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Robert R.M. Verchick

In late August 2017, the outer bands of Hurricane Harvey were still wringing out the last of 50 inches of rain on downtown Houston when — with up to a third of the city still under water — an investigative piece in the Washington Post suggested the real target of blame for the deluge that will probably eclipse Katrina as the most expensive storm in U.S. history. Fault not a soulless cosmos, or sinful living, or even the subtle hand of climate change. No, the real villain of this piece was bad planning, or as the paper’s headline put it, “Houston’s ‘Wild West’ Growth.” One can hardly disagree. The largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws indisputably courted fate, steering sprawled-out neighborhoods into flood plains, paving over the last postage-stamp lots of absorbent turf. It’s a common story. That same summer more than 1,400 people were killed across South Asia as sheets of rain drummed ceaselessly upon the Indian subcontinent. Responsible for the most destructive flooding in a decade, the 2017 monsoon revealed the staggering inadequacy of government planning and preparedness that is still all too common in the region. “Most government action in India, where the flooding has hit hardest,” wrote one reporting team, “has been focused on relief, with weak early warning systems and too little focus on prevention.”

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Rosemary Lyster and Robert R.M. Verchick

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Rosemary Lyster and Robert R.M. Verchick

The threats of extreme weather and slow-onset events to electricity infrastructure have been well documented. Like so many climate change threats, the problem of enhancing resilience in this infrastructure is less a lack of smart technology and more a lack of smart policy. But also the relationship between generators, transmission and distribution networks, and users, which has been pretty straightforward since