As Hurricane Sandy struck the Atlantic Coast, destroying homes and wreaking havoc, one city -- Stamford, Conn. -- sat snug and safe behind a 17-foot high barrier that kept massive waves out. The sea gate, built in 1969, prevented an estimated $25 million in damage and loss for the city's 125,000 residents.
We know that climate change is going to bring more and more storms and natural disasters to our cities and towns. For example, scientists say that San Francisco's airport runways could be under water within a decade as a result of melting sea ice. That's a serious problem, and one we have no choice but to fix.
It's not just rising sea levels we have to worry about. America's basic infrastructure is crumbling -- from water systems to roads and bridges -- and putting more and more of our neighborhoods at risk. Increasing storms and disasters makes it even more important that we repair these systems. But we can't do it without federal funding. If our lawmakers don't find a smart way to end the fiscal showdown, we'll be looking at a level of infrastructure decay unlike anything we've seen. And our communities will be completely vulnerable -- to storms like Sandy, and worse.
The good news is that building infrastructure generates thousands of good, healthy, local jobs. And there has never been a better time to make these investments. Interest rates are at an all-time low. Millions of Americans need work.
Consider this: If we made a commitment to repairing our nation's water infrastructure alone, we could create 2 million jobs. Our water systems are so decayed that they are dangerous: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are between 23,000-75,000 raw sewage overflows in this country each year, largely because of broken, outdated water systems. We can fix them now -- when we'll get the most bang for our buck -- or we can delay and watch pollution problems mount, along with joblessness and poverty.
And it's not just water. By using smart, innovative green technology to fix and build America's most important transportation and safety systems, we'll put millions to work in good green jobs -- the kind of jobs that can't be shipped overseas.
The sad truth is that even if we do everything in our power to slash carbon pollution and fight climate change, we'll still face increasingly severe weather events. We still need to move quickly to build more sea walls like the one that saved Stamford, and to make sure our water systems and other infrastructure is modern and safe.
But if we're smart, we won't wait for another wake-up call like Sandy before we start doing the work that needs to be done to protect our communities. We need to put our federal dollars where they count: Building and fixing the infrastructure that will protect us from the ravages of climate change, while putting Americans to work and making our whole country healthier, safer, and more prosperous.