2012 was another damaging year for extreme weather: Superstorm Sandy, all-time high temperature records, and a stifling drought that encompassed more than 60% of our country. Disturbingly, records and storms like these are becoming much more common and much more severe. As global temperatures increase, storms are intensifying, bringing with them fierce winds and heavy downpours resulting in floods. Scientists now tell us that the storms will become even stronger and even more frequent in coming decades, overwhelming our infrastructure and threatening population centers.
On Sunday night, CNN aired an important segment on the consequences of the climate crisis called "The Coming Storm." The hour-long special highlighted the increasing costs of these strengthening weather events to our infrastructure. For example, post-Katrina, New Orleans spent $14.5 billion‹mostly in federal funds to build a storm surge "fortress" and other similar adaptation measures around the city. To build a similar "fortress" around New York City would cost an additional $20 billion.
In a time when our government is paralyzed by fiscal shortages, can we afford to continue pursuing a strategy of only rebuilding our cities after each major weather event while ignoring the underlying causes of these worsening events? While we must improve our coastal cities¹ protection and infrastructure, our perilous position demands that we address the root cause of the problem: manmade global warming pollution. If we fail to do so, we would simply force future generations to foot the bill for our irresponsible pollution of Earth's atmosphere, and saddle them with the growing risk that mitigation options available to us now will disappear as the concentrations of global warming pollution continue to build up in the earth's atmosphere.
Simply adapting to our changing climate will not suffice. As we've seen, it is far too expensive and dangerous. The whole of human history has developed within a narrow band of climate conditions; if we do not act to reduce our dependency on dirty fossil fuels, we risk further destabilizing an already volatile climate. I applaud CNN for its special, but I must add that it is more than a little curious that nowhere in the hour was there any mention of what we can do to address the causes of global warming, while we struggle to pay for recovery efforts as the problem grows steadily more dangerous.
Luckily, there are solutions at hand. The last decade has seen tremendous advances in renewable energy systems. Prices are falling rapidly for solar and wind technologies while, all across the globe, investments in sustainable technologies are increasing. In 2010, investments in renewable energy exceeded those of fossil fuels for the first time ever. By 2015, renewables will be the second largest source of power generation worldwide.
We have no excuse for inaction. The longer we remain tethered to dirty fossil fuels, the more expensive they become both in terms of energy cost and subsequent damage brought on by their emissions -- and the more dirty weather is inflicted on us. Conversely, the more renewable energy we invest in, the cheaper it becomes and the less risk we incur.
The choice is simple. We must act now.