What it costs to protect communities from the effects of climate change

A lot, but it’s worth it, says Louisiana study


Photograph: Chris Bolin

Just as Canada struggles with the question of whether or not and to what extent climate change contributed to the flooding in Alberta, the RAND Corporation, a U.S. non-profit, has come out with a study on how much it’ll cost to protect Louisiana from the next super-storm and rising sea water levels.

The total bill is enough to make anyone gulp: $50 billion over 50 years. You heard that right. One billion bucks a year.

But that number sounds a lot more reasonable when you look at the alternative: The cost of doing nothing. According to RAND, which advised the Louisiana government on the matter, the tab in expected damage from weather events would be between $7 billion and $21 billion per year five decades from now. In 2012 it was $2 billion.

The lower end of the estimate reflects RAND’s most optimistic scenario, the higher end the gloomiest one. The $50 billion plan wouldn’t entirely prevent damage from storms and flooding but would limit it to about $3-5 billion a year in the early 2060s, according to the non-profit’s calculations. It seems a good deal—and an even better idea when you consider that the mere cost of relief for Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast late last year, was a whopping $60 billion. The combined damage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008 comes down to about $150 billion throughout the Gulf Coast region.

RAND helped the state of Louisiana decide how much to spend and what kinds of projects by providing a set of forecasts of future weather damage and a mathematical model to calculate the expected savings (among other consequences) of various preventive actions such as building levees, elevating buildings and infrastructure or restoring island barriers.

What RAND thought would happen if Louisiana did nothing, in other words, played a major role in the state’s cost-opportunity calculus—and the non-profit’s assumptions about climate change, obviously played a major role in shaping those forecasts. From the RAND report:

Current projections suggest that the rate of sea-level rise will continue to increase because of warm- ing oceans and melting glaciers, leading to sea levels from 8 inches to as much as 4–6 feet higher than 1990 levels by 2100.3 Such increases, when combined with coastal tides and storm surge, will likely dramatically increase the risk of floods to coastal residents and property. And warming sea surface temperatures and changing climate patterns could also either intensify future tropical storms and hurricanes or make large and powerful hurricanes more common.

The non-profit’s analysis must have been pretty convincing because the Louisiana legislature—no tree-hugger hangout—passed the climate change mitigation plan unanimously in May of last year.

That doesn’t necessarily tell us much about whether and to what degree climate change contributed to the flooding in Alberta. But it does seem to indicate that sorting out that question and reaching an evidence-based consensus on it is the first step in figuring out what, where and how to rebuild.




What it costs to protect communities from the effects of climate change

  1. Yeah, we were told years ago what it would cost to make an effort and what it would cost to do nothing…..planet-wide

    Did we listen? Noooooo

    • Actually a study was released only last year and they concluded that climate change would cost $5 billion per year in Canada. That’s peanuts. No wonder nobody cares.

      • Actually I was referring to the Stern Review, not Harp’s nonsense.

  2. Very interesting. Thank you!

    • That graph is not adjusted for population and increased human habitation worldwide. The population of the world was 4.5 billion in 1980. Now it’s over 7 billion. So you would expect to see a 55% increase in reported “disasters”, especially floods since coastal zones are far more populated than they used to be.

      • Exactly, when a tornado struck an uninhabited place 100 years ago, there was no damage recorded. Today when the same hurricane strikes a heavily populated place there are billions in damage. The greens conclude that because there is more damage today, the tornadoes must be stronger. And they are stronger due to the devil Co2. Wow.

        No wonder people refer to climate alarmism as a religion.

  3. How close to the point of no return will science lead us before they issue a real warning for a real crisis to finally silence the deniers to save the planet?
    Science has ONLY agreed that a crisis could happen not will happen and they have never said their comet hit of a crisis is as real as they love to say comet hits are, despite being at the “brink of unstoppable warmng”? Find me just one single IPCC warning that says it WILL happen and is NOT swimming in maybes. If “maybe” a crisis is good enough to condemn billions to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated crisis you didn’t love the planet you hated humanity itself.

    • Do stop being silly.

    • MemeMine (Al Bore/David Nutzuki/Paul M) will never stop being a great Denier Poe. He cut and pastes this almost verbatim on every Climate Change article with open comments. It helps regular people see how crazy then anti-science brigade really is. I think is absolutely hilarious that anyone would take his comment seriously.

