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Risk of Coastal Cities to Increasingly Intense Weather Events by a Barnard Blogger

The dangers that climate change poses on coastal cities is an evolving threat as development of the cities and their use of land changes on a regular basis, especially considering the fact that costal development is often tied to commercial interests rather than functionality. Sea level rising and the effects of costal erosion change the ways in which a community can experience storm surge and present a new set of challenges for those who face a large storm. Inland cities and urban areas deal with effects of precipitation, but in large wetland areas the water level rising has presented new issues with flooding. 1 In Texas communities on the Gulf of Mexico sea level rise effects natural disasters by increasing the intensity of the storm. 2 The effects of climate change on coastal cities infrastructure throughout the United States highlights the problems with an already decaying system. Because of sea level rise and warmer water temperatures, the intensity of hurricanes and other tropical storm systems are projected to increase by 20-30% in the 21st century. 3 The increase in intensity means that the damage will be greater and communities not protected by governmental programs face different types of risk.

The damages caused by flooding and other issues present a unique challenge to cities in the continental U.S. because of their dependence on a service economy. The development of cities in high risk areas presents a unique situation in which the effects of stronger storm systems will put those who are working class in more risk as their access to housing and work. Historic precipitation caused flooding in Houston. In Figure 1.taken from a New York Times article exploring potential rebuilding in Houston, the red represents the areas with reported flood damage from Hurricane Harvey and the grey is the 100 year flood plan. 4 Those without flood insurance and other means to access capital experience the aftermath of the disasters like Harvey differentially.

State sponsored programs respond to disasters in ways that reinforce class boundaries making the recovery process political. If the lack of regulation allowed people to buy and rent homes in markets that were at risk then a comment must be made about what needs to be done to protect them. Fig. 2 shows the rates of poverty in Houston. The two maps side by side show that in areas in which flooding occurred effected communities with high rates of poverty. The effects of these natural disasters on communities that do not have the ability to move or have the protections in place when flooding and other natural disasters hit can be disastrous. The political side of global warming and the rising sea level is that communities throughout the United States are dependent on insurance programs that evaluate risk to one’s property. In a city like Houston where, according to the 2010 census, 47% of homes are owned by their occupant, 50% of those who live there are not entitled to the same protection. Because the intensity of storms is increasing and the damage continues to be one of the ways in which we evaluate a storm, then the response needs to be changed to include those impacted by the storm who do not have home ownership and other means of capital. The success rate of rebuilding cannot be analyzed by how a city rebuilds itself and their property costs but rather success in dealing with those who are internally displaced and become refugees.


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6 Responses

  1. I appreciated your reflection on the fact that “the development of cities in high risk areas presents a unique situation in which the effects of stronger storm systems will put those who are working class in more risk as their access to housing and work.” In the past, I had largely considered the effects of climate change and storms on cities, specifically New York, as having profound effects on the built environment as well as on population health. However, I had not given much thought to the specific effects on the working class. This is extremely prevalent and points to yet another disparity in the effects of climate change.

  2. The statistic that storm systems are projected to increase by 20 or 30 percent this century is extremely alarming! I hope we can find ways to buffer the effects of hydrologic natural disasters. You also bring up a good point that the lower to middle class will take the brunt of the damage, what are ways that can help to even the burden?

  3. I think it is important to look at how cities will respond to climate change issues like sea level rise. Cities must respond as they are the most populated areas in the world. Your mention of the disparities and displacement that could occur in response to sea level rise led me to consider how global cities could positively influence the rest of the world. Cities act as a microcosm for society and most issues that occur in the world occur in cities in a more focused light. Cities enable us to study our responses to issues and adjust accordingly. If coastal cities could take into account the possible injustices associated with their response, other parts of the world will be able to respond in a similar manner.

    Similarly this topic made me think about how there are already inequality issues related to climate change. Many of the more developed countries will not feel the effect as much as the less developed. It is VERY important that we respond equally at both the local (city level) and global level.

  4. I really enjoyed how you brought up political solutions to the issue of coastal flooding. In light of the recent events in Florida and Harvey, the increased public awareness makes this an ideal time to be driving bills protecting those at risk through Congress. However, it is frustrating that our current administration seems to be less than concerned with environmental issues in general and will likely hinder any efforts to help those who need it.

  5. This article is timely and necessary! As sea levels rise and compound the effects of storm surges and natural disasters, this is the time to consider mitigation possibilities and the effect that those have on vulnerable populations. What are some of the political tools that these victims can use to get around the system, or to fight back? Do state governments have the power to do anything to help them instead of the municipality (or the federal government)?

  6. This highlights the sad realities of vulnerable populations being poor, ignored by policymakers, and now susceptible to climate change. This puts an even greater onus on legislators to work with communities and create plans to properly prepare for impending threats. The intertwining of commercial interests must also be brought out into the open so that they are also held responsible for the communities that inhabit their land.

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