Sandy underscores the need to be careful in how and where we build – and rebuild – along our coasts. Governments, businesses, and communities need to make planning for future storms and climate risks – and investing in natural infrastructure – part of business as usual.
Take Long Island Sound, for example, one of the most densely populated coastal areas in the US. There, local zoning drives development decisions that are expected to last for decades – but future conditions may be radically different. New tools, however, can project the potential impacts of storm surge and sea-level rise, show what infrastructure is at risk, indicate where natural defenses like marshes may play a role in absorbing flood waters, and suggest how and where development might be sited and designed to be more resilient to storms. With the right information, communities can make smart decisions about where to build – and where to leave nature intact.
Conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy stand ready to help government agencies, other decisionmakers, and the private sector better understand where natural solutions will have the strongest and most cost-effective impact on reducing natural-disaster risk. Conservation and restoration efforts must be increasingly focused near people and development, not just in remote and pristine places.
Storms like Sandy will cause damage, and risk reduction requires multiple solutions and diverse partnerships. But it’s now clear that by focusing on the links between climate change, natural-disaster risk, conservation, and smart engineering and planning, we can more effectively protect both our planet's natural systems and the people who depend on them.
Mark Tercek is the CEO and president of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental NGO. His book with coauthor Jonathan Adams, "Nature’s Fortune: Why Saving the Environment is the Smartest Investment We Can Make," will be published in the spring of 2013.