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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There’s no such thing as a natural disaster

Good read of the day. Skip to the first four paragraphs though.

Huffington Post (yes, HuffPo) published an excellent article on how U.S. cities are not even closely prepared for hurricanes, sea-level rise, or strong storms.

They point out that these vulnerabilities are our own doing. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg admits to assisting businesses and people build in harms way.

Bloomberg has in general been skeptical about actually limiting development on the water. “People like to live in low-lying areas, on the beach; it’s attractive,” he told a reporter after Sandy. “People pay more, generally, to be closer to the water, even though you could argue they should pay less because it’s more dangerous. But people are willing to run the risk.”

The city’s progress on adapting to storm surge risk has so far consisted mainly of smaller steps, like working with private and public players to harden the electrical grid and seal off the subway system against the threat of flooding.

In other words, city officials are too scared, too weak, or just too ignorant to warn citizens that their lives, investments, or families are at high risk from obliteration. This is not an exaggeration. Even local officials shrug their shoulders when it comes to developing along risky ocean fronts:

Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, argued that development along the Jersey Shore has been ongoing for decades, even before there was a coastal permitting program. He said it is not the state’s role to dictate how redevelopment should occur.

“People who live along the shore always live with a risk, and they know that. That’s understood,” he said. “We at the state are not going to tell these towns you can or cannot rebuild, but we will work with them to make sure that whatever comes back will be done in as smart or protective a fashion as possible.”

Telling.

What’s worse is that these cities and towns claim they are “vital” pieces of the U.S. economy. Yet, they’re not willing (or capable) to pay for clean up and rebuilding after a storm hits - that’s forced upon the American tax payer…

A rare, great read at HuffPo: Hurricane Sandy Damage Amplified By Breakneck Development Of Coast

Insurers Stray From the Conservative Line on Climate Change
Disaster risk reduction gets only 0.4 percent of aid - report

Trust

Who should fund Australia's adaptation to climate change?

Advanced commentary weaves Aussie politics and climate risk together. And it gets better, via The Conversation

USGS moves to create climate change vulnerability database
Insurance companies shunning Florida over climate risk, report says - South Florida Business Journal

Insurance industry is leaving home and business owners (and cities) in the dust by pulling out of high-storm areas.

thesmithian:

“Our climate is changing, the weather is becoming more intense…It’s going to cost a lot of money and a lot of lives…The big issue (is) how do we adapt…because it doesn’t look like the people who are in charge are going to do what it takes to really slow down this climate change, so we are going to have to adapt. And adapting is going to be very, very expensive.” 

California Governor Jerry Brown

…in an airplane hangar filled with trucks, airplanes and helicopters used by the state to fight fires.

1st Arab Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

Great built environment news from the Middle East. They’re getting into disaster management (and a bit of climate adaptation). The conference was held last month in Aqaba, Jordan. And you can view and download a boatload of power point presentations by the speakers, here.

Not sure how long the resources will be online, so get them while they last! 

The conference will provide a forum for Arab politicians, policy makers, planners, academia and development experts to discuss issues and challenges facing the region with regard to disaster risk reduction. This session is being co-organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the League of Arab States (LAS).

Obama Will Use Nixon-Era Law to Fight Climate Change

Wants to include climate change risks in environmental permits. When you build something, such a house or store, you typically need a permit (or three) from the local or state government. Bigger projects require federal approval, such as an oil pipeline or a rail line. So, the larger the project, the more information the government requires as part of those permits.

In order to get a permit, you need to conduct some studies and write a few reports, typically these include an economic feasibility and an environmental impact statement. For federal permits, these studies are made public. This “public comment period” gives everyone, including other businesses, a chance to voice their opinions on the project.

Now, Obama wants to change the rules. He is proposing that the federal permit process should include risks and impacts from climate change. These climate risks will be part of the environmental impact statement.

Businesses do not like permits - but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s very expensive to conduct the required economic and environmental studies. Businesses have to hire specialists just for these permits. Often, these studies delay projects, which makes the projects more expensive to build.

The biggest complaint is that rules are inconsistent - they’re difficult to comply with, unclear in their intent, guidelines are always changing, and (worst of all) they’re unevenly enforced. Sometimes a politician will intervene - essentially subverting the law. Political intervention creates an atmosphere of unfairness and favoritism (but, that is discussion for another post).

In the permitting world, lawsuits abound. And lawsuits compound the costs of building and it generally pisses off a lot of people.

