In his blog, "Are Hurricanes Our Next Dust Bowl?", Thomas Fisher talks about what resiliance to future climate change-induced distasters will look like.
He compares the measures used to resolve the 1930s Dust Bowl (an excellent must-watch PBS documentary) with those needed to protect us from superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.
Here are some excerpts:
Both Hurricane Sandy and the Dust Bowl were man-made disasters. Excessive wheat-crop production and poor tilling practices in the 1920s and early 1930s led to the loss of topsoil when drought arrived soon after the start of the Great Depression. Farmers plowing under so much of the prairie made the Dust Bowl almost inevitable.
Only when the Federal government stepped in to return large areas of land back to protected grassland, to hire people to plant hundreds of miles of windbreaks, and to educate farmers about how to till their fields in more sustainable ways did the Dust Bowl end. We created what many still view as the worst environmental disaster in American history, and we responded to it by returning much of the landscape to its natural state.
Hurricane Sandy holds similar lessons. Increased development along low-lying coastal areas increased the number of buildings destroyed, people displaced, and lives disrupted by wind, flooding, and fire.
Just as prairie grass proved essential in keeping the soil of the southern plains from blowing away, the reefs, wetlands, and sandbars long the eastern and southern coasts of the U.S. play a role in buffering the effects of storms that we would do well to restore.
The idea of building a $6 billion sea barrier at the mouth of New York's harbor represents the very thing we should not do. It will waste money and may even make the effects of future storms worse. It won't stop tidal surges and flooding that can affect New York City from other directions -- from Long Island Sound, for example, as happened during Hurricane Sandy. A surge barrier also won't do anything to protect all of the coastal development outside of it, which is where most of the damage from Hurricane Sandy occurred. Nor will it prevent the flooding that will occur as a result of an overall rise in sea levels, which will inundate low-lying areas regardless of what else we do.
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