Sunday, November 4, 2012

NYT Column Gets It Right; Wrong Reason

Please read this entire posting before making judgments; you might be surprised.  

From Sunday's New York Times


What New York is not so good at is preventing big storms from exacting an enormous toll on infrastructure, buildings and businesses. In the case of Sandy, the damage to New York City is estimated to be as much as $17 billion. Cities like LondonAmsterdam — and, yes, Providence — have built systems to minimize the damage even Category 3 storms can cause. But not New York.
Part of the reason is that the cost of any such system would run into the billions of dollars. But another reason is that many environmentalists are firmly opposed to a big public-works project, fearing that it would give people a false sense of security about the problems posed by climate change. They prefer taking smaller steps, like raising the height of subway grates to keep water out of the subway tunnels. Bloomberg has embraced this approach.
As I have explained, there is no, zero, none, nada evidence of increasing numbers of hurricanes since 2005's Katrina in spite of confident predictions that Katrina was just the beginning of a new period of violent storms. Here is Dr. Ryan Maue's (PhD in tropical meteorology, Florida State University) global hurricane index. Note the peak in 2005 and decline since.
click to enlarge
 In fact, world temperatures have been flat the last 15 years, an unexpected occurrence:

So: No increasing temperatures and no increasing hurricanes. Sandy was in no way "caused" by global warming. What will temperatures and number of hurricanes do over the next five years? I have no idea.

That said, there is wisdom in building more resilient and sustainable systems/society that have nothing to do with global warming. 

As explained this past Monday (ironically, just as Sandy was making landfall) in St. Louis at the first-ever Sustainable Recovery Conference. I recommend a new approach to disasters called "Survive, Revive, and Prosper," which was the title of my St. Louis presentation.

We simply do not understand climate sufficiently to be able to make accurate forecasts. We don't even have paradigms that would allow us to begin to forecast volcanoes, earthquakes, and solar storms. For example, the infrastructure that would protect Manhattan from a hurricane would also protect it from a tsunami. We also know sea level is rising and has been since the Little Ice Age and there is no reason to think that rise won't continue. Over time, NYC will need that protection!

I'm using NYC as an example because Sandy is fresh in everyone's mind. These principles apply everywhere.

To politicians: From a political point of view, banning slurpees is easy. The heavy lifting of thinking through disaster risk mitigation, design, funding and building these systems is hard, often very hard. Projects of this nature probably won't be completed while you are still in office. But, they are an essential part of laying the infrastructure for a better future. Not only is it the right thing to do, if you do it well, they might name it for you when it is completed.

Building sustainable and resilient systems, when properly designed, can help us have a better, more prosperous future whether the future is colder or warmer. I urge the communities affected by Sandy to think through these issues as they consider how to rebuild.

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