The Rising Tide of Climate Change: What America's Flood Cities Can Teach Us about Energy Policy, and Why We Should Be Worried

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION

II.  THE GRAND FORKS FLOOD OF 1997: WHEN SCIENCE BRED COMPLACENCY
     A. Grand Forks Under Water
     B. A City Exposed: Failure to Plan or Inability to Assess Risk?
        1. Flood Insurance, Who Needs Flood insurance?
        2. An Ounce of Prevention Can Cost Millions, Rebuilding Costs
           Billions
III. HURRICANE KATRINA: BLINDED BY THE BLIGHT?
     A. The Anticipated Surprise: New Orleans Under Water
     B. Breached Levees/Breached Promises
IV.  THE "FLOOD" WARNING OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND WHAT CAN BE LEARNED
     A. Being a Good Neighbor: If You Are Going to Be an Insurer, Act
        Like One
     B. The Direct Link: What Can Be Learned About Limiting Climate
        Change Losses from Rebuilding Grand Forks and New Orleans
        1. Lessons Learned: Rebuilding Grand Forks
        2. Lessons to Be Learned: Rebuilding New Orleans
     C. Communicating Risk: Uncertain Doesn't Mean Unlikely
     D. The Hurricane Highway and the Law of Unintended Consequences
V.   CONCLUSION: CLIMATE CHANGE POLICIES ARE ABOUT MORE THAN CLIMATE
     CHANGE
     A. Shifting from Oil as the Primary Fuel Source
     B. Green Jobs = Jobs
     C. A Glimmer of Hope, a Greener Grid, a Safer Planet

I. INTRODUCTION

Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. (1)

What part of "record flooding" did they not understand? (2)

Climate change is often considered the most compelling reason to seek cleaner energy supplies for electricity and transportation needs, yet it is almost always the most contentious rationale for seeking alternative energy sources. Despite the complex nature of climate change, and how to address its effects, the debate over climate change policy is often framed in very simple terms: You either believe or you don't.

This Article argues that the climate change debate is often improperly viewed as having a singular impact and focus, thus (to use an environmentally based analogy) missing the forest for the trees. From "greening the grid" to "freedom from foreign oil" to economic development, climate change policies are multifaceted and have multiple purposes. If the grid is to be greener (or the other myriad benefits flowing from climate change policies are to be achieved), there must be an understanding, first, of the risks posed by climate change, and second, of the successes and failures in other areas heavily impacted by environmental policies.

Although rather slow to catch on, most people in the United States finally appear to have adopted the near-consensus opinion of the scientific community that climate change is real. (3) Of course, contrary to the scientific community, (4) there are still significant questions among the general population whether climate change is caused by human activity. (5) Many of these questions are fueled by very public and very vociferous critics, such as United States Senator James Inhofe, who has referred to climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." (6)

For purposes of this Article, "climate change" refers to the warming of the Earth's atmosphere caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which contain carbon. (7) This carbon is released during the combustion process as the greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide. (8) GHGs essentially trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to increased temperatures. (9) As concentrations of GHGs increase, the potential for increased temperatures (i.e., a warming climate) rises. (10) Most climate change research (and many of the proposed solutions) focuses on managing carbon dioxide output because carbon dioxide is the most prevalent GHG in the atmosphere and fossil fuel combustion is the leading human cause of carbon dioxide production. (11) As such, it is often assumed that the key to managing climate change is managing carbon dioxide emissions. (12)

Although climate change is understood, at least in concept, by most people, the concerns and risks of climate change are not widely accepted and understood by the vast majority of Americans. …