By Terry Hansen
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) heralded President Biden’s Nov. 15 signing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill as “a historic bipartisan achievement that represents the largest investment in our nation’s critical infrastructure in a generation or more.”
The organization’s praise for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is not surprising, as it estimated the U.S. infrastructure investment deficit to be $2.59 trillion over 10 years. According to the ASCE:
“Poor roads and airports mean travel times increase. An aging electric grid and inadequate water distribution make utilities unreliable. Problems like these translate into higher costs for businesses to manufacture and distribute goods and provide services. These higher costs, in turn, get passed along to workers and families.”
The IIJA’s designation of $47 billion for climate resilience, including flood control, is crucial. To quote Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., coauthor of the bill’s climate adaptation provisions:
“There’s people living in Livingston Parish, for example, flooded in 2016, whose lives — everything in their life was destroyed. The pictures of their children, the wedding dress in which they married, the home in which they lived, which had never flooded before — the fact that we are helping our fellow Americans avoid that gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction.”
Although $47 billion for adaptation has been called transformational, it’s a fraction of the sum needed. An October report by First Street Foundation, a flood research group, concludes that a quarter of our nation’s critical infrastructure, such as airports, hospitals and power stations, is at risk of becoming inoperable due to flooding made worse by climate change.
The report says that seven Florida cities are among the 20 most at-risk municipalities in the U.S., tops for any state. Cape Coral ranks third, while Fort Lauderdale is fifth.
Regarding the value of preparing for climate-related risks, the Fourth National Climate Assessment asserts: “Estimates of adaptation costs range from tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, but are expected to save several times that over the long run.”
For instance, using sandbags to protect homes in South Florida can have a benefit-cost ratio of 20 to 1, while levees and seawalls along the Gulf Coast can have a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 to 1 for refineries and petrochemical plants.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change views funding for climate resilience as an investment in avoided costs. According to Brian O’Callaghan, coauthor of the United Nations Adaptation Gap report: “Investing in climate adaptation is a bit like getting insurance for a known event. We pay $1 today to save ourselves $10 tomorrow.”
While the bipartisan infrastructure law provides protection for our communities, ports and roads from climate hazards, the Build Back Better Act, which is in peril in the Senate, would spend over $500 billion on clean energy projects and incentives to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and avoid worst-case climate scenarios.
Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and the more we emit, the greater the impacts will become. The 2019 report, A Climate Security Plan for America: A Presidential Plan for Combating the Security Risks of Climate Change, warns:
“It cannot be assumed that the U.S. will naturally adapt to the security risks of climate change in the future. The President has a responsibility to protect our national security from future climate threats by ensuring they never come to pass.”
The foresight demonstrated by the climate provisions of the Build Back Better agenda is refreshing in a time often characterized by a short-termism that is penny wise, but pound foolish. Implementing these policies would signify U.S. leadership and be a critical step in the climate fight.
Terry Hansen is a retired educator who writes frequently on climate change.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.