No-doubt, you will come across some form of this cognitive dissonance one day, if you haven’t already.

The top post is against clean energy investments paid for by you, the taxpayer (go here to explore why this is a climate change issue. Don’t forget to come back!:)). The bottom post argues that you, the taxpayer, should pay for the security of a rather rich, foreign government. One post is against taxpayer spending, the other is for more taxpayer spending.

My point in posting this screenshot is to call-out the immoral behavior of the Heritage Foundation. To my mind, these two posts demonstrate both the cognitive dissonance and the blatant ignorance of Heritage’s positions. Sorry to belabor the point, but just bear with me.

On the one hand, they argue, government should not invest in clean energy - it’s a waste of tax payer money and should be left to the markets. Yet on the other, in the very next post, they argue that tax payers should pay for the security state of a foreign nation, namely the very rich, military heavy UK government. Thus, cut tax spending in America, increase tax spending on the UK.

Heritage cannot have it both ways in this instance. It cannot be both for and against national security. Our military has argued for decades that America must ween off of oil from the Middle East (and foreign oil generally). A position supported by Heritage. Their argument, in short, is that “energy independence” would increase freedom and protection for Americans - exactly the mission of Heritage.

In fact, the Department of Defense has shown that American’s fuel-oil infrastructure both on the ground and around the world is not only dangerous and expensive, it regularly kills Americans. And the DOD argues that alternative energy is necessary to protect the United States.

Everyone knows that this argument is not new. Even Fox News kicks around energy independence and freedom. America needs to be energy independent and it will result in a safer, more prosperous America.

Heritage is lying - flat out lying - when it argues against investing in alternative energy. It cannot have it both ways.

I’m all for criticism. It makes for stronger, more accessible public policy. But, when the message is delivered by people that genuinely and regularly deceive the public, more harm is done than good. This behavior also prevents good and smart people from playing in their sandbox.

Heritage has to face the facts: The United States is not going to move backwards, to the 1950s. Ever. Americans are not going to embrace the new Tea Party. Nor libertarianism. Nor any other patriarchally formulated “ism.”

It’s time the Heritage Foundation shed its tired, old-dog ways and get with the program. To focus on modern-day conservatism. To enrich Americans, not divide them. Not to force Americans against each other, but to incentivize us to work together - after all, working together is our American “heritage.”

The Heritage Foundation should exist. They can do good for America. But they need to bullet-proof their positions by recognizing that this, this screen-shot above, is morally abhorrent behavior. To succeed and reach a wider audience (rather than the dying white-male demographic), they’ll need to invest in arguments supported by diverse research teams, rather than uni-polar, specialized, and biased studies and reports.

It is the moral thing to do.