This editorial was first published in the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, New York), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.
Now that the state Legislature has committed New York to being a leader in the effort to combat climate change, we are going to hear a lot about costs. Already some commentators are bemoaning what they are sure will be a blow to the challenged upstate economy; legislators who were and are opposed to such action will be sure to keep up their chatter; the bill’s goal of phasing out vehicles with internal combustion engines, a goal that all automakers are investing in, is sure to be touted as some sort of draconian ban.
So let’s make sure this dialogue has two sides, especially as it concerns costs, starting with some figures that emerged last week as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was being debated and voted on.
And just for perspective, it might help to recall that old Fram oil filter ad, the one that was so persuasive because it contained the warning that you could pay now or pay more later.
With that in mind, the first figure is a national one from the Center for Climate Integrity, which calculated the costs of building seawalls in coastal communities facing regular flooding, the kind that keeps the Weather Channel busy and that shows no signs of abating.
Those seawalls will cost $416 billion by 2040, the year when the state hopes to be halfway toward its goal of zero carbon emissions from producing electricity.
Seawalls to protect New York City would cost $2 billion and protection for the rest of the state would add $15 billion. Planning to visit the Jersey shore? It will need $25 billion. Vacationing farther south? North Carolina will have to spend $35 billion, and South Carolina will add another $20 billion. And forget about wintering in Florida anywhere near either coast unless it spends $76 billion.
As climate change accelerates, as the sea levels rise perhaps faster than walls can be built and certainly faster than the Trump administration and the Senate under Republican control would be willing to invest in protection, we are likely to see a discussion we have never had before — which communities are worth saving?
Those who might be inclined to dismiss such warnings and such estimates as the product of a biased point of view should consider that New York City is already seeking funding for a $10 billion project to protect lower Manhattan, the Army Corps of Engineers is warning that despite $14 billion in repairs following Hurricane Katrina, the levee system around New Orleans is sinking and the City of Charleston is wondering where it will come up with the $2 billion it needs to hold off rising sea levels.
The ambitious plans and goals approved last week by the state Legislature do not have all of the dollar signs attached. As they become available, they will be large and alarming. We need to make sure that as we study them, we keep in mind the scary, alarming and expensive alternatives that we are facing now, not in the future, and apply the advice from that old advertisement so we can calculate the cost now vs. the cost later.