In a livestream discussion with Yale Blue Green, Yale’s environmental alumni group, CBS Sunday Morning science and technology correspondent David Pogue ’85 shared his thoughts and insights on climate disasters – including their physical, financial, and psychological toll – and how we can better prepare for them.
According to Pogue, from hurricanes, floods, and wildfires to crop disruptions, species extinction, and tick explosions, the harmful and widespread effects of climate change are indisputable – and it is not getting better.
“It’s a really intense and growing problem,” he told Yale Blue Green Chair Lauren Graham ’13 MEM, who moderated the discussion.
Having reported extensively on climate and the environment, Pogue said he gained a much better understanding of climate change and natural disasters when he delved into deep research and interviewed the world’s foremost experts for his latest book, How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos.
He stressed the need for Americans to prepare for climate disasters since there is hardly anyone in the country who isn’t somehow affected, directly or indirectly.
While not everyone will fall victim to a hurricane, flood, or similar type of natural disaster, Pogue indicated that there are plenty of ways climate change can adversely impact our health and well-being.
“One thing about climate change is that it means more people getting sick in new ways – the heat, the drought, the kidney stones, the infectious diseases spread by insects,” he said.
Pogue added that because of soaring temperatures in certain parts of the country, the extent to which people living in those areas can spend time outdoors will be significantly curtailed in the coming years.
“They’re saying by mid-century, outdoor jobs – telephone wire repair, paving, and farming – are not going to be feasible in the southern states,” he said. “You can’t spend two hours out there. Already the dehydration problem is severe.”
According to Pogue, climate change also disproportionately impacts the poor and non-white communities.
“The climate crisis hits poor areas and areas of color first and worst,” he said. “Poor communities tend to be set up in industrial areas, low-lying areas, areas that are farther from medical care so their air is worse, their water is worse, and their homes are built more flimsily.”
We All Pay
Pogue indicated that while those who live through hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters feel the immediate impacts of climate change, we all bear the cost.
He cited, for instance, that while 50% of Americans live in coastal communities – which are either already flood zones or face higher risk of flooding – only 18% carry flood insurance.
Because most commercial insurers no longer offer flood insurance due to the elevated financial risk, the federal government has stepped in with the National Flood Insurance Program to fill this void. The NFIP has not worked out well for the government, or U.S. taxpayers, according to Pogue.
“It’s a disaster,” he said. “They’re $25 billion in debt because there’s been so many hurricanes, they’re just paying out, paying out, paying out. The government keeps paying to rebuild and their rates never go up so it’s not thwarting anyone from building in flood zones. As a result, people’s homes are in flood zones, they keep flooding year after year, hurricane after hurricane.”
Moreover, he added that Americans living in fire-prone areas will find it more difficult to obtain and renew fire insurance coverage.
“Fire insurance is going away, too,” he said. “In California, insurers have been dropping customers by hundreds of thousands. They just won’t renew your policy for fire to the extent that the governor had to enact an emergency rule that, for one year, there’s a moratorium on dropping customers.”
Pogue warned that the growing number of insurance providers pulling out of the business of insuring climate disasters is a huge national problem that is spiraling out of control.
“It’s quite a scary prospect,” he said. “Either you self-insure or insurance will become a luxury for the rich because that’s all insurance companies can do is raise their rates like crazy or get out of the business entirely.”
What Can We Do
As climate disasters continue to occur with greater frequency and ferocity, Pogue said it is imperative we take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Noting that scores of people perish every year from disasters because they did not receive any advance warning, he strongly recommended that everyone downloads Emergency, the Red Cross app that monitors dozens of different disasters – from weather disasters to chemical spills to nuclear leaks – and sends alerts to subscribers if anything happens in their area.
For those living in states and regions prone to wildfires, he suggested they install ash proof screens to help prevent their homes from catching fire.
“You gotta look at how can embers get into my house,” he said. “The embers can precede the wildfire by two miles, and they waft into your eaves and into the attic and they set your house on fire.”
A resident of Connecticut, Pogue recommended that those residing in the Northeast install garage door reinforcements.
“It turns out one of the most frequently devastated areas of your home is its single weakest spot, which is your garage doors,” he said. “In a windstorm, they blow in and the house basically builds up air pressure like a balloon from the storm. You actually see those pictures where from Katrina and Sandy of homes and buildings with their roofs blown completely off – that’s how it happens.”
Other precautionary measures he recommended include preparing a go-bag – “This is a backpack with a couple of days’ worth of supplies if you had to evacuate; you can grab it and get out, one for each person in the family and one for the pet.” – and figuring out ahead of time a pre-designated spot for family and loved ones to meet up should a disaster occur and the electricity grid and cell networks are out.
Turning the Tide
Mindful of the impact of climate change and climate disasters, Pogue said it’s not all doom and gloom. He is encouraged that with greater awareness and understanding about the dangers of global warming and environmental degradation, public attention has increasingly shifted away from debating the reality of climate change to figuring out solutions to mitigate, and perhaps even reverse, its effects.
“It won’t happen overnight, but I do feel that the spotlight has finally turned on solving these problems,” he said.
As an example, Pogue noted how some of the world’s most prominent companies are leading the charge in their industries to become carbon neutral.
“The corporate world is rapidly turning around,” he said. “These companies are all feeling the pressure and that’s the hopeful sign.”
Pogue was especially encouraged by the activism, drive, and civic spirit of the younger generation.
“Young people, by and large, are incredibly environmentally aware and progressive,” he said. “They will become the CEOs of the companies. They will become the elected officials of our countries. They’re going to take charge.”
Accordingly, Pogue was optimistic of our chances for a more promising environmental tomorrow.
“I really do believe that decarbonization will happen. I think it will take 60 years, 80 years. But I believe we’ll get there.”
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