Saturday, March 8, 2014

US infrastructure threatened by climate change poses a 'national crisis'

Evan Lehmann in E & E News: The nation's aging infrastructure makes up an interconnected web of systems that are alarmingly vulnerable to the shocks of climate change, according to a report released today that will inform the National Climate Assessment, to be made public next month.

The difficulty of strengthening the systems that support the American economy -- from electricity to drinking water -- poses significant problems requiring large investments at a time of rising risk and receding political appetite for big spending initiatives. "It's kind of a national crisis," said Tom Wilbanks, a senior scientist at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a co-author of the 109-page report.

It is the first time the National Climate Assessment will include a section on the risks to infrastructure, a broad term that includes most major societal investments. Among them are health care systems; the nation's web of roads, airports and seaports; and communication systems relied on by every owner of a cellphone.

The threats to these systems don't include just the physical damage they might suffer during a hurricane, a flood or a heat wave. The bigger impacts are on society, the economy and the environment, all of which depend on the smooth functioning of these systems, the report says.

"Vulnerabilities are especially large where infrastructures are subject to multiple stresses, beyond climate change alone; when they are located in areas vulnerable to extreme weather events; and if climate change is severe rather than moderate," it says.

Still, the researchers find that adaptation can significantly reduce risk. Whether lawmakers are willing to pay for it is a separate question....

The 2007 Cedar Avenue bridge collapse in Minneapolis, shot by Mordac, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  

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