“What’s the Best Way To…” Has Become “Should We…”
Many areas of New Orleans were still awash in filthy flood water in September 2005 when then-President George W. Bush proclaimed, “There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.”
Katrina hit the Crescent City on Aug. 29, 2005. In the same speech a couple of weeks later, Bush went on to make a more definitive promise:
“Tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.”
The question at the time was either, “How do we rebuild New Orleans?” or “What’s the best way to rebuild New Orleans?”
But there was another, equally valid question that could have been asked:
“Should we rebuild New Orleans?”
Devastating & Immensely Costly Storms
The cost of Katrina in damages alone was $160 billion. The hurricane’s true cost was pegged at somewhere between $215 billion and $250 billion, depending on the source quoted.
Yes, those are billions, with a great big “B.”
According to a 2015 release by Greater New Orleans Inc. (GNOI), “An unprecedented $71 billion in federal assistance has remade southeast Louisiana in ways large and small.”
Further, GNOI said, “The federal money spent on rebuilding south Louisiana in the decade since hurricanes Katrina and Rita is roughly equivalent to what officials in Baton Rouge would typically spend on capital projects statewide over 60 years. Taken together with the emergency aid it provided in the storms’ aftermath, the federal government has spent three times the annual state budget on Louisiana’s recovery.”
Questions Evolve with Climate Change
The responses to these natural disasters to date have been much like W’s: We shall overcome, we shall make it right, we shall rebuild.
Now, with a recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and global warming/climate change science reports that would fill the Grand Canyon, it’s time to rethink that gut reaction.
Rather than, “How do we?” we need to ask, “Should we?”
The IPCC says that, due to global temperature increases from pre-industrial levels,“…we can expect oceans to rise between 11 and 38 inches (28 to 98 centimeters) by 2100, enough to swamp many of the cities along the U.S. East Coast.” (National Geographic)
Even if we were to stop releasing carbon dioxide, the most damaging greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere immediately, there would still be recurring damage to U.S. coastlines. Worse, cities like New Orleans and Manhattan, and even huge parts of states like Florida, will be entirely underwater or at least massive segments of their land mass will be.
Logic demands we ask why we’re throwing billions upon billions at rebuilding cities and regions that are destined to be hospitable only to marine life by the end of this century or (probably) much sooner.
In the introduction of its summary of its report for policymakers, the IPCC states that it is “…based on the assessment of the available scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to global warming of 1.5°C and for the comparison between global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C above preindustrial levels.”
These are scientists using science to make reasonable projections. They didn’t make this stuff up. Their conclusion:
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is still possible and will prevent some of the worst-case scenarios. To limit warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse‑gas emissions must come down by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To achieve that, we absolutely must bend the emissions curve by 2020.”
That’s just two years from now.
Not Gonna Stop
Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center and a climate change expert, told NBC News MACH, “Sea level rise is a profound threat. Globally, as many as 650 million people live on land that will be submerged or exposed to chronic flooding by 2100 given business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels and sea level rise of 6-8 feet.”
CBS News chimes in, “The science is easy. Earth’s waters are getting warmer due to an increasing global temperature, and warmer waters fuel hurricanes.”
Regardless of what we do in the near future to limit CO2 emissions – and we need to do something drastic within the next 12 years to limit warming to 1.5°C – sea levels will continue to rise. Higher, warmer waters mean stronger hurricanes, and stronger hurricanes mean more damages.
According to Conservation International, “Although only 2 percent of the world’s land lies at or below 10 meters of elevation, these areas contain 10 percent of the world’s human population – 634 million people that are directly threatened by sea level rise.”
Unfortunately, due to the inability of many nations, and the unwillingness of others (most notably the United States), it’s not likely anything of real substance will happen anytime soon.
So we’re stuck with rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes, hundreds of thousands of people impacted and damages in the billions upon billions.
This isn’t going to stop. Rising sea levels that result from human-caused climate change are going to continue to wreak havoc on coastal areas, cities and people for decades at minimum, and more likely for generations.
Rebuild and we’ll soon be rebuilding again. It’s no longer a question of if, but when and how often.
Climate Change Forces the Issue
So, back to the here and now, and to the original question: Should we spend billions to rebuild coastal areas and cities devastated by hurricanes?
Which leads to a new question: Or should we use those dollars to help people start fresh somewhere new?
Given the stark realities of climate change, starting somewhere new seems like a more reasoned choice.
And here’s one better: In conjunction with starting people over somewhere new, should we invest in renewable energy technologies that are creating jobs and eliminating the need for CO2 emissions that are causing these problems?
Given the stark realities of climate change, investing in new energy infrastructure and R&D seems more like a moral imperative than a choice.