Monday December 10, 2012

The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, Dec. 3, 2012

Last week, the United Nations reported that an area of Arctic sea ice larger than the United States melted. At this very moment, a tanker carrying natural gas is making its way through the normally frozen Arctic Ocean from Norway to Japan, where the natural gas will be burned, releasing carbon dioxide that will fuel global warming and speed the melting of sea ice.

Capped so far by damage from Hurricane Sandy that could approach $100 billion in New York and New Jersey alone, the past two years have racked up the biggest bills for natural disasters in America’s history. More damage, exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels, is inevitable. Even if the world’s nations do all they can to curb greenhouse gas emissions now, the globe’s temperature will continue to increase. But pessimism that paralyzes government could prove fatal. What can be done to curb climate change must be, which makes the renewed campaign to weaken or eliminate laws requiring the increased use of renewable energy so insidious.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute and other groups that receive funding from the fossil fuel industry are engaging in state-by-state campaigns to convince consumers that energy from fossil fuels is affordable and power from renewable sources needlessly expensive. Power from solar panels, windmills and biofuels does cost more than electricity generated by burning natural gas, coal or oil, but only because the true cost of fossil fuels is paid but not accounted for. That cost comes in higher health care bills, lower life expectancies, poisoned lakes, a warming planet, rising seas, more powerful storms and all the other ills associated with rapid climate change.

ALEC and its New Hampshire allies attacked New Hampshire’s renewable fuel standards in the last legislative session and tried to convince lawmakers to pull out of the regional greenhouse gas compact. They will try again and must be rebuffed. This state, this nation and indeed all nations, will have a hard enough time coping with the effects of climate change without making the problem worse.

A poignant story in last Thursday’s New York Times described a problem that an increasing number of coastal communities will encounter. Some of the neighborhoods hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy were home to middle-class and low-income residents, most of whom lacked flood insurance. Those who can afford to rebuild, presumably with government help, will then face federal flood insurance premiums that will double over the next five years and continue to increase to pay for future storms.

Unless those seaside property owners get even bigger subsidies from taxpayers, they will be priced out of their homes, yet it doesn’t makes sense and isn’t fair to repeatedly bill others so some can live beside a rising ocean. One alternative would be to sit back and watch while people with the financial ability to pay high insurance premiums gobble up oceanfront vacated by the hoi polloi. But there is another option worth considering; the planned acquisition of oceanfront property by state and federal governments using the national seashores as a model.

A half century ago, to preserve for posterity precious oceanfront property threatened not by rising seas but a tide of residential development, lawmakers sponsored and President John F. Kennedy signed, a bill creating the Cape Cod National Seashore. Many private homes, subject to strict zoning standards remain in the seashore but most of it is owned and open to the public. Perhaps that should be the fate of properties and communities almost certain to be inundated over and over again. Compensate the owners, relocate them and reclaim the oceanfront for public use and wildlife. That way, though people forced by nature to relocate would lose a cherished place to live, the public would be richer and the oceanfront could heal.