Monday, October 23, 2017

The real lesson of Puerto Rico: climate change impacts will be taxpayer catastrophes ... by gimleteye

Read the Miami Herald's excellent "Why Puerto Rico Is Suffering A Month After Hurricane Maria". Whether or not you believe the hurricane had anything to do with climate change -- a phenomenon still denied by a majority of Republicans, Donald Trump, and his administration chiefs -- the catastrophic failure of public institutions to deal with its aftermath should give every American pause to wonder if the same could ever happen to the continental United States.

Think about the difference with respect to the Florida Keys, our southern neighbors who are pulling together through a rebuilding process.

The middle section of the Keys was devastated by Maria. The full faith and credit of the United States backed the quick response. Puerto Rico -- which Trump reminded us is in the middle of an ocean -- had been deeply weakened over decades by a tax base inadequate to the purpose of organizing public infrastructure.

It is the latter phenomenon that deserves attention, because climate change impacts will gradually erode the tax base in US coastal cities and then the heartland; at some point in the indeterminate future, we will not be islands but we will be Puerto Ricos.

The analogy with the Keys may seem imperfect on first glance. Compared to Puerto Rico and the population and the terrain, the Keys are tiny but functional. The electric grid is secure. The food supply system is secure. Law and order are secure. All these aspects of modern life, we take for granted, were under deep stress in Puerto Rico before the hurricane. Gradually, climate change will do the same to us.

Think about it: the city of Miami Beach is wealthy enough to afford a $500 million sewerage and roadway upgrade as a result of damage from rising seas. But all that money is not stopping the rising seas. The taxpayer investment is a band-aid. Under flood conditions, the half billion dollar investment is a recirculating pump system; taking water off streets and pushing it back into the bay, where higher tides force the waters back and underground into the streets.

What happens when ANOTHER $500 million is needed to protect Miami Beach in clear weather? And $500 million after that?

We could be the best managers in the world, living within our means, and we still would not be able to afford climate change impacts. That is the real lesson of Puerto Rico.

We are a wealthy society now, but like Puerto Rico we are living on debt; debt that is sustainable so long as our economies are secure.

Climate change throws that certainty into doubt. Why do we Americans have so much hubris as to believe that fiddling while the planet is burning will not come back, soon, to bite us hard
just like Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico? And to the Roman empire.


Anonymous said...

We are just one storm away from looking like Puerto Rico. It could come any day and Nov. 30th the end of hurricane season seems a long time away. Climate change is real and almost everyone who monitors it makes it clear something is changing. For EPA to try to silence scientists makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

Our economy may not be secure by the time Trump leaves office.