This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.
Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. California wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. The great Texas blackout. The list goes on.
These mega-events dramatize the need to improve our disaster response system. The trends are striking: escalating disaster impacts, more disaster clustering, more disaster cascades, and less predictability. We need to up our game. Lisa Grow Sun and I discuss the implications in a new paper, but here are a few of the key takeaways.
Escalating impacts. From 1980 to 2020, there were an average of seven billion-dollar events per year. (Interestingly, nearly half of them were in Texas.) But from 2015-2020, the average was 16 per year. 2020 had a record-breaking 22 billion-dollar events. Why? It's partly higher GDP and population, so more people and wealth are at risk. More people and infrastructure are located in high-risk areas, especially coasts. And over and above those trends, there's climate change — leading to a sharp increase in extreme weather events with more yet to come.
Clustering. As the number of large-scale disasters increases, the odds increase of two or three happening during a short period of time. By the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico …
When it comes to addressing climate-related flooding, Maryland has made progress.
In 2014, it created a "Coast Smart Council" at the state's Department of Natural Resources. Councilmembers, representing government, academia, business, advocacy, and other sectors, work together to develop science-backed resources and rules that govern development of state-funded projects in coastal and flood-prone areas.
Meanwhile, state agencies and local jurisdictions work under the council's auspices and with the benefit of resources. such as local government studies and plans to address climate-related flooding. They also have a new interactive mapping tool — the Climate Ready Action Boundary — to help local governments and the public explore flood-prone boundaries in Maryland. Those who use the tool can make informed decisions about development in areas vulnerable to flooding or sea level rise. Any state development built within the flood-prone boundary must be designed with flood-resilient features.
But these actions don't come close …
Originally published by NYU Press. Reprinted with permission.
The flood season is upon us once again. Beginning in February, parts of Mississippi and Tennessee were deluged by floods described as "historic," "unprecedented," even "Shakespearean." At the same time, Midwestern farmers are still reeling from the torrential rains of 2019 that destroyed billions of dollars' worth of crops and equipment, while wondering whether their water-ravaged farmland can ever be put back into production. All this while the Houston area continues to recover from three so-called "500-year floods" in as many years, back-to-back in 2015, 2016, and, most notably, Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
As one tragedy follows another, they barely qualify as national news anymore. Instead, record-breaking floods and destruction are becoming commonplace. Why do the sequels barely warrant top billing? How have our national policies failed us, and why do they continue to fail us …