Oped by Nick Gaca

September 2021

Currently pending in Congress is a landmark $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. The White House and congressional Democrats are hoping to pass a $3.5 trillion one right after it to overhaul America’s aging system of roads, bridges, railways, broadband, airports, waterways and more. It will also include an estimated $150 billion for environmental causes including funding for electric cars, planting trees, wildfire response, and flooding among other initiatives, making it the biggest bill on climate change action yet. An urgent aspect that cannot be left out of these bills however, is the need to not only repair and replace but also upgrade and reinforce existing infrastructure. Specifically, to re-engineer our current systems to withstand the effects of future natural disasters and extreme weather that was caused and/or worsened by climate change.  

Funding for environmentally friendly programs to combat climate change is essential. While $150 billion is a good start it won’t be nearly enough. This we blew past any chance to end climate change without suffering serious effects first. The effects are already here. 

4.5 million homes were left without power after a massive grid failure during severe winter storms in Texas in February 2021. The heat wave in the Northwest that same summer buckled roads and melted power lines. In 2020 there were 22 natural disasters in the United States that caused more than a billion dollars worth of damage each at the taxpayer’s expense. California’s wildfire season now spans nearly the entire year and is much more destructive than in the past, sparking calls for an overhaul of forest management. The Hoover Dam has struck an all-time low and much of the Southwest faces serious water shortages that are being aggravated further by irresponsible company behavior. Rising sea levels have worsened flooding in numerous communities along the East Coast. 

All of these issues and more will not be going away anytime soon. On the contrary, no matter what amount of climate change action we take today, the effects are certain to get worse over the next decade before they get better. We simply do not have the structures in place to cope with them.  Adapting to changing weather patterns and natural disasters has now become equally important as combating them. A national infrastructure framework that can withstand the effects of current and future environmental disasters and extreme weather.

Obviously, a nationwide project involving this much money and so many different elements will have many details to hammer out. Contracts, construction timelines, and who gets what amount of financing for which causes will all need to be established before the work can get done. I humbly leave it to the people writing and executing the bills to handle the details. This wide range of problems means there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Different regions of the country will require different approaches to address problems. 

But make no mistake, the country now needs to absorb the effects of our warming planet as well as fight the causes. We cannot let this infrastructure opportunity be squandered on a repeat of old frameworks that were not built to handle a modern climate.