The effects of Hurricane Sandy—where climate change, conservation and green infrastructure meet.
Hurricane Sandy's Aftermath
It’s hard not to be struck by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the Northeast this week—a storm of “unprecedented proportions,” causing loss of life, widespread flooding and destruction, and massive power outages for millions of people. We all stand with our fellow Americans suffering the effects of this major national disaster and our hearts go out to them. Our first priority must be helping these communities recover.
As we reflect on this cataclysmic event, dozens of stories are already calling ardently for Hurricane Sandy to spur the Administration and Congress to take action on the unavoidable and escalating impacts of climate change. Whether or not a hotter atmosphere due to climate change was the tipping factor in this mega storm, we can all agree that these kinds of weather events are getting more common than they used to be.
Preparing for Climate Change
It is past time, however, to acknowledge that climate change is having measurable impact on our economy, our safety, and our way of life. We need to plan for these impacts—with scientifically based, sound policies that help protect our citizens and preserve our national economy.
The Role of Conservation and "Green Infrastructure"
Some of these plans will include armoring our shores and creating “gray” defenses built of concrete and rebar. But it’s also an opportunity to restore natural floodplains and wetlands that can help reduce the impact of flooding or storm surges. This sort of “green infrastructure” isn’t a magic solution and won’t be appropriate everywhere. But there are places where it would be effective and less costly than the common solutions. And these natural areas provide important other benefits such as clean air and clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife.
But make no mistake about it: green infrastructure requires planning ahead, not waiting for a catastrophe to occur. While it’s anyone’s guess when someone will be brave enough to take action on a national level, fortunately local government agencies throughout California are taking action . From San Francisco to Los Angeles,communities are starting to examine the impacts and prepare solutions that incorporate floodplains, wetlands and other nature-based solutions as a powerful tool in the fight to protect ourselves. And the State of California is also taking action to address the cause of global warming through an economy-wide, greenhouse gas emissions regulatory program that is a global model.
The reality is that no infrastructure – green or gray – is completely fail-proof. But this week’s events can serve as a reminder that built infrastructure like levees and seawalls perhaps should be our last line of defense, not our first.