The Way of the Fool: Ignoring Climate in Infrastructure

February 13, 2018

The greatest foreseeable near-term risks of climate change are not giant swings in the earth system, but rather what will happen as slow, incremental change – in things like sea level, and increasing large precipitation events – suddenly reach the limits of legacy infrastructure, and overwhelm longstanding defenses against natural threats.

Think Katrina/Levee. Sandy/Subway. Harvey/stormdrains.

The question is, how can anyone prepare for a future while ignoring the forces that shape it?

New York Times:

The Trump infrastructure blueprint is almost certain to call for expensive new roads, bridges, airports and other projects in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to rising waters and other threats from a warming planet. Engineers and researchers say that construction plans should consider these design constraints at the outset. Their concern is that a plan led by a White House that has both discounted climate science and weakened climate change regulations could mean that costly projects may be vulnerable to damage or, in a worst-case scenario, quickly rendered obsolete by the changing environment.


“The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards,” said Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University and contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s most comprehensive scientific study of the effect of global warming on the United States. “That’s a whole lot of waste.”

Climate change already poses one of the most significant threats to the nation’s infrastructure, according to dozens of scientific and engineering studies, including several prepared by the federal government. A 2017 report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, through the end of the century, up to $280 billion will be needed to adapt the nation’s roads and railways to the effects of a warming climate.

Since the beginning of his administration, Mr. Trump and his appointees have steadily worked to roll back climate change regulations. Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. chief, Scott Pruitt, has taken the lead role in the administration’s efforts to undo climate policies and question the validity of climate science. On Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt suggested that global warming could benefit humanity.

Those views are contradicted by research conducted by his own agency.

The 2017 E.P.A. report warned that some 6,000 bridges nationwide face a greater risk of damage in coming decades from the effects of a warming climate. It provides analysis showing that “proactive adaptation” — essentially, planning for global warming before you build — could save the government up to 70 percent in future costs of repairing damage caused by climate change-driven weather events such as deluges, coastal flooding and heat waves.

Meanwhile, say what you want about Exxon, but they ain’t fools.
Even when they were telling everyone else that climate change was a fantasy, they were factoring its effects into planning for far-flung and expensive developments.

Los Angeles Times:

Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.

The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”

Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.

Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line.

“Certainly any major development with a life span of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” Croasdale told an engineering conference in 1991. “This is particularly true of Arctic and offshore projects in Canada, where warming will clearly affect sea ice, icebergs, permafrost and sea levels.”

Between 1986 and 1992, Croasdale’s team looked at both the positive and negative effects that a warming Arctic would have on oil operations, reporting its findings to Exxon headquarters in Houston and New Jersey.

The good news for Exxon, he told an audience of academics and government researchers in 1992, was that “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea.

But, he added, it also posed hazards, including higher sea levels and bigger waves, which could damage the company’s existing and future coastal and offshore infrastructure, including drilling platforms, artificial islands, processing plants and pump stations. And a thawing earth could be troublesome for those facilities as well as pipelines.


6 Responses to “The Way of the Fool: Ignoring Climate in Infrastructure”

  1. Speaking of large air-conditioning units, another consideration is how they hold up against the increasing strength of winds and ever more intense storms. Where I worked at a large defense contractor near Fort Worth, a sudden downdraft blew one of the A/C units off the top of the building, taking with it a gas pipe, and we had to evacuate. Fortunately, nothing caught fire.

    Fort Worth is in tornado alley. Yet, I saw no attempt to construct buildings that could survive tornadoes.

    Furthermore, where I worked, the bathrooms were the only storm shelters, and since they were few and far between and could hold only a small fraction of the employees, we were instructed that in the event of a tornado we were to go out to the main hallway, which was along the side wall of the building, and gather against the concrete brick wall. These concrete brick walls are famous for collapsing on people during tornadoes. And, to top it off, there was nothing between our heads and the roof of the building, except for the wires, pipes, and ducts that would rain down on us in the event the roof blew away.

    People need to have a good look at state laws that regulate the construction of manufacturing plants.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Seems to be a nationwide disease that people in charge don’t give a fuck about the general public and the environment. No accountability whatsoever…

    The EPA debunked Administrator Pruitt’s latest climate misinformation

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Meanwhile, a new study of 25 years of data suggests that sea level rise is accelerating faster than anticipated, leading to twice as much sea level rise by the end of this century as previously expected.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    More Burnie or bust

    => Trump’s Proposed Budget Slashes Funding for Clean Energy Programs

    The Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget would cut clean energy programs like the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. More funding in the Department of Energy’s budget would go to fossil energy research and development.

  5. J4Zonian Says:

    “a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon…imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.

    The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action.”

    Lying to a shareholder is a felony, I believe. In some states and countries all the deaths that follow related to climate change may be felony murders that Exxon’s officials are guilty of.

    I wonder if it’s possible to revoke the corporate charter for Exxon and all the other fossil fuel, agrochemical and other corporations guilty of this and other crimes.

    I also wonder if there’s a similar crime for a government official ignoring his or her oath to protect the Constitution and the people of the US and lying to them if that results in damages and deaths. Besides treason, that is.

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