Amid wildfires in CA and Hurricane Ida in LA, it’s expensive to not act on climate crisis, says researcher

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel

From sea to shining sea, natural disasters are devastating the U.S. right now. Infrastructure plays a huge part in how a region can weather a disaster and how fast life can resume. In Louisiana, the state’s levee system — which was upgraded after Hurricane Katrina — held during Hurricane Ida. But power may be out for weeks in some of the region’s hardest hit places. In the northeast, the remnants of Ida flooded New York City’s subway system, forcing it to close down. About two dozen people are dead across three states. 

“I don't think we should ever get used to these sorts of hurricanes. Climate change is making them so much worse,” says Leah Stokes, energy policy researcher at UC Santa Barbara. “We can think about the fact that Hurricane Ida hit on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And we know that both of these hurricanes have been made much worse by climate change. So these people living in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, they're really on the front lines of the climate crisis.” 

She says lots of people will spend weeks without electricity and water power (think: flushing toilets) — and that’s a health and safety issue, as diseases could spread.  

“It's really quite tragic to be watching hurricane after hurricane be hitting the East Coast of the United States, be hitting the Gulf, and getting worse year after year because of climate change.”

The U.S. government had paid $14 billion to upgrade Louisiana’s levee and infrastructure system after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

“What we're realizing with every passing day is how expensive it is to not act on the climate crisis,” Stokes says. “Look at what's happening with entire towns burning down across the West Coast. Look what's happening with these hurricanes wiping out power lines for weeks on end.”

She adds, “And when we think about something like the infrastructure bill in Congress, it's really an investment in stability. We have to be acting on climate change in order to be saving money at the end of the day.”

Stokes explains that two bills are in Congress right now. The bipartisan infrastructure deal has money to make the U.S. electricity system more resilient. 

The second bill — budget reconciliation — is where most of the climate investments are happening. “That bill is just being negotiated right now. And so it's actually an important time for people [in Congress] to be hearing from their … constituents that, ‘Hey, we have to act on climate change, it's really an important time to be speaking up.’”