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Op-Ed: The Answer Is Climate Adaptation

But no one is asking the question.

Today the Puget Sound Business Journal is carrying an op-ed that I wrote about climate adaptation and how that is the answer to the disaster problems being caused now by climate-fueled disasters.

The next blog post I do will be on the same topic, on how people continue to put themselves in harm’s way. If government is supposed to provide for “public safety,” should that not include keeping them safe by not letting them build and live where future disasters will kill, maim and destroy?

Here’s my op-ed:

Op-ed: Climate Adaptation is the Right Choice
By Eric Holdeman

The disasters keep coming, both here in the United States and around the world. Flooding, extreme heat, hurricanes, drought and on and on. Pakistan had one third of their nation covered by flood waters! Today, Florida is now dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Most major disasters are weather related. Climate change is making these disasters more frequent and much more destructive. While our ultimate goal is to reduce our carbon footprint, if we are to avoid the continued destruction and mayhem, we keep seeing repeated, we will need to focus in the near term on climate adaptation.

Climate adaptation means taking what measures are possible to avoid having people and property impacted by a disaster. This means building stronger, smarter and in places that avoid the impacts of disasters. In emergency management terms it is called disaster mitigation.

The biggest problem we have is that people, individually and as families, are not making wise choices when it comes to where they choose to live and build. Our value systems in a climate disaster world are upside down. Property values are higher if you live close to the water, be it a river or the ocean. View properties on the side of a hill are more valuable than those that are not built on a hillside. We want sunny weather and warm temperatures vs. the cold and wintery weather of the North.

All of the above means that people continue to move to places that match their long-term dreams, the ones they have had before the reality of climate change and disasters has sunk into their decision making on where they want to live.

Still today, people in the Northeast are flocking to retire to Florida. The lure of sandy beaches and warm temperatures continues to cause them to make irrational choices about their future personal and financial wellbeing. In the West, we have tens of thousands of people moving to arid states that have their water systems being challenged to provide enough water for the residents they already have.

Then we also have governments enabling people to put themselves at risk. The combination of developers, the construction industry, labor and elected officials sacrificing the long-term safety of their community in order to fuel continued growth that comes with new construction and expansion. No one is looking beyond their nose at the hole they are digging for their community when disasters come calling.

The recent stop gap funding bill to keep the federal government running includes $2 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to handle disaster recovery costs for 2022-2023. One early estimate for the possible damages caused by Hurricane Ian was $70 billion. In Florida alone, in the last 30 years they have sustained $213.2B in disaster losses. Can we afford to subsidize the irrational behavior by those unconcerned with the eventual cost of choices for where and how we build today? Eventually the Piper will have to be paid.

In the immediate future the only moderating factor that is going to have an impact on what gets built is the insurance industry. They are the ones who are insuring the property losses being suffered. We know by experience that companies will begin pulling back on property insurance. Some insurance companies will go out of business. Policy rates will go way up, and, in many cases, companies will stop offering hazard insurance all together for those areas with the greatest risks. For those who are not buying a home with cash, they won’t be able to get a home loan.

We are continuing to fail in planning for a climate driven future. A favorite book of mine is Failing Forward, which has this quote about failure, “The lessons will continue to be taught until learned.” Collectively we need remedial training on climate change and its impacts.


Eric Holdeman is Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.