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What’s the value of being disaster-proof?

It’s a question more likely to be explored as severe weather events become more common around the globe.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have sparked discussions about the role climate change plays in the severity of storms.

As scientists have pointed out, climate change didn’t cause the hurricanes. But it did make them more cataclysmic.

The term “global warming,” as we’ve pointed out before, is imprecise. “Global weirding” is a better term, for it encapsulates the strange weather patterns that may emerge from Earth’s capacity to store more solar energy through the build-up of greenhouse gases. No one knows exactly what effect this extra energy in our atmosphere will have, but scientists say one outcome is that it makes hurricanes more fierce.

As much as we’d like to see a sensible policy coming out of Washington to reduce future climate change, Harvey and Irma are shifting the debate. Asking whether global warming is the reason for extreme weather has become secondary to the painful and obvious fact that weather disasters — human-caused or not — are here and expected to increase in frequency.

In other words, whether we do anything about climate change, we still have to deal with its consequences.

Which puts a weird spotlight on western Colorado. We’re as disaster-proof as a place can be. We don’t rebuild after hurricanes because they never touch us. We don’t lie along fault lines. Atmospheric conditions make tornadoes a near impossibility. Our biggest weather fear is an early frost decimating the fruit crops near Palisade.

Sure we have the occasional winter storm, but rarely suffer accumulations of snow as massive as anyone to the east of us. And we have so much sunshine that it hardly ever lasts for long. We have a monsoon season, but we haven’t suffered a major flooding event like the Front Range did in 2013.

The local topography even protects us from the threat of wildfires. We aren’t jammed into a narrow valley with steep mountainsides full of dead trees.

All of this adds up to a kind of stability that the federal government and industry should seek out. It will increasingly become a question of fiscal responsibility to locate anything in a coastal plain — whether it’s a military installation, research facility or processing plant — if it involves the remotest possibility of losing its functionality to flooding or having to rebuild it.

So if you’re in the business of putting satellites into orbit using the NASA’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, do you really want your launch schedule to be dictated by the facility’s ability to withstand a Category 5 hurricane? Or plot out windows of opportunity between storms? 

The Elon Musks of the world will factor weather disruptions from climate change into business decisions. We don’t want to sound opportunistic as communities are swamped and leveled by hurricanes, but the term “open for business” takes on a whole new dimension in light of recent disasters.


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