With environmental issues, crisis often spurs action. Nuclear safety was ramped up after Three Mile Island. Hazardous waste laws were strengthened after Love Canal. And oil transport laws were refined after the Exxon Valdez spill.
Along the same lines, Hurricane Sandy has generated renewed attention to the potential effects of climate change and the issue of climate adaptation. Hurricane Sandy impacted numerous lives and the costs to New York State alone are estimated at over $40 billion. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s statement in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy illustrates the impact it had on those who experienced the hurricane or observed its effects:
Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all. . . . We need to act, not simply react. (New York Daily News, November 15, 2012.)
On the other side of the country, California has been looking at climate change impacts and adaptation strategies for several years. As part of these efforts, California released a report earlier this year titled: “Our Changing Climate 2012: Vulnerability and Adaptation to the Increasing Risks from Climate Change in California.” The report predicts that “[t]emperatures in California will rise significantly during this century . . . regardless of the climate model used to predict future warming.” The report also estimates that sea level along California’s coast could rise as much as 10 to 18 inches by 2050. According to the report, such arise would substantially increase the frequency of coastal storms with the potential to harm people and damage property. The potential financial implications are substantial: California currently has $50 billion worth of property and at least 260,000 people located in areas vulnerable to the 100-year coastal flood.
The situations in New York and California indicate that 2013 may be the year that governments begin to take action to prepare for the potential effects of climate change.
Climate Change in Context
When evaluating whether to move forward with climate adaptation strategies, it is appropriate to consider the larger context of climate change.