Per Capita Davis: News from the ‘Doom and Gloom’ file
Keyword: Climate change impacts
I keep folders to collect information on specific topics related to the climate crisis such as solar, renewables, water, the Arctic, etc. I also have folders on general themes, two of which are “Good News” and “Doom and Gloom.”
This column comes from the “Doom and Gloom” file, mostly filled with stories more about gloom than doom, incremental developments that seem to lead us further from really dealing with the climate crisis rather than reports of implacable progress, if that is the right word, towards serious adverse consequences. Some, like this one, of the gloomy stuff is actually double-edged and also includes a potential bright side.
Sea level rise can have a devastating effect on coastal communities and Florida has been identified as being particularly susceptible to very significant and adverse consequences. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that sea level is rising on the Florida Coast by about an inch every three years, or approximately a foot every 36 years.
The danger of this rise is not just for the sandy beaches and the homes and businesses built next to the ocean; storm surge can also reverse flow in canals that drain storm water, causing flooding in inland neighborhoods and downtowns.
Coastal highways can be damaged and salty seawater can contaminate fresh water wells.
Estimates are that as many as two and a half million South Floridians and roughly half that number homes are at risk of a damaging storm surge by 2030 as sea level rises.
As one report in the Miami Herald puts it, “For the hundreds of thousands of Floridians holding 30-year mortgages, that date is not that far in the future.” Or, quoting from the same article, “Overall, sea level rise is making the odds of a South Florida flood reaching more than 4 feet above high tide, by 2050, on par with the odds of losing at Russian Roulette.”
Broward County, Fla., is in some ways very forward-thinking in terms of the climate crisis. They have, for example, partnered with three other Florida counties to form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact to prepare for and respond to climate change. They have identified “Adaptation Action Areas” particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of the climate crisis; principally sea level rise.
The Compact also adopted in 2014 a Climate Action Plan with 110 recommended action items. Broward County also created the staff position of “Chief Resilience Officer” and has been, according to a report from NPR, “aggressive and proactive in preparing for the effects of climate change, creating barriers to flood waters, elevating properties, managing storm water systems, and implementing flood management programs.”
However, as is so often the case with Climate Action Plans, it is much easier to write the plan than to implement it. Many of the recommendations for action involve very expensive projects for which approval from elected officials proved difficult to obtain.
So, the “doom and gloom” part of this story is that people are aware of the problem but not willing to take the steps to respond to it. This is not to say that nothing is being done, it is just not enough. The danger remains and the longer the wait for action to mitigate that danger, the more expensive it will inevitably become.
The “bright side” to the story is that Moody’s Investor Services Inc., one of the largest credit agencies in the United States, is telling cities and states that it is factoring the climate crisis into how it rates bonds issued by those jurisdictions.
These ratings influence the interest rate and a low rating from Moody’s can hit cities in the pocketbook.
According to a spokesperson from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “This puts a direct economic incentive for communities to take protective measures against climate change, adding that this is one of a number of “market-based signals” with the result that “what seemed like a far-off distant future gets collapsed into the present and that people have to start making decisions now based on what is already baked in reality for many of these places.”
Moody’s policy is not limited to South Florida; it’s applied across the country and addresses impacts related to wildfires, hurricanes, drought and increased temperature. They break the country down into seven “climate regions” based on expected risks. In the Midwest, for example, the focus is on impacts on agriculture. In the Southwest it’s extreme heat, drought, sea level rise, and wildfires.
Moody’s interviews jurisdictions about their level of preparedness for identified risks and, according to a Moody’s vice president, “If you have a place that simply throws up its hands in the face of changes to climate trends, then we sort of evaluate it on an ongoing basis to see how that abdication of response actually translates in its credit profile.”
So the insurance and credit rating companies are beginning to require cities, as well as homeowners and businesses to pay attention to increased risk.
Dimming the “bright side” of the climate crisis in Florida is the presence, just north of Broward County, of Mar-a-Lago, home of the Denier-in-Chief. On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. People tend to get interested in a problem when it affects them personally.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
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