The Climate Change Threat to America’s Decaying Infrastructure

As the United States and a new president wrestle with what experts contend is a dire trillion-dollar decaying infrastructure problem, scientists are looking ahead at the risk that climate change is posing to cities and towns across the country, especially those in low-lying areas.

In Miami alone, local officials say, the city is facing a $3.5 trillion loss over the next 50 years because of rising sea levels. Miami has the largest amount of exposed assets – some $15 billion in today’s dollars – of any city in the world. That includes its beaches, which help rake in millions each year in vital income.

Guangzhou, China ranked second in costs; and New York ranked third, according to the “Changing Tides: How Sea-Level Rise Harms Wildlife and Recreation Economies Along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard” report by the National Wildlife Federation.

Public Housing Under Climate Siege

Already, millions of Americans every year are facing infrastructure questions as a result of climate change, though very few may realize it. Further north in Florida, in Punta Gorda, hundreds of citizens who lived in public housing for the elderly were forced to relocate elsewhere after a hurricane destroyed their housing.

“Neither the insurance company nor the federal government provided enough money to rebuild what was lost, Bloomberg News writes. “Construction could proceed only once Bank of America, through a subsidiary, invested in the new building to get a tax write-off.”

“As global warming causes more extreme weather and sea-level rise, coastal communities around the U.S. are starting to think about whether, and how, to help people move away from the water,” Bloomberg writes. “But one group of Americans is already being displaced by climate change — not through innovative urban and land-use planning, but official indifference.

“Storms and flooding are damaging or destroying a growing share of the nation’s 1.1 million public housing units. Those homes are getting replaced slowly or not at all, forcing the people who lived in them to leave their neighborhoods and often their cities.”

None of this is reflected in the decaying infrastructure often detailed in most plans for reconstruction throughout the United States. Those roads, bridges and tunnels have simply aged out. The climate change bill has yet to be added up in official estimates, experts say.

Not Just a Threat to Roads, a Threat to Society

Much of the public housing in the United States, for example, is built on less-than-desirable pieces of land by creeks, rivers or even oceans. When cities built that housing, most of it between the 1930s and the 1950s, they were looking for cheap land. Elites in those days often chose the highest ground, away from public waters, often thought to be source of disease-carrying sewage.

The National Climate Assessment Report, which has detailed what it describes as an infrastructure crisis in the United States, has detailed the problems involved in fixing all of this.

The threats to these systems go far beyond just the physical damage they might suffer during a hurricane, a flood or a heat wave. Society depends on smooth-functioning roads, sewage systems and waterways.

“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,” the report said.