Keeping Ourselves (And Our Money) Safe

Written by Jennifer McKnight on . Posted in Learn

With 10 natural disasters this year that have each cost more than $1 billion, the United States can now make the claim of being home to the most costly damage caused by extreme weather on Earth.

This makes the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force’s new report on how we’re doing at preparing ourselves in the face of major disruptions to our climate system all the more urgent.

The Task Force’s “progress report” reiterates that our nation’s investments – including city, state, and private investments – are at risk.

In one example within the report of how Americans are having to deal with the consequences of carbon pollution, Brian A. Roth, the mayor of Plymouth, North Carolina, says: “In many smaller coastal towns that are going to be affected [by sea-level rise], the concern is not about expanding the current water and sewer infrastructure systems in a smart way. Rather, it is about moving infrastructure that has been in the ground for decades. Some of my pipes are over 100 years old. Smaller, low-wealth communities cannot possibly undertake the financial burden of system relocations without grants from the Federal government.”

Another passage in the report notes: “Federal agencies are providing scientific information and tools to help decision makers prepare for, respond to, and reduce the threat of fire to minimize fire-related loss of life and damages. With seasonal forecasting, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists warned Texas fire managers in December 2010 of impending extreme drought conditions that would lead to high fire risk. This long-range forecast helped decision makers pre-position local fire-fighting assets so that when the fire season arrived, first responders could act quickly to save lives and property.

“When the burning escalated in spring 2011, as predicted, NOAA deployed specially trained National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists to support forecasts that helped first responders battle the fires. The 13 NWS forecast offices serving Texas also provided drought information, high wind warnings, and short- and long-term weather forecasts. Throughout the 2011 fire season, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior used science-based tools to provide information about expected fire behavior, risks of damage, and assistance needs. These collaborative efforts helped fire managers develop strategic responses and on-the-ground tactical actions for fires across the nation, including large fires in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Georgia.”

Here at The Nature Conservancy, our investments in land and water to protect people and nature are also at risk. Speeding-up impacts are making it more difficult for us to keep our drinking water clean, protect our safe havens from flooding and droughts, and keep our life- and product-giving forests healthy.

But in these tough economic times, how do we combat this risk? As the Task Force has recognized, nature-based adaptation solutions are an essential and smart component to making our nation safe and strong from the increasing consequences of climate change. The Nature Conservancy works on these kinds of nature-based solutions all over the country and world. We know that these are cost-effective investments that can provide multiple benefits compared to “hard infrastructure” solutions.

For example, using the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience website, we are helping assess hazards and inform local residents about approaching storm surges in Long Island Sound and places around the globe. In California alone, several cities, ranging from conservative communities such as Newport Beach to liberal enclaves like San Francisco are preparing for climate change.

In Samoa, the planting of a mangrove and reviving of reefs rate as the most cost-effective measures – along with simply retreating from the coast – to reduce the impacts of predicted sea-level rise.

Oyster reefs and concrete sea walls both reduce coastal erosion. However, the reefs also support fish and shellfish harvests, and reduce nitrogen and other pollutants.

As the findings released this week by the Task Force point out: despite our country’s economic woes, we need to continue to search for ways to prepare ourselves for the myriad changes we’re increasingly seeing all around us, including extreme weather events. These steps need to be integrated across federal agencies.

It is the best way to secure our communities from unbearable expenses in the coming years. In this case, better-now-than-too-late absolutely applies.

You can have a voice to make sure all our leaders consider the Task Force’s recommendations. Either pass this article along through your social networks or, better yet, send along this blog to your local representatives and encourage them to take action.

Jennifer McKnight is climate adaptation policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy. Sarah Murdock, senior climate policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy, and Eric Haxthausen, director of U.S. climate policy at the Nature Conservancy, also contributed to this blog.

Photo by Lance Cheung of USDA (Peter Preston rides on Bureau of Land Management park land in Salinas, California, where a combination of deep-rooted trees such as willow and oak and drought-tolerant grass help clean nearby Monterey Bay by reducing the risk of flooding and associated damage.)

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About Planet Change

Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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