This Week in Climate Change News

By Dave Hahn

Dave Hahn is the Director of Digital Strategy for Meeting of the Minds.

American cities have faced record-breaking droughts and superstorms throughout 2012, as well as a contentious presidential campaign that simultaneously and inexplicably ignored the topic of climate change.

However, the reelection of President Barack Obama gives us the hope that, for at least another four years, U.S. politics might favor science (Bill Nye, I'm looking at you). And perhaps the good folks at Foggy Bottom might finally, resolutely, turn the public discourse to the facts that predicate the need for urban sustainability.

In other words: Let's talk about climate change. Afterall, the media sure is.

Drought

NPR ran a very interesting piece today about the dangerously low, post-drought levels of the Mississippi River and how it is negatively affecting the business of local towboat operators in southern Illinois.

According to the piece, the Mississippi River stood at 45' last year, and it's just 5.5' today. The low water and rocky, underwater outcroppings make navigating the river dangerous in this area, so the local towboat operators want the Army Corp of Engineers to:

  1. Divert water from the Missouri River to this area of the Mississippi
  2. Smooth the bottom of the Mississippi River by blasting away the rocky outcroppings

The Corp, for their part, says they can't do it.

Allow me to also direct you to a piece aired 18 months ago, also on NPR, that discusses the economic impact to southern Illinois' towboat operators because of extreme flooding of that region of the Mississippi River.

File it under: The Economic Impacts of Global Weirding.

Storms

Meanwhile in the east, the tri-state region struggles to bounce back from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand testified this week before a (seemingly empty?) Senate committee, where she told the heartbreaking story of two toddlers in Staten Island that were washed away from their mother's arms during the storm.

Unemployment surged following Superstorm Sandy, as workers were forced to stay home or wait for their businesses to rebuild. The overall cost of the storm is estimated to be over $70+ billion in New York and New Jersey alone, and new estimates put the death toll at 125.

After years of denying that climate change event existed, the discussion in the U.S. has shot past mitigation and settled on adaptation. It's about time. We are, as they say, a little late to the party. But thankfully, that means that other governments have been working on climate adaptation for years and we have examples in London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo that we can adopt, and adapt, as our own.

Adaptation

The challenge now isn't money, as Michael Kimmelman writes in the New York Times, "considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost." The problem is politics. How can we get the needed urban-adaptation projects passed through our vitriolic political system?

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

5 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this synopsis of climate change news. It really captures the economic and business impacts from climate change. Its a reminder that the impact is not just in places like the tri-state region, but also in places like southern Illinois. I heard that NPR piece today as well. The river commerce there is essential to getting fertilizer to the farms where the majority of our nation’s food is grown. These kinds of agricultural impacts will reverberate throughout our national economy.

    Reply
  2. Dave – I didn’t realize the Mississippi River story ran out of the Midwest. We certainly hear more about it in St. Louis. Our Governor and Senator (1 I know of) have both demanded the Army Corps of Engineers to do something. The report here is that they’ll take up to the President if needs be. I’m glad this is making news, it’s not just the coasts or the dust bowl South that will suffer from climate change, but the entire country.

    Reply
    • Ryan, what do you think is the right thing to do for the Mississippi? If its too high one year, then too low the next – what adaptation can fix both problems?

      Or more importantly, maybe, what adaptation can fix that problem and not cause another? Putting up a storm wall outside New York City seems like a reasonable idea – but how do you change something in the Mississippi and not drastically impact everything down river?

      Reply
      • Really hard to say. When a portion of your economy depends on the consistent (or inconsistent) nature OF nature, you should be prepared for uncertainty. And you should certainly be aware/involved in the environmental concerns that pose threats (climate change?) to that nature you are reliant on.

        My understanding is that the Corps is looking out for the long-term health of the river and that is the reason they are resistant to quick-fixes. Unfortunately that means there isn’t a whole lot to do for the riverboat economy – which isn’t an answer people want to hear.

        Long term, riverboat operators/transportation companies need to engage in the environmental debate/activism knowing it will have an impact on their business (Again…in the long-term!).

        Reply
  3. Urban Sustainability, Climate Change, Recurrences of Sandy-like events, Carbon Credits and the possible favorable implications of O’bama’s re-election are each BIG bites of a yet BIGGER apple.
    How to pull them together into a coherent argument for a government supported Climate Change initiative is a lot to hope for. Current fear based messaging on the subject of Climate Change isn’t resonating with the electorate or its representatives. Restructuring the message as a positive pro-growth, pro-employment and pro-newtech international leadership initiative would, I believe, resonate more favorably in today’s pragmatic private and public sectors.

    Reply

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