Thursday, July 5, 2007

The IPCC Report: Resigned to Catastrophe

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on April 16 predicted plenty of damage as the sea level rises - the greater the rise the greater the damage, of course. In the summary material headed Hurricanes and Sea Level Rise: Key passages from the IPCC's "Climate Change 2007", we find projections and recommendations, but I sense a resignation to the historic tendency to not prepare for uncertainty.

Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina clearly illustrated the "vulnerability of North American infrastructure and urban systems that were either not designed or maintained to adequate safety margins."

"North America very likely will continue to suffer serious losses of life and property simply due to growth in property values and numbers of people at risk (very high confidence)." (Italics mine) This statement was followed by enumeration of property values vulnerable to North Atlantic storm damage. Of the total property value in some states, the majority is vulnerable. "This economic value includes 79% of the property in Florida, 63% of the property in New York, and 61% of the property in Connecticut."

But here's where I think you can feel the authors' collective pessimism. In the money terms applied to home ownership, defensive home improvements don't pay for themselves unless they actually save the home under the onslaught of a major storm.

Extensive property damage in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 led to significant revisions to the building code. If all properties in southern Florida met this updated code in 1992, then property damage from Hurricane Andrew would have been lower by nearly 45%. Florida will, however, still experience extensive damage from hurricanes through damage to the large number of older homes and businesses. Other financial barriers come from the challenge property owners face in recovering the costs of protecting themselves. Hidden adaptations tend to be undervalued, relative to obvious ones. For example, homes with storm shutters sell for more than homes without this visible adaptation, while less visible retrofits, such as tie-down straps to hold the roof in high winds, add less to the resale value of the home, relative to their cost.
And in general, projections of possible or probable sea level rise lead only to predictions of massive damage. Readiness? Barely detectable.
Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low [very high confidence].

1 comment:

Dan said...

Some people think the ipcc report is optimistic. See.. much as I would like to see a rosy way out, I don't. I have reduced my energy consumption some (the easy part), but not enough. I don't see our brethren leading the pack. Everyone is flying all over for this or that "important cause" emitting carbon like mad and these are the enlightened folks.
Most people I deal with daily are completely clueless as they drive their suvs 80 mph to nowhere.