Climate mitigation pays off, but it has to be put in place to work

This week’s conclusion of a three-part series by PBN staff writer Eli Sherman on Rhode Island’s vulnerability to flooding and storm damage is sobering.

The picture it paints, despite the evidence of sea-level rise and more frequent damaging storms, is one of avoidance, as in, people and businesses are just hoping that the worst doesn’t happen.

Of course, some businesses are heeding the warnings and making changes. Hope Global, for instance, after experiencing floods in 2005 and 2010, has spent roughly $1 million to make its Cumberland manufacturing facility more resilient to the dangers of the Blackstone River.

And the new Hotel Maria on Misquamicut Beach in Westerly is being built up on steel beams that should allow a storm such as the 2012 remnants of Hurricane Sandy to wash right under its 31 rooms.

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Unfortunately, those two examples are exceptions to the rules. And the potential costs to the state, as well as the nation, could be devastating.

Federal officials estimate that extreme weather events in 2017 cost more than $306 billion, the worst year on record. And yet preventative measures are not in vogue.

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves $4 in post-disaster aid. Yet, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $600 million on its mitigation program from 2005-2014, after-the-fact disaster assistance cost $277.6 billion.

Many who talk about climate change are treated as Chicken Littles. But the stakes are too high to be ignoring their warnings.