Climate denial puts infrastructure at risk

Rather than pay much more down the road, President Trump should act now to build infrastructure that can withstand the effects of climate change

via Shutterstock

By Cathleen Kelly

May 15 to 19 is Infrastructure Week in the United States, and much about President Trump’s proposed $1 trillion plan to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and water mains remains uncertain. But one thing is clear: It cannot succeed if it doesn’t account for a changing climate.

Trump and about 180 members of Congress deny the science behind climate change, but they can’t change the facts. Reams of scientific evidence link rising global temperatures to more extreme weather, including punishing storms, longer and more devastating droughts, and hotter heat waves. In 2016 alone, extreme weather caused nearly 300 deaths and $53.5 billion in economic damage across the United States — more than double the cost of similar events the year before.

Extreme weather driven by climate change also puts extraordinary pressure on the country’s aging dams, roads, rail lines, bridges, water infrastructure and power plants. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused massive outages across New York and New Jersey, leaving more than 8.5 million customers without power. Earlier this year, the Oroville Dam spillway breach threatened to send floods tearing through northern California communities after that state’s whipsaw swing from drought to deluge. Dam repair costs have surpassed $100 million and continue to mount.

Our nation’s infrastructure needs more than repair; it must be rebuilt to withstand a wetter, wilder future. If the United States fails to do so, the cost of infrastructure maintenance and disaster assistance could drain federal, state, and local budgets and burden businesses’ bottom lines.

Many state and local governments have already figured this out. The city of Miami Beach, facing nearly a foot of sea-level rise by 2030, is investing an estimated $500 million to protect vital systems from high tide flooding. The project will modernize the city’s plumbing system, raise sea walls, and elevate roads. Meanwhile, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is spending more than $240 million to keep more frequent and severe rainstorms from sending sewage overflows into the Grand River.

Large corporations, including Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Statoil and Royal Dutch Shell, are protecting billion-dollar infrastructure from rising sea levels, more severe storms, and hotter temperatures. Even one of Trump’s golf courses has taken steps to erect a seawall to secure its assets against “global warming and its effects.”

Like many risk-management strategies, these resilience-building investments pay big dividends. According to the Multihazard Mitigation Council, every $1 invested in disaster-risk reduction and infrastructure resilience saves $4 in future disaster costs.

Infrastructure Week, sponsored by a bipartisan coalition that includes business groups and labor unions, underscores the urgent need to invest in the vital systems that drive our economy and our way of life.

President Trump and Congress have promised to make those investments. But if their plans ignore the reality of climate change, our communities will not be sufficiently safeguarded from extreme weather events.

Rather than pay much more down the road to fix and rebuild our infrastructure, Congress and President Trump should act now to build infrastructure that can withstand the effects of climate change.

Cathleen Kelly is a senior fellow at Center for American Progress.

This op-ed was published in collaboration with the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, with support from the The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation.

Originally published May 10, 2017 in The Progressive.