Mal-adapation: Missouri levee failure highlights need to increase infrastructure investments and prepare for climate change
TVA COO: Wednesday’s series of storms caused major damage to the TVA power system. We have never experienced such a major weather event in our history…. Hundreds of thousands of consumers are without power because of damage to power lines and other equipment…. The three units at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in northern Alabama automatically shutdown [safely] as a result of transmission line damage from the storm.
One thing is clear from all of the extreme weather slamming the United States: We are ill-prepared for human-caused climate change, whose primary near-term impact on most Americans will be from the ever-worsening weather extremes.
The warming and the deluges are connected (see Masters: Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures). Capitol Climate has just aggregated the data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center on “Monthly total number of daily high temperature, low temperature, and high minimum temperature records set in the U.S.” for the last few months. April was very extreme:
Steve Scolnik” reports April has seen “1759 record high temperatures in the U.S. vs. 310 record lows, a ratio of nearly 5.7 to 1, exceeding even March’s 5.3 to 1. This is the highest since the ratio of 6.1 last April.” That compares to the ratio for the last decade of 2.04-to-1, which itself was double the ratio of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (see “Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.“). So US temperatures are becoming more extreme — and April has been unusually extreme.
Water and climate scientist Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute, has a good HuffPost piece on “A Cost of Denying Climate Change: Accelerating Climate Disruptions, Death, and Destruction.” Of course, if the do-nothing crowd keeps denying the reality of climate science, and the climate activists downplay the reality of climate change, as some argue they should, then we are certainly never going to get prepared for what is to come (see “Conservatives oppose adaptation, too“). That’s why ClimateProgress has a whole category devoted to extreme weather and the best science on how it is linked to human-caused climate change.
As long as folks deny or downplay the connection, adaptation will be little more than a euphemism for abandonment, triage, and misery. Of course, we aren’t even “adapting” to the current level of extreme weather.
We didn’t build levees capable of protecting New Orleans from a major hurricane storm surge before Katrina — and we still haven’t prepared it for a Category Five storm even though we know it is inevitable one will hit the city.
It is not just New Orleans that is unprepared for our present level of extreme weather, as WonkRoom explains in “Missouri Levee Failure Highlights Need For Increased Infrastructure Investments,” reposted below:
For several days, the midwest and southern U.S. have been pounded by deadly storms, which have brought tornadoes and widespread flooding. Today, a levee in Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, failed in at least four locations, which is “expected to send flood waters from the Black River racing into a populated but rural area of Butler County.” It is currently unclear how many people will be affected by the flooding, but the threat of the levee failing at another location prompted the evacuation of 1,000 people.
The levee’s failure is a tragic reminder of the sorry state of America’s infrastructure. This particular levee failed a federal inspection in 2008, receiving an “unacceptable” rating from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. In the U.S. patchwork levee system, many local communities are responsible for levee upkeep, and this particular community couldn’t afford the cost.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, nearly ten percent of the levees in the country are expected to fail during a flood event. The Civil Corps. of Engineers gave the U.S. levee system a D- grade in 2009, and estimated that it would take a $50 billion investment to get those levees into adequate shape:
“During the past 50 years there has been tremendous development on lands protected by levees. Coupled with the fact that many levees have not been well maintained, this burgeoning growth has put people and infrastructure at risk—the perceived safety provided by levees has inadvertently increased flood risks by attracting development to the floodplain. Continued population growth and economic development behind levees is considered by many to be the dominant factor in the national flood risk equation, outpacing the effects of increased chance of flood occurrence and the degradation of levee condition.”
Projected federal spending on levees in the next five years is expected to be just $1.13 billion, leaving a $48.87 billion shortfall in needed funding. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “there are 881 counties — or 28 percent of all counties in the United States — that contain levees or other kinds of flood control and protection systems.” More than half of the U.S. population resides in those counties.
Overall, the U.S. has about $2.2 trillion in unaddressed infrastructure needs. The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget that was released earlier this month includes $30 billion “as start-up costs for a national infrastructure bank that would leverage private financing to help rebuild America’s public capital stock,” and budgets for $1.2 trillion in public investment over the next five years.
And we’re the richest country in the world. Just imagine what climate change will do to much poorer countries (see “Bolivia: Where adaptation equals abandonment“)