Rising sea levels and severe storms have already caused billions of dollars in economic damage. These storms threaten coastal populations and infrastructure. The United States is increasingly being hit by natural disasters that have a high death toll, and severely disrupt economic and social activity. From 2000-2009, the federal government spent $288.9 billion on hurricane relief, up from $84.4 billion in the 1990’s.
Two recent storms that were particularly severe are illustrative of the threat moving forward. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 killed 117 Americans and caused $70 billion in economic damage and Hurricane Katrina killed 1,500 Americans in 2005, and caused $135 billion in total damage.
As the climate changes due to man-made global warming, these threats to the American coastline will only increase. Warming is melting global ice caps, increasing sea levels. Climate change also is expected to increase the severity, and possibly the frequency, of coastal storms. Combined, these two factors mean that costly and deadly storm surges are more likely.
However, government policies in the U.S. encourage risk taking by property owners on the coast through perverse incentives like a subsidized National Flood Insurance Program. On the other hand, government-built infrastructure, like levees, are insufficient to protect lives and property from growing risks.
The Netherlands as a Model for Coastal Flood Control
As American cities, states, and the Federal Government begin to consider building new infrastructure to protect the coastline from rising waters, they should look to the Netherlands as a model. After the massive North Sea flood of 1953, which killed over 1,800 people, the country embarked on a comprehensive coast flood control program. This includes the massive infrastructure of the Delta project – a system of dams, locks, and levees – with a legal system that ensures risk management is comprehensively included in all development.
Read more about how climate change effects national security in our Climate Security Report.