LETTER: The Catastrophic Costs of Climate Change Inaction

Submitted by Matt DesChamps

The costs of climate change inaction are already being paid by the citizens of Greenwich and many other coastal towns across Connecticut and the Unites States. The costs are incurred each time a storm rips through our community. Flooded streets, schools and basements, downed power lines and polluted waterways are expensive to repair and insure, and insurance premiums will continue to increase for home and business owners, if insurance remains available at all. Schools, businesses and beach closures negatively impact our economy, health and quality of life. In addition, heatwaves, drought and other extreme weather conditions will continue to strain our local resources and economy. And, yes, our most vulnerable citizens and communities – communities of color, the elderly and low-income – suffer these hardships disproportionately.

The best science shows that damage from climate change is already serious and could range from severe to catastrophic. Risk of this nature requires an immediate and accelerated municipal government response. Individual citizens can take measures to protect their homes and businesses, but our government – federal, state and local – is best positioned to provide the necessary investments and coordinated leadership to prepare our town for rising sea levels and increased storm frequency and severity and the damage they cause. Unfortunately, our town government is moving too slowly and is mired in political gamesmanship rather than creating the full-scale, comprehensive and strategic response the moment requires.

Ultimately, the climate crisis is a risk management problem. Greenwich needs to address the climate issue through this lens, not through a political lens. Indeed, taxpayers are already paying a significant
sum in our budget for climate-related expenses without a concrete plan, and now is the time to invest in the critical infrastructure we need to prepare for the future. In any risk management problem, time is the scarce resource, and we are wasting it. While we have directed funds from the American Rescue
Plan (federal funds made available to the town for Covid relief) for long needed sewage and flood mitigation, it is not enough and is not being considered as part of a comprehensive climate change strategic plan. If we have enough time, acknowledge the problem and dedicate ourselves to addressing the urgency of the moment, we can mitigate many of the potential risks. And the fact is, we don’t know how much time we have before we cross the tipping point where the atmosphere can no longer absorb carbon emissions. When this line is crossed, the costs of addressing the climate issue will be catastrophic to our town budget, economy and standard of living. The costs of inaction mount each year as the climate risks loom larger.

Fortunately, many cities, states, corporations and businesses are not delaying action, they are preparing. World scientists, CEOs, national security experts and financial professionals acknowledge the climate change and attendant dangers heading our way and are taking concrete steps to prepare and mitigate risk. Even the major oil conglomerates recognize the risks of stranded assets and are pivoting their business models to profit in a post-carbon economy. Capital markets throughout the world are creating carbon-related products from cap and trade and carbon allowances to carbon offset to impact investors providing intellectual and financial capital to fund important carbon sequestration and alternative and renewable energy projects. Many of the world’s leading carbon and climate scholars and business professionals live right here in Greenwich, and the town should create an advisory council to tap their expertise. The climate risk we face requires government and private industry to work together and simultaneously to address the problem.

But here is the really good news that should give us continued hope for the future. Young adults understand the problem and the risks we are passing along to them. Indeed, they will inherit a hotter more inhospitable planet. They want action, and they are looking for policy makers to address the problems now. A small local group of dedicated and thoughtful young climate activists have recently proposed a draft resolution for town leadership to consider, the Climate Emergency Resolution.

While some have chosen to politicize their efforts and criticize their language, we should instead accept their challenge as a call to action. It is up to the leaders of all branches of local government—the Board of Selectmen, BET, P&Z and RTM – along with private business and citizens to go beyond talk, half-measures and wordsmithing documents…it’s a time for action. A holistic climate action plan is necessary for Greenwich to address the risk we all face as a community and society. Future generations are counting on this generation to do our part to protect our community and planet from the climate change risks that are looming.

Let’s get to work!