So what now, America?

by David Zetland (originally published at Aguanomics)

So what now, America?

I was going to call this post “I told you so, America,” but I want to change people’s perspectives and motivate action more than be right.

First of all, let’s all agree that the flood damages to Houston were worse due to poor planning that paved wetlands and allowed the city to sprawl into flood plains.

Second, subsidized flood insurance (or the lack of a requirement for insurance) means that many people fail to consider the risk of flooding when choosing where to live. (Me complaining about this 10 years ago, an update 5 years ago, and my student this year.)

Third, climate change means that many models and assumptions are wrong. Houston has experienced three “500-year storms” in the past 40 years, and the number of storms is increasing, worldwide:


Fourth, people and cities around the world are going to experience greater damages as climate change (emphasis on change) raises sea levels, redirects ocean currents and increases storm strength. Greater threats to weaker populations (Bangladesh just flooded) will result in economic loss, political instability, forced migration and many other impacts that will spill over to countries that are not immediately affected by climate.

Fifth, there’s no need to spend €2-3,000 to get access to “expert opinions” at Stockholm’s World Water Week (it ends today). The right actions are obvious:

  1. Stop subsidies for living in risky places
  2. Restore the buffers that can protect cities from floods
  3. Build more absorption/storage capacity into systems to cope with flood — or drought!
  4. Plan for the next 50-100 years, not the next election cycle

These costs may bother people, but we’re talking about investing $ today to save $$$ in the near future. (NYC decided to not build flood defenses just before Sandy hit.)
What will that future look like? Check out my project — Life plus 2 meters — to read some visions of how we might (not) adapt to climate change. I bet that some people in Houston would have wished they had read the book… and planned for a future that arrived a little sooner than expected.*

Bottom Line: Make sure that your city has plans — and is taking actions — to cope with living in a climate-changed world. You can do that by pressuring politicians to plan for the long term and supporting spending that will realize those plans.