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The Economic Price of Global Warming

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Almost a year ago, I was in Bombay when the worst rainfall ever to hit India devastated the city with 36 inches in a single day, killing more than a thousand people. Afterwards, a record number of individual plaintiffs signed up for a lawsuit criticizing the city's planning and response, and a huge new drainage project was begun, while the city and state started, and then hesitated, to ban the thin plastic bags that clogged many of the drains and led to the record flooding.

I wasn't in Bombay this week when the skies opened again and another three feet of water fell. This wasn't a record event -- the rainfall accumulation was spread across several days this time -- but it turned out not to matter: the streets and subways still flooded, even the finest buildings leaked, and infrastructure collapsed. Once again, the city's economic future has been called into question.

Friends in India tell me that a strong consensus is emerging among meteorologists there that global warming has permanently intensified the monsoon pattern on India's west-central coast, and that Bombay simply was not built for, and cannot handle, the kinds of rainfall events it can now expect routinely.

For Bombay to function properly, an entirely new underground drainage and sewer system will likely be required -- a monumental challenge, as it will have to be built underneath an existing city of 18 million people. The price of such a construction project is virtually inconceivable, and in a country as poor as India, dubiously affordable. Yet all this is the result of very modest climate change. It doesn't begin to answer the question of what happens to Bombay when the Indian Ocean rises as predicted.

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