  4. There is no man-made global warming, even the NYT and New Republic have had to admit the AGW predictions are just not happening.

    RAND is a big ‘nasty’ corporation, yet now here come the lefties fawning over this report (how many even read it, no – not the Macleans version I mean the actual report)? You do realise, RAND is also a defence player -right?

    Wil you even read their other reports, defence related perhaps? Will you support their other conclusions, or just the ones that you like regardless of their analysis?

    • Um, just the ones I like regardless of their analysis.

  5. Fierce weather has nothing to do with climate change, the planet’s not warming and we actually want the climate to change, it would be much more worrying if the climate wasn’t changing, the peculiar weather events are Shiva showing his displeasure with climate scientists and their acolytes.

    Shiva is angry with society’s detour into ignorance and superstition and until scientists start adhering to proper scientific method, we will continue to be punished with extreme weather.


    “Just as Canada struggles with the question of whether or not and to what extent climate change contributed to the flooding in Alberta …..”

    Why Is Global Warming Stagnating? – June 2013

    SPIEGEL: Would you say that people no longer reflexively attribute every severe weather event to global warming as much as they once did?

    Storch: Yes, my impression is that there is less hysteria over the climate. There are certainly still people who almost ritualistically cry, “Stop thief! Climate change is at fault!” over any natural disaster. But people are now talking much more about the likely causes of flooding, such as land being paved over or the disappearance of natural flood zones — and that’s a good thing.


  6. “What it costs to protect communities from climate change”.

    Journalistic integrity would seem to be at the top of the list.

    Again…I’m just a dumb guy at a keyboard commenting on a blog, not some super smart scientist, but…if climate change was a factor in the Alberta flood…wouldn’t the trend line in this chart be *rising*? Doesn’t the fact that it isn’t kind of…I don’t know…destroy the case you’re trying to make here? Isn’t this some of the “evidence” you are so desperately seeking?


    • Psst.. it’s “Global” warming, not “Calgary and Area” warming.
      The graph you’re looking for is the one posted by Arnott up above.

    • Still posting the BS chart? What is wrong with you?
      And whether or not the trend line should be rising depends on what effect numerous factors have, like upstreams dams, water consumption and land use, to name a few.

      • Now a hydrologist from U of S is saying that a very rare occurrence…a rain on snow event…is responsible for much of the flooding in Canmore and down river. Apparently this has occurred two years in a row and before that not since 1923. Fascinating stuff. It is reported in the Calgary Herald.

    • Interesting article in the Calgary Herald about rain and the flow in the Bow, John.

  7. Regardless of global warming we do build inappropriate houses in inappropriate places. For very little or even no extra we could build houses that can withstand much more.

    • You are right, but most regular folks aren’t involved in the design of their home much. They understand decorating and colours, but little of structure or location. The home is chosen from an architectural house design book, and the contractor builds it as cheaply as they can.

  8. This will be the real catalyst for change. Most people do not really care about the environment until it affects them in the pocketbook.

    The biggest problem will be coming up with realistic costs.

    • Costs for what?

      • Costs to repair major consequences of extreme climate events.

        These are items such as flooding, droughts, fires, tornados, etc. Either insurance rates will continue to increase or governments will have to increase taxes to pay for the infrastructure repairs. Either way there is a cost.

        I have not seen any studies but it would be interesting to see the insurance comapanies studies about insurance claims for catastrophic events and whether these are increasing or decreasing. I have read articles suggesting they are increasing, but have not seen studies.

        • One was done last year. They said the devastating effects of climate change disasters would cost Canada about $5 billion per year. I’m sure they tried to inflate the numbers as best they could but there’s no getting around that fact that $5 billion is still insignificant. That’s less than what our federal government gives away each year in foreign aid, its peanuts in a $1.5 trillion economy.

          Sorry but it won’t be the catalyst for change you were hoping for. It simply doesn’t amount to hill of beans.

          You should be happy, but somehow I don’t think you are.



  9. The flooding in Calgary and Toronto is because these areas were built
    on a floodplain…a floodplain. Its called a floodplain because

    A flood on a floodplain is about a surprising as a drought in Texas or a tornado in Oklahoma.

    Please all you greenies out there, come back to earth we need you. Seriously.