Hurricanes Add Momentum To Climate Conversation

Tensions Rising With Tides and Temperatures

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have poured new fuel on the debate over man-made climate change. It’s unfortunate that there is even a debate at all. We are wasting critical time and resources as we seek to justify our overconsumption and our fascination with capitalizing on the misfortunes of others.

Houston will never be the same. Islands across the Florida Keys have been reduced to rubble. Puerto Rico is largely uninhabitable with lack of power, water and food. Residents of New York and New Jersey still haven’t recovered from hurricane Sandy. New Orleans is still suffering from the impacts of Katrina in 2005. Meanwhile, in the wake of each disaster comes the fraud and fleecing of innocent citizens in the danger zone and beyond.

climate change and extreme weather

Since global warming and climate change are beyond the grasp of the special interests and their disciples, let’s dissect the issue from a different perspective.

The issue really boils down to energy waste and air pollution. Those who deny global warming are blowing smoke up your skirt. They want you to think that air pollution is fertilizer. Without taxpayer subsidies of billions of dollars annually, free-market capitalism would drive energy policies and innovation vs. costly policies that promote inefficiency and waste (not to mention favoritism/fascism, which isn’t capitalism). Does that waste and market manipulation contribute to global warming?

Conduct an experiment. Turn on your car and close the garage. CO2 builds up in the atmosphere just like it does in your garage. CO2 kills people and the planet.

Add global deforestation to the equation and we are staring at an ecological disaster and a public health disaster (deforestation is like turning off the exhaust fan in your garage). So, is it a good idea to waste energy and our only God-given home? It’s simple math and common sense. Reverence might even offer us a compass.public affairs and public relations firm

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Cities Sued By Insurance Company Over Climate Change

Failure To Prepare For Heavier Rainfall Leads To Landmark Case

Last month, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits arguing that local governments in the Chicago area are aware that climate change is leading to heavier rainfall but are failing to prepare accordingly. The suits allege that the localities did not do enough to prepare sewers and storm water drains in the area during a two-day downpour last April. In what could foreshadow a legal reckoning of who is liable for the costs of climate change, the class actions against nearly 200 Chicago-area communities look to place responsibility on municipalities, perhaps spurring them to take a more forward-looking approach in designing and engineering for a future made different by climate change.

Chicago flood
Chicago floods are on the rise. Farmers Insurance says Chicago failed to prepare when warned.

“Farmers is asking to be reimbursed for the claims it paid to homeowners who sometimes saw geysers of sewage ruin basement walls, floors and furniture,” reported E&E News. “The company says it also paid policyholders for lost income, the cost of evacuations and other damages related to declining property values.”

Andrew Logan, an insurance expert with Ceres, told E&E News that there is likely a longer-term agenda in mind with this latest effort, and that the company “could be positioning itself to avoid future losses nationwide from claims linked to floods, sea-level rise and even lawsuits against its corporate policyholders that emit greenhouse gases.”

While these suits are the first of their kind, Micahel Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, told Reuters that there will be more cases like them attempting to address how city and local governments should manage budgets to prepare for natural disasters that have been intensified by climate change.

“No one is expected to plan for the 500-year storm, but if horrible events are happening with increasing frequency, that may shift the duties,” he said.

Insurance companies are becoming increasingly concerned, and more vocal, about the rising costs of climate change. With large fossil fuel companies reluctant to take greenhouse gas mitigation efforts in the face of potential profit losses, the behemoth insurance industry could provide a counterbalance to the energy industry when it comes to incentivizing near-term emissions cuts, or at least adaptation to the effects of climate change.

“Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming,” reported the New York Times.

However this acceptance of the scientific consensus is yet to infiltrate the industry’s actions at large. A recent Ceres survey found that only 23 of the 184 insurance companies currently have a comprehensive strategy to deal with climate change.

“Every segment of the insurance industry faces climate risks, yet the industry’s response has been highly uneven,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in a statement with the report. “The implications of this are profound because the insurance sector is a key driver of the economy. If climate change undermines the future availability of insurance products and risk management services in major markets throughout the U.S., it threatens the economy and taxpayers as well.”

