Rising sea levels, monster storms, hordes of fleeing climate refugees, crop-destroying droughts and floods, hellacious forest fires, dying ocean sea life, rogue geoengineering projects, and distraught scientists – the beginnings of these are all taking shape as climate change starts to kick into gear, putting into question the future of the human race. Ten years earlier, the effects of a storm like that of Sandy were foretold in a report entitled “Nation Under Siege” by Architecture 2030, a “non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization, established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002.” As Inside Climate News reports, the most disturbing part in this study is a 3-D map of New York (pictured below), illustrating the effects of a 3-meter (9.8-foot) rise in sea level: “Lower Manhattan, the East Village neighborhood and the FDR Drive underwater. That’s exactly what Sandy’s 3-meter storm surge delivered.”
In a recent post, I mentioned that one of the world’s premier insurers, Munich Re, was pricing in the rise of climate change disasters. Speaking from an Australian perspective, a very astute and sobering comment was made on this very subject of the insurance industry and climate change damage. Note that in addition to the ineffective carbon trading scheme, this is the best response we are likely to ever get from our ‘free market capitalist system’ (bold emphasis is mine):
We can take it as a given that nothing of scale will be done about climate issues until the bells toll at a deafening level. Sort of like a heavy cigarette smoker puffing his life away in spite of getting a clear diagnosis of very ill-health.
Meanwhile the insurers, Swiss Re(the big one), and Munich Re, set their numbers folk on the problem and come up with a price(premium) for geographically weak areas around the planet. The price for living in say, flood prone Manhattan, will be determined by these numbers. Fire risk, no problem, theft, no problem – but acts of nature, well the historical data is on our side, to a degree where no one can dispute it, as is the call of the world’s foremost climate experts, which governments ought not argue with. Consequently the premium for flood and tempest will be high – Indeed very high. Do you want this element of our insurance coverage? – and by all means try another insurer. They will tell you the same thing. A bit like going to bat for a fair priced earthquake cover in Christchurch at the moment, let alone in the decades to come.
As a result governments, both local and Federal, will have to become insurers of last resort – putting them in position where they too can face bankruptcy, like all of the other insurers who failed to crunch the numbers.
More than likely this is how the business-as-usual world, will approach the climate problem.
Structurally it is already happening in Australia in a quiet way, where CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) have passed their climate models over to state governments, who in turn have passed the buck to local councils about the risks of rubber stamping building permits in storm and tempest prone coastal areas. Ergo, rate hungry local shires can be bankrupted in a trice from several directions. For one, the landowners claim they trusted the shire permit system – yet the insurers(if they take on the bet), have a clear path to recover their losses. Given that shires defied expert opinion from the country’s foremost climate authority, insofar as they were handed their projections, yet ignored them.
On the one hand some commentators might take these real world scenarios as leading indicators of how we are traveling in the climate fix – but the reality suggests they are trailing indicators at best. An after-the-event pricing for climate problems.
As for a global fix on climate – well insurers are leaving politicians in their wake. Coming up with real world pricing models, and all that.
As for the unwashed millions around the world – well there’s no money in them.
An interesting adjunct to this may be found in Australia’s refugee policy, where currently it appears to be suffering quite some stress. Yet it fails to include climate refugees in the decades to come. Say Bangladesh, where a small rise in sea level will have twenty million people on the move – begging questions from the UN – how many millions will Australia take.
Ian Angus observes on the website Climate and Capitalism that the masses will be left to fend for themselves like the survivors of Katrina:
As Naomi Klein wrote in the same year, in The Shock Doctrine, “It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers. ”
In short, now we all live in New Orleans.
Though the cost of Sandy to the Northeast is a small fraction of the total cost incurred by Katrina, this time climate change hit the seat of power and money in America rather than the poverty-stricken plebs of New Orleans who were quickly written off.
Even further back than the above study was one done ten years ago entitled “The Metro East Coast: Climate Change and a Global City.” One of the authors of that report and a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who heads the Climate Impacts Group is Cynthia Rosenzweig. She was on Democracy Now yesterday speaking about the forewarnings New York had been given:
CYNTHIA ROSENZWEIG: New York City—when we started over 10 years ago, we really started looking at New York City. New York City is actually—our estuary is shaped like a funnel. And hurricane winds and storms go counterclockwise, as we all know now. And when we have that arm, that strong arm of the storms, coming around, slamming right into our—the cone of our—the funnel of our estuary, we said over—over 10 years ago, we showed the maps of how vulnerable Lower Manhattan, Long Beach, parts of Staten Island, the low-lying areas—we’ve been telling people for over 10 years that these are the areas that we need to protect. We need to plan and protect them.
We’re also vulnerable because we have so much infrastructure. And, you see, we can’t think about our infrastructure in silos. “Oh, here’s the transportation system. Here’s the power. Here’s the water.” All of those three are interdependent. And we know now so strongly that when one goes out, especially the power, there’s cascading effects throughout all the systems…
Writing on Dissident Voice, Robert Hunziker comments on another Democracy Now interview from this week concerning the vulnerabilities of New York:
Here are a few pictorial commentaries from the net on Sandy:
And a perverse reaction from the barbarians at a Romney rally when a climate activist tries to break the silence on climate change:
No, it’s not dystopian fiction anymore; it’s terrifyingly real. Time to contemplate our existence on this little blue orb and decide what’s worth fighting for.