2014-11-27 / Opinion

Focus on Local Solutions to Flooding

To the Editor:

The two Nov. 20 articles on flood risks for Aquidneck Island included a number of misleading conclusions concerning the source of global warming and what can be done on a local level. There is a simple fix that would go a long way locally toward protecting our homes and businesses. But first, let’s look at the root cause of the problem.

Global warming is real, but is not something that Rhode Islanders can have any meaningful impact on. That would require a change in national policy. Americans have opted to avoid the costs of regulation, taxation, safety rules, labor protections, and environmental standards by outsourcing the majority of our manufacturing to countries like China and India, who are free to ignore these concerns. China emitted 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere in the year ending in July 2010, while producing $4.9 trillion in goods (“GDP”), and it has been increasing rapidly since. In fact, President Obama recently agreed that the Chinese can increase emission amounts for the next 16 years before leveling off. Meanwhile, India emitted 2.5 billion tons, producing $1.2 trillion in GDP. Yet the United States emitted 5.9 billion tons while producing $14.1 trillion in GDP. If you do the math, China and India are producing five times as much pollution in the form of carbon for every dollar in production than we do. And they are just two of the Asian players in the world manufacturing market.

So what does this mean? It means that as consumers, we are the ones enabling all this pollution from other countries, in a way that accelerates global warming and costs American jobs. When we talk about taxing carbon in the U.S., we know it will send even more jobs overseas by raising our costs even further. If we ever talk about taxing carbon on all production and imports, including production from Asia, then perhaps we would see all that having reason to change. But we aren’t doing that. So what does all this have to do with the risks of flooding Aquidneck Island?

We need to start looking at simple local solutions, which all these “flood mapping” exercises ignore. During Sandy, flooding in Newport came not from breaches of the harbor sea walls, but from backflow through the storm drains. You see, these drains are often as much as six feet lower than the level of the sea walls. So if you are concerned about the 10-inch rise in sea level over 76 years that was reported in one of the articles, consider the benefit of putting in one-way check valves to prevent backflow. There is a company who has already installed some on the island, but Newport officials and the CRMC have shown no interest. Isn’t it about time to do something simple we can all benefit from in the short term?

Benjamin Riggs

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