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The Best Defense Against Extreme Weather: Live in a Rich Country

Residents of Leogane, Haiti find higher ground as the water level rose on Oct. 26, 2012.
Residents of Leogane, Haiti find higher ground as the water level rose on Oct. 26, 2012. Photograph by Carl Juste/The Miami Herald/AP Photo

As cleanup and repair work begins in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the link between climate change and extreme weather events is back in the spotlight. Sandy makes a mockery of Washington’s inaction on climate change, but the different toll of the hurricane on New York and Haiti also highlights a central truth of disaster economics: The best strategy for resilience against violent acts of nature is to be rich.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested on Tuesday that we are having 100-year flooding events every two years nowadays. That’s because even small rises in sea levels create the potential for far more frequent extreme weather events—something we’ve long understood. A Pacific Institute study published 22 years ago looked at flooding in the San Francisco Bay area. It noted that, due to climate change, the absolute sea level has risen 4 inches to 6 inches in the past century and a further sea-level rise of 6 inches will change the frequency of the 1 in 100-year storm events into a 1 in 10-year storm at the entrance to the Bay.