31th March 2014

New report warns of "cascading system failure" caused by climate change

Warning that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause "cascading system failures" unless there are changes made to minimize those effects, are detailed in new reports put together through the US National Climate Assessment, a major review compiled by 13 government agencies that the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which are expected to release in April. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory put together the reports.

A central theme of the report is that vulnerabilities and impacts are issues beyond physical infrastructures themselves. The concern is with the value of services provided by infrastructures, where the true consequences of impacts and disruptions involve not only the costs associated with the cleanup, repair, and/or replacement of affected infrastructures but also economic, social, and environmental effects as supply chains are disrupted, economic activities are suspended, and/or social well-being is threatened.

Previous extreme weather events, which scientists warn may be exacerbated by climate change, offer insight to the types of failures they're talking about. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, the loss of electricity in the region meant that several major oil pipelines could not ship oil and gas for several days, and some refineries could not operate. Gas prices rose around the country. The report adds that fixing infrastructure resilience problems [requires] a partnership between different levels of government, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and community groups. For more on the report: