Climate change: Who should pay for the consequences?

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept through the Caribbean and North America, killing 286 people and causing over $68 billion in damages. The storm brought flooding and strong winds. In New York and New Jersey alone, more than 40,000 people were displaced as the storm destroyed homes and businesses.

Although hurricanes are common, Hurricane Sandy was more destructive than most. Experts attribute Sandy’s unusual strength to the effects of climate change, which include higher average temperatures and rising sea levels. Scientists project that storms like Sandy will become more frequent as Earth gets warmer. And powerful storms aren’t the only consequence of climate change. Statistics about rising sea levels suggest that parts of many coastal U.S. cities will be under water by 2100. The cities of Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Miami are at high risk.

The Rockaways is an area of New York that was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. People agreed that rebuilding the Rockaways — a popular recreation area that many people call home — was in everyone’s best interest. But that cost a lot! New York City spent over $140 million to clean up Rockaway beaches in the two years after the storm, and that was only a start. The price tag for adding sand to the beaches and rebuilding the boardwalk is even higher. Government programs are also paying for residents to rebuild their homes. What if the next big storm causes as much damage as Sandy?

Other communities have chosen to relocate rather than rebuild. Newtok, Alaska is projected to be under water by 2017 because of rising sea levels. Residents of Newtok are relocating to Mertarvik, a town that is 9 miles away. The relocation could cost over $100 million, but then the Newtok residents will be safe from further disruption.

Scientists agree that climate change is a reality. Large cities like New York and Miami already have so much infrastructure — buildings, roads, power plants — that the cost of relocating would be unrealistic. These cities are building roof gardens to absorb heat and elevating waterfront areas to reduce the impact of storm flooding.

But what about smaller communities? Should the government spend limited dollars on rebuilding these communities to withstand the next big storm? Or should these communities be responsible for rebuilding themselves, since they are deciding to stay in the path of storms?


In the last ten years, the community of Seaside has been hit by two hurricanes that caused millions of dollars in damage. Both times, the government paid to help rebuild Seaside. Scientists project a high likelihood of future hurricanes as the effects of climate change take their toll. Other residents in the state protest the repeated use of public funds to rebuild Seaside. They argue that Seaside residents have made a free choice to stay in the path of destruction, so they should pay for future damages. But Seaside residents point out that their beaches are a source of recreation for people from all over the state, so it is in everyone’s interest to use public funds to rebuild after the next storm. Who should pay for the consequences of climate change?

Seaside should be responsible for rebuilding itself, since residents choose to live in the path of destruction.

State public funds should be used to rebuild Seaside after the next hurricane.

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