Congress is currently focused on passing a series of stimulus relief bills to support medical professionals, hospitals, individuals and small businesses in an attempt to mitigate the worst effects of the global coronavirus pandemic. But this needs to be done strategically, as described here in the new (2020) book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity.
Policymakers must prioritize human health and safety. But the hope is that, sooner than later, the spread of the virus will slow and Congress will be able to turn its attention to kickstarting the economy.
An infrastructure bill represents a significant bipartisan opportunity to spur job growth and economic activity, while also building resilience for communities at risk from flooding and extreme weather.
NOAA’s 2020 U.S. spring flood outlook predicts widespread flooding across as many as 23 farmland states in the Mississippi River Basin this spring. Meanwhile, researchers predict an above-average hurricane season for communities along the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico.
The potential double whammy of the current public health emergency and the impending floods and storms reinforces the need for policymakers to heed scientists’ warnings and invest in building resilience to better protect our families and our economy.
Investing in resilience protects people and reduces cost of disasters
As we’ve painfully witnessed with the economic toll of the coronavirus, system shocks come at great cost. Getting ahead of the curve pays off.
It’s the same for natural disasters, with research showing every $1 invested before a disaster can save $6 in post-disaster recovery. Policymakers can protect lives and save taxpayer dollars by investing in disaster preparedness at least as much as disaster response.
Natural infrastructure — from wetlands and floodplains to groundwater recharge basins and buffer strips — is one of the best early action strategies for mitigating natural disasters and protecting vulnerable communities.
An estimated 41 million Americans live in river or coastal floodplains, and the risks to these communities will only increase as sea levels rise and rivers swell from more precipitation. But we can avoid many of these risks if we invest in the right solutions.
A recent study found that a square kilometer of wetlands is worth $1.8 million annually in coastal flood protection and wetlands provide countless other valuable ecosystem services for people and wildlife.
Louisiana shows how investing in nature is an economic engine
Louisiana will invest nearly $1 billion annually over the next three years on coastal restoration and protection to address the state’s land loss crisis, while also supporting more than 10,000 jobs.
The state’s investments include projects like the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton Sediment Diversions — two large-scale natural infrastructure projects that will build and maintain tens of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands. Constructing these projects alone will create nearly 700 jobs, boost regional household earnings by nearly $1 billion and increase regional business sales by $3.1 billion.
Sustaining these investments not only protects communities and businesses, but it contributes to a growing water management economy that provides more jobs than the oil and gas sector, and salaries well above other industries.
Millions of jobs, trillions in long-term benefits
Investing in natural infrastructure creates returns that extend well beyond the construction of any one project. In addition to providing storm and flood protection, natural infrastructure improves water quality, enhances fish and wildlife habitat, supports agricultural production, and creates recreational and eco-tourism opportunities that in turn boost the economy over time.
In 2013, NOAA found that habitat restoration projects delivered long-term economic benefits from rebuilt fisheries, increased coastal tourism, higher property values and better water quality.
Creating opportunities for outdoor recreation and eco-tourism pays off in a big way — to the tune of nearly $1 trillion in annual consumer spending, 7.6 million American jobs, and $65 billion and $59 billion added to federal, state and local tax coffers respectively.
The case is clear — Congress should invest in natural infrastructure as a win-win strategy to restore our economy and the ecosystems that support and protect communities across the country. This investment will deliver significant returns by building long-term economic and climate resilience at a time when our nation desperately needs both.
This article by David Festa originally appeared on the website of the Environmental Defense Fund. Reprinted here (with minor edits) by permission.