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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Case Study in Preparedness (or Lack Thereof)

For those interested in adaptation (and urban adaptation in particular), this article by Rebecca Burns in Politico on the recent snow 'storm' in the U.S. Southeast and the resulting chaos should be required reading. Urban sprawl, poor coordination, and automobile dependence turned what would be just another day in other parts of the United States into a natural disaster for metropolitan Atlanta. Climate change may be the least of our problems.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cuts to UK Adaptation Spending

As discussed here in May of last year, investments in adaptation by the UK Government have been heading down rather than up, despite plenty of work demonstrating both the vulnerability of the UK to climate change and the general lack of preparedness among both public and private organizations. New media stories are providing a bit more context including details on just how much budgets have declined. Annual spending fell from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14. With governments in both the developed and developing world trying to do more with less (or in some cases, less with less), it's not clear from where the resources for adaptation are going to come.   

Monday, January 27, 2014

Australian Heatwave: The Aftermath

The recent heatwave in Southeast Australia grabbed many a headline in media outlines around the world. There were plenty of stories to tell: electricity outages, broken trains, stranded commuters, not to mention the disruption of matches at the Australian Open. Once things cooled off, however, the media moved on to sexier material. But a week or so later, we're now getting a proper understanding of the real consequences. As reported today in The Age, The Victorian Institute for Forensic Medicine has estimated 139 excess deaths from January 13 to January 23 compared to what would have been expected for that time period. Given the losses experienced in the days leading up to Black Saturday in 2009 are still fresh in everyone's mind, some are now asking why greater efforts haven't been made to prepare for such events and protect the most vulnerable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts. . .

As evidenced by articles such as this at 'American Thinker', conservatives are again pushing adaptation as the responsible solution to climate change (which, you know, probably doesn't exist anyway):

"With adaptation -- adapting to climate as we go along -- there is no imperative for immediate action. If it turns out that the Earth not warming catastrophically, we will save a lot of money, and if it seems clear that, for example, sea levels are rising, then we spend money in 2030 or 2040 to increase the height of seawalls and take other measures to protect our coastal cities, at a time when our descendants will be wealthier and their technology far superior to ours."
I'll ignore some of the article's other flaws (including using dodgy science to estimate future sea-level rise - hello, ever heard of ocean heat uptake) and focus on the two truly erroneous assumptions it contains: a) that adaptation will be easy and b) that adaptation can be delayed. Perhaps we should be happy to hear that adaptation in the future will be easy, because at the moment it looks like pretty hard work. Most parts of the United States (if not the world) aren't doing anything and the research literature now documents a litany of reasons why. It would be nice if new technology and deeper pockets will solve all our problems. However, much of the infrastructure in countries like the United States (which I hear is among the world's wealthiest) is in need of upgrade or replacement. But it hasn't happened. One reason - the cost. The U.S. is going to have to invest trillions in coming years just to deal with the infrastructure maintenance backlog, not to mention the demands for new infrastructure. Adding adaptation costs into the mix isn't going to help. For example, a new 1.8 mile storm surge barrier installed in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina cost taxpayers $1.1 billion and it took five years to construct. As the article's author notes - even in places where vulnerabilities are well-known (e.g., New York City or New Orleans before Katrina) we don't invest in risk management. We might be wealthier in the future, but that doesn't mean we'll have money to spare. I don't see battles over federal budget appropriations becoming less difficult over time. 

But even if adaptation were easy, it's not true that we can simply wait and see what's going to happen or that waiting is invariably the most efficient choice. Sure, any number decisions can be postponed, and real options theory suggests there is value in such delays (or, more specifically, there is value in not get locked in to a particular path, which isn't necessarily the same thing). But ultimately, the decision isn't mitigate now or adapt later, it's mitigate now and adapt now. And if we don't mitigate now, we'll have to adapt that much more later. 

Hopefully, American thinking is a bit more nuanced and critical than reflected in American Thinker.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation

The state of Connecticut is poised to launch a new adaptation research center at the University of Connecticut to help businesses, communities, and homeowners prepare for climate variability and climate change. Interestingly, the center is being financed from the proceeds of a court settlement with Unilever associated with violation of its water discharge permit. Perhaps this is a new approach to adaptation finance?  

Massachusetts Adaptation Initiative

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Patrick launched a $50 million climate change initiative to assess and address climate vulnerability in the State's public health, transportation, energy and built environment systems. Given $40 million of those funds are to be allocated to hardening energy infrastructure through municipal grants, it's no secret where the priorities lie. Much of the remaining funds are being channeled into coastal resilience.