Let’s Slow Down the Next Superstorm

Let’s Slow Down the Next Superstorm

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USA TODAY 10/05/15
By Michael Shank and US Congressman Charles Rangel

New research on the frequency of Sandy-type storms makes acting on climate change more urgent

The news last week that New York City faces Superstorm Sandy-level flooding every 25 years, instead of every 500 years, is a wet blanket after such a banner week bolstered by presidents, prime ministers and the pope talking about sustainability and climate change.

What a serious wake-up call after all the positive pomp and circumstance.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ study published shows that flood heights are already almost four feet higher than they were centuries ago, and reminds us that our work is cut out for us.

We haven’t a moment to lose, especially in light of the fact that 2015 is already angling for the hottest year on record and last year broke all previous hottest year records.

The pope’s propitious appeals for environmental protection, in particular — as he visited venues large and small from the United Nations General Assembly to a joint session of Congress to our own East Harlem — mustn’t fall on deaf ears.

Recall that New York City’s subway system and power grid were completely shut down during Superstorm Sandy — due, in part, to climate change.

Now, instead of saying goodbye to another Sandy-style superstorm for another five centuries, we’ll likely witness three to four superstorms within our lifetime. The potential costs from such frequent death and destruction to our city’s infrastructure is astronomical.

With Sandy’s damage running a $65 billion tab (second costliest weather-related disaster in U.S. history), killing 159 people, destroying 650,000 homes and 250,000 vehicles, leaving 8.5 million customers without power (and some without water), and negatively impacting more than 300,000 businesses, this is not a risk we dare repeat.

We know how to prevent it. We know how to cool the climate so that extreme weather — worsened by warming coming from increased carbon in the atmosphere — doesn’t rear an ugly and unwelcome head so often.

The question is, do we have the will?  When it comes to carbon-heavy sectors— whether in transportation, utilities or infrastructure — we have the tech solutions to transition to alternative energy, we now need to ramp up investment. And it’ll pay off quickly, especially if we do it in time to lessen the costly impact of the next superstorm.

On the less frequently focused upon frontiers for emissions reduction — from food to fashion — are we ready and willing to do what’s necessary to protect our people from the next superstorm? The question is that simple and it deserves a simple answer: yes or no.

If yes, then let’s get to work: at the United Nations, as it rolls out its sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years; in Congress, as it works to finally recognize and act on climate science; and in East Harlem, one of the metropolitan communities impacted disproportionately by dirty fossil fuels. If no, then we wait for the next superstorm to hit us soon and again wreak hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and untold death.

The answer for us is clear: yes.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel is a New York Democrat. Michael Shank is a professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.