So, when you hear complaints that “environmental permits hurts jobs” it’s not that the developer hates the environment, it’s that the rules are a convoluted, expensive mess. It’s also a clever way for politicians to dismantle environmental regulations because, after all, the rules “hurt jobs” - a line that resonates with the voting public.

Thus, from the perspective of business, Obama’s proposal to increase the rules for environmental permits has businesses - and the politicians that they’ve bought - shaking in their boots.

Queue a big political fight on this one.

President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.

The result could be significant delays for natural gas- export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn.

It’s got us very freaked out,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Southern Co. (SO) The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.

In taking the step, Obama would be fulfilling a vow to act alone in the face of a Republican-run House of Representatives unwilling to pass measures limiting greenhouse gases. He’d expand the scope of a Nixon-era law that was first intended to force agencies to assess the effect of projects on air, water and soil pollution.

“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said last month during his State of the Union address. He pledged executive actions “to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Via the excellent Bloomberg.com

Investors Seek Ways to Profit From Global Warming

Pretty good pulse-taking by Bizweek.

Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter. (The World Bank says the earth could warm by 4C by the end of the century.) Their strategies include buying water treatment companies, brokering deals for Australian farmland, and backing a startup that has engineered a mosquito to fight dengue, a disease that’s spreading as the mercury climbs.

Derivatives that help companies hedge against abnormal weather and natural catastrophes are drawing increased interest from some big players. In January, KKR (KKR) bought a 25 percent stake in Nephila Capital, an $8 billion Bermuda hedge fund that trades in weather derivatives. (The firm is named after a spider that, according to local folklore, can predict hurricanes.)

Climate risk is something people are paying more and more attention to,” says Barney Schauble, managing partner at Nephila Advisors, the firm’s U.S. arm. “More volatile weather creates more risk and more appetite to protect against that risk.

Drought is helping spur business at Water Asset Management. The New York hedge fund, which has about $400 million under management, buys water rights and makes private equity and stock market investments in water treatment companies. “Not enough people are thinking long term of [water] as an asset that is worthy of ownership,” says Chief Operating Officer Marc Robert. “Climate change for us is a driver.”

Via Business Week

Interesting conference recap for my resilience, cities, and adaptation readers. Focus seems to have been on public-private partnerships in rebuilding after disasters - getting NGOs, non-profits, and governments together to discuss how to better plan and manage environmental risks. Big fan of the international flavors at this event.

gpdrr13:

In 2011 a couple of months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear aftermath, the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction, which also hosted the first World Reconstruction Conference, brought together almost 3000 people working on reducing disaster risks and building resilient communities. This included several Heads of State, Ministers, a Managing Director of the World Bank, over 2,600 delegates representing 163 Governments, 25 inter-governmental organizations, 65 non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, private sector, local government, academic institutions, civil society and international organizations.

The Chair’s Summary of the 2011 event identified 9 ways to place DRR at the forefront to preserve and protect the balance of nature and ensure sustainable development and well-being of future generations. This included supporting local government, drawing on the untapped potential of local actors, building on the role of women as change agents, involving children and youth in decisions that affect their future, engaging the private sector, building on the role of parliamentarians in setting policy, promoting cooperation at the local, national, and regional levels,  supporting the scientific and technical communities to inform decisions, and supporting UNISDR in its leadership role in within the UN on DRR.

"10 Ways the Sequester Will Expose Americans to Greater Health Risks and Other Perils". That link-baity headline is the intro to a slew of alarmist clap-trap from the: Center for American Progress (CAP).

It’s garbage.

The truth is, it is not known which programs or projects will be cut as a result of sequestration. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has a much more reasonable take on Congress’s inaction (unlike CAP, Klein seems to have read and comprehended the Budget Control Bill):

"Here’s how you run a sequester: ‘Scrape five percent less poop’

The sequester is set to cut spending across the board. But how? We know an awful lot about what the sequester can’t do. It can’t cut Social Security, Medicaid, military salaries or any number of of exempt programs. It can’t mess with federal pay scales. It can’t favor certain programs over others. But the actual process by which cuts are to be determined, and who is involved in that process, is more obscure.

The problem, budget experts say, is that the Budget Control Act was simultaneously very strict in its dictates and not specific about what those dictates mean. “The law states that the ‘same percentage sequestration shall apply to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account,’ ” former OMB director Peter Orszag says. “That’s pretty restrictive, giving little room for creativity.”

What room there is comes from defining exactly what is meant by “programs,” “projects” and “activities.” “There is not a standard definition,” Stan Collender, a longtime Congressional budget hand currently at the PR firm Qorvis, explains. “It’s not something that exists anywhere else in nature.”

Via WaPo