Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Climate Change: Ready for a New Era of Extreme Weather?


A large part of the response to climate change amounts to holding actions to mitigate the impact of fossil fuel emissions and to better prepare for unprecedented storms, hurricanes and floods.

Is enough being done on the latter point — preparedness for extreme weather? The answer is no, according to a 76-page report released this month by the National Wildlife Federation, Allied World Assurance Company Holdings and Earth Economics. In fact, the organizations say, there’s a major “preparedness deficit.”

The study, Natural Defenses from Hurricanes and Floods: Protecting America’s Communities and Ecosystems in an Era of Extreme Weather, examines the growing risks from potentially-catastrophic natural hazards; the policy solutions that can safeguard people, property and wildlife habitats; and local case studies that can point the way forward.

“Our preparedness deficit is the result of years of inaction and under-investment at the federal, state and local levels,” says Collin O’Mara, NWF president and CEO. “It’s time for our elected officials to reinvest in our natural defenses and this report offers a blueprint for bipartisan, market-based solutions.”

The report reads: “Far too many people who live along America’s coasts and rivers are at considerable risk of personal harm from floods and hurricanes, and their properties and economic livelihoods are highly vulnerable as well. Efforts by policy makers to grapple with and respond to these problems have been inadequate.”

Climate impacts are hitting home faster than governments are adapting, the report's authors say. “But it’s not too late to protect our communities with cost-effective, nature-based approaches for risk reduction, ” But — and there are always many buts when it comes to reacting to and dealing with climate change — what’s needed are major increases in “investments in proactive risk reduction measures” on the scale of a “Marshall Plan,” that will take into consideration the growing risks from more intense storms, flooding and sea level rise.

Two years ago Superstorm Sandy, a storm climate scientists say was worsened by global warming, slammed into the East Coast. It killed 72 Americans, touched 24 states, knocked out power to more than 7 million people and caused an estimated $70 billion in damage. In 2014, the U.S. has just come off the hottest six-month stretch on record globally, and America saw the ninth wettest summer on record:

  • Torrential downpours in the Northeast dumped a summer’s worth of rain in just a matter of hours, while parts of the Midwest received two months of rainfall in one week.

  • Montana had its wettest August on record with 276 percent of its average precipitation.

  • Even in the midst of historic drought, California has experienced record thunderstorms and deadly flash floods.

The report's authors say solutions are at hand: “Policymakers can make coastal and riverine communities safer and more resilient to floods and hurricanes by focusing on natural and nature-based approaches for risk reduction. These approaches protect and restore natural infrastructure such as wetlands, dunes, riparian zones, living shorelines, and natural open space. They are cost-effective and produce a host of benefits to residents in addition to flood protection, including clean water, habitat for fish and wildlife, and increased opportunities for recreation and tourism. They also produce savings for taxpayers nationwide.”

The authors note that improvements in seven areas of federal and state law are needed:

  1. Phase out subsidies for federal flood insurance to reduce incentives for development in high-risk and environmentally-sensitive areas while taking care to address social equity impacts.

  2. Prioritize federal investments on the front end of disasters, potentially reducing billions in disaster relief after storms and floods.

  3. Further reduce and eliminate federal subsidies that lead to more development on barrier islands.

  4. Ensure better protection of wetlands, intermittent streams, and other water bodies that can absorb floodwaters, act as speed bumps for storm surge, and buffer communities.

  5. Refocus Army Corps of Engineers on restoration projects that work with nature to reduce flood risk rather than on multi-billion dollar civil works construction projects.

  6. Ensure that state-sponsored insurance programs are designed in ways that discourage development in hazard-prone areas while protecting socially-vulnerable communities.

  7. Take urgent action to reduce carbon pollution that’s worsening extreme weather.

Those are logical and needed steps as the nation must cope with a “new normal” of extreme weather conditions. And a Marshall Plan approach is desperately needed.

Here’s the thing however: The Marshall Plan was the American initiative to aid Europe after World War II, in which the United States gave $17 billion — or the equivalent of about $160 billion in current dollars — in economic support to help rebuild European economies over four years beginning in April 1948. What are the odds that the U.S. will spend on that scale over the coming decades?

Image credit: Picture extracted from the Natural Defenses report

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto

More stories from Energy & Environment