NYT: The Next Hurricane
The Next Hurricane, and the Next
Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm that hit the Atlantic Seaboard on Oct. 29, left at least 159 dead and caused $65 billion in damages. But as a presidential task force made clear this week, Sandy cannot be considered a seasonal disaster or regional fluke but as yet another harbinger of the calamities that await in an era of climate change. With that in mind, the report says that individuals, local governments and states that expect federal help cannot simply restore what was there but must adopt new standards and harden community structures to withstand the next flood or hurricane.
This report, from the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, identifies 11 climate-related disasters costing an estimated $110 billion in damages in the last year alone. It makes 69 recommendations that Shaun Donovan, the task force chairman and secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, calls “the most important step the federal government has taken so far to incorporate the realities of climate change into the way we recover from disasters.”
The proposals range from urging better cooperation among government agencies to recommendations for hardening and backing up the electrical grid to ensuring the availability of fuel and cellphone coverage.
Some of the detail is telling. There are, for instance, federally funded projects that require as many as 40 different permit and review procedures, stalling rebuilding or relief projects for up to four years.
The report noted that three states hardest hit by Sandy — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — have been slow in adopting internationally accepted building codes, making it too easy for homeowners to patch what they have rather than spend extra to prepare for another Sandy. This warning could be applied nationally.
The report also noted that Congress made important changes last year to the financially distressed National Flood Insurance Program, reducing subsidies that have made this insurance affordable. Now homeowners who live in risk-prone areas are faced with an expensive predicament: they can either pay much higher insurance rates if they leave things the way they are or they can reconfigure their houses to prepare for the next disaster. Reconfiguring could mean raising the house on pylons above the high-water level, as predicted on the latest federal flood maps, a potentially expensive proposition.
This makes perfect sense, harsh as it sounds, though there should be some way to ease the blow for those who can’t afford either the insurance or the pylons. In the end, taxpayers should not be paying to rebuild and then re-rebuild as the sea level rises. Even those politicians who say they still don’t believe in climate change must see that the system needs fixing.