Preparing for and Responding to Routine “Emergency” Threats to our Security
Our warming planet is increasing the number and severity of floods, forest fires, hurricanes, and a wide variety of extreme weather events. In late May, the Biden Administration doubled the size of a fund that provides local governments with the resources to reduce disaster vulnerability. The funding grew from about $500 million to $1 billion, although the legislative formula that sets funding levels would have allowed an allocation of $3.7 billion. Administration officials did not believe that local governments had the capacity to do more than twice as much as they did last year. It is not clear that the scale of the effort will meet the challenge, but the increased funding is at least an acknowledgment of the threat.
Climate emergencies are no longer really emergencies but routine events. Natural disasters are nothing special and have become a way of life on our warming planet. We need to do far more to prepare for disasters and mitigate their impact. As Christopher Flavelle wrote in the New York Times last month:
“The new money is less than what some disaster experts had said is needed, especially because the warming planet is making storms, flooding, wildfires and other disasters both more frequent and destructive. The United States experienced 22 disasters that exceeded $1 billion each in damages last year, a record.”
While some of my colleagues are studying “managed retreat” from the most climate-vulnerable communities, it is becoming clear that you can run, but you can’t hide from climate impacts. The energy grid failure in Texas was a nearly state-wide disaster caused by vulnerable infrastructure that was built without consideration of the need for increased resilience. There were few places Texans could hide from the impact of that extreme weather event. It’s obvious that our built environment must be constructed to withstand the effects of extreme weather. Existing infrastructure must be reinforced, and new elements of the built environment need to be engineered to…