The cost of coasting

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Several years ago, I heard a scientist whose name I forget interviewed about the future scenario for coastlines if the world does not grab the reins on galloping carbon emissions pretty darned soon. He didn’t say pretty darned soon but it translates well from the tone of his voice.

I took away from his talk — in the early 2000s — images of mass evacuations of Miami, New Orleans and New York. Islands all over the world buried. Millions drowned or escaping in panic. Not all at once. Here and there. With enough gaps in between to keep the most oblivious among us (and that's a lot among us) comforted by the thought that we have always had hurricanes, droughts, wild fires, very strange locations of tornadoes, etc., and that the next one is just this year's Sandy.

Will Tyrone, Ullabelle, Victor, Wes, Xerxes, Yves and Zounds! each come every five or six years or will we be on an "A" name within the next decade, if not sooner?

Listening to the radio scenario of 10 years ago, my mind darted back to 1968 when, in a movie theater, I watched Charlton Heston playing an astronaut who crashed in the future screaming on his knees in the sand, having come to the end of the road, Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty stood half-buried in the sand in “The Planet of the Apes.” No scene in any movie has given me such chills since.


In an article headlined Making Our Coastal Cities More Resilient Can’t Waitin today’s “The Atlantic Cities,” Richard Florida and Sara Johnson write about the specter of increasing damage from storms — a.k.a “weather events” — considering that coastal cities worldwide are among the most populous and economically dynamic.

Take the cost of a disaster and tap the dominoes that will fall in its wake — millions of people, billions in economic assets. By that time — or is it here — we aren’t even thinking about the habitats of all the other living things.

“The opportunity is to rethink infrastructure in terms of resilience, and not just rebuild it as it was,” the article advises.

Oceanographer Malcolm Bowman, head of the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University on Long Island, spoke today on NPR and pointed out that a comprehensive flood control system for New York City — which could protect it from future disasters — would cost “in the billions.... That sounds a lot of money, but it’s not. If you look at the damage that resulted from this storm, when it’s all added up, it’s going to be much, much more than that.”

Estimates just for Hurricane Sandy are coming in at about $50 billion.

Read the transcript of Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep’s interview here.

Map courtesy of the OECD study, “Ranking of the World’s Cities Most Exposed to Coastal Flooding Today and in the Future”

Photo from the International Movie Data Base of the Twentieth Century Fox production of "Planet of the Apes"

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