Last year a study for the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that sea level rise is projected to increase coastal flood-hazard areas in the U.S. by 55 percent by 2100. If adaptation measures are not implemented, the study projects that the number of coastal flood-insurance policies will increase by 130 percent over the same time period. While flood insurance is overseen by the controversial National Flood Insurance Program, this is an example of the increased role of insurers in the face of climate change as well as the increased burden on insurance companies and taxpayers to cover the costs.

In another sign that the insurance industry may be ready to galvanize action, Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest and biggest insurance market, recently called on insurers to incorporate climate change into their models.

“Insurers have an important role to play in mitigating the impact of the changes in climate which have already occurred, through closer coordination with other industries, notably construction,” wrote John Nelson, chairman of Lloyd’s of London, in an op-ed for The Guardian. “There need to be policies to drive up standards and make sure we have resilient homes, that we use better materials. All these and strong forward planning will be key to this effort. Here, too, governments must play their role in enshrining standards in legislation.”

According to the Munich Re insurance group, global weather-related losses and damage have risen from an annual average of about $50 billion in the 1980s to close to $200 billion over the last decade.

While climate change models try to anticipate changes decades in advance, insurers are responsible for selling policies one year at a time. A report last year from the Geneva Association, an insurance industry research group, encourages companies to use forward-looking models when addressing areas impacted by climate change, rather than the more traditional historical precedent.

“In the non-stationary environment traditional approaches, which are solely based on analyzing historical data, increasingly fail to estimate today’s hazard probabilities. A paradigm shift from historic to predictive risk assessment methods is necessary,” reads the report.


South Florida Considers Greater Investment Against Rising Seas

Climate Change Casting New Clouds Over South Florida

Editor’s Note; The following is a transcript that PBS posted recently about flood preparations in South Florida. A link to the video follows at the end of the transcript.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s often difficult to see how climate change is altering the environment in our daily lives. To counter that and draw attention to the issue, the White House today launched a new website to visualize scientific data on droughts, wildfires and the rise in sea levels. As you will see in this report, the residents of South Florida are already noticing how higher water is changing their local landscape.

climate change resilient cities
Rising tides have Florida’s coastal communities nervous.

Special correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our story. It was done in collaboration with the South Florida public media station WPBT, and it begins with longtime fishing boat Captain Dan Kipness.

DAN KIPNESS, Fishing Boat Captain: I have lived in Florida my whole life. I’m actually a native. And, more importantly, I have been on Miami Beach for like 55 years, and I’m a captain.

Captains are used to looking at the ocean. If you look at it long enough — and I have had enough time to look at it — you can see small changes turn into big changes over a period of time. You’re going to see water coming out of Biscayne Bay, up the storm sewers, and onto the streets until it’s about a foot deep.

And that’s not freshwater. That’s saltwater. There’s no rain. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Everyone can see that. Some people go, oh, we broke a sewer main or a water main broke. That’s not what it is. That’s sea level rise.

KWAME HOLMAN: Miami Beach is a barrier island that is mostly only a few feet above water level. High tides are higher than they were in the past, and the risk of torrential rainstorms has worsened with climate change.

In recent years, increased flooding from high tide and weather events has been a stark wakeup call for people living on South Beach.

WOMAN: I remember people taking pictures and laughing when we saw people canoeing down West Avenue, but then a lot of people started asking questions. It’s scary in a lot of ways that what could actually happen here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Dr. Hal Wanless, professor and chair of the Department of Geologic Sciences at the University of Miami, has been studying sea level rise for decades.

DR. HAL WANLESS, University of Miami: The two big things that have been and will affect sea level are the expanding ocean as it warms. The second big factor affecting sea level rise now is ice melt. And the ice melt’s a totally different game. Ice can melt at rapidly accelerating rates.

I videoed this time-lapse footage in Greenland in August of 2013. As these icebergs melt, they add to sea level rise.

KWAME HOLMAN: South Florida political leaders have adopted a unified sea level rise projection, calculated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. the projections indicate sea levels will rise three to seven inches by 2030 and nine to 24 inches by 2060.

Pete Harlem knows these projections all too well. He is the geographic coordinator at Florida International University, and pioneered the precise mapping of sea level rise for South Florida.

PETE HARLEM, Florida International University: Two feet of sea level rise is projected from roughly from 2040 to 2060 some time. And so, when we get to that point, we’re going to see this as the Miami Beach of that near future.

So, now taking that water level to four feet, it’s just not going to be a place you want to live in a house.

KWAME HOLMAN: And it’s not just people living on barrier islands who need to be concerned about sea level rise. Most of South Florida is susceptible to flooding, as infrastructure becomes overwhelmed by rising seas or heavy rainfall.

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera is the chief modeler and an expert in South Florida’s complicated hydrologic system.

DR. JAYANTHA OBEYSEKERA, South Florida Water Management District: We have regional flood control system that was designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly with the state about 50 years ago.

And at that time, sea level rise wasn’t a major factor, that they didn’t worry about. But now some of the infrastructure we have on the coastal belt are basically not working as they were designed.

KWAME HOLMAN: When there is heavy rainfall, the canals receive and move the excess water. That water is released into the bays and estuaries and eventually into the ocean.

The system was designed for the water to flow by gravity, with the water flowing from the higher canal levels to the lower ocean levels. As the sea rises, however, gravity will no longer do the job and so there could be more flooding on the land as the water has nowhere to go.

Richard Grosso is the director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic and a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University.

RICHARD GROSSO, Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic: It’s been the local utility directors, people who run water treatment plants, people who run sewage treatment plants, people who maintain roads, who have been required to institute very expensive retrofits.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Miami Beach Public Works Department is working on improvements now.

ERIC CARPENTER, Miami Beach Public Works Department: We have done our storm water management master plan that was adopted in 2012, and that had identified approximately $200 million worth of improvements that we needed to do over the next 20 years in order to keep pace with sea level rise and addressing flooding concerns within the city of Miami Beach.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some of that infrastructure includes pumps.

RICK SALTNICK, Senior Capital Projects Coordinator: Everything collects on the inlets on the streets and then runs through those white pipes down there. They’re PVC pipes. They then all drain via gravity to the storm water pump station, and then pumped out of the storm water pump station and injected into the ground 80 to 100 feet down.

We’re sizing these pumps to provide the proper level of service 20 years from now and at the sea level 20 years from now.

KWAME HOLMAN: Miami Beach is not alone in addressing sea level rise. South Florida has become a model for regional cooperation on this issue.

Projections by a four-county climate change compact were turned into an action plan with more than 100 recommendations. Those now are being reviewed. Some have been adopted by county governments.

Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs has been at the forefront of South Florida climate change discussions and has earned national recognition for her work.

KRISTIN JACOBS: I see one of the biggest hurdles for us in going forward is term limits, when you consider the leaders that are necessary, the cheerleaders that are necessary to continue pulling this very heavy train forward.

And without that leadership, the one that casts the vote, the one that decides the budget, the one that directs their staff resources to any given priority, if you don’t have that, at any point in time, all of this could all fall apart.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the plans come at a high price, something always politically difficult. As a member of the compact, former County Commissioner Katy Sorenson has been an advocate for planning for the coming changes.

KATY SORENSON, Good Government Initiative: No one wants to pay increased taxes or fees, but if people want to live here, we have to make these investments to do the infrastructure planning, the pump systems, all the stuff that needs to be done so that we can stay habitable.

RICHARD GROSSO: One of the biggest challenges we have in South Florida and across the country is this disconnect between the best long-term investment and economic strategies for a community vs. a political process that is short-term in terms of its rewards.

For most local elected officials, they’re not going to be around to reap the rewards of those smart, thoughtful decisions that they made 10, 20 years ago. And so that system still puts pressure on the folks who do have the power, who do have the votes to continue to make short-term gain kinds of decisions. That is our biggest challenge presented by sea level rise right now.

KWAME HOLMAN: Recently, commissioners for the city of Miami Beach voted on measures that are expected to double to $400 million, the cost of keeping water out of its city streets.

GWEN IFILL: You can read more about the White House’s new climate data initiative, and find a link to a full documentary on rising sea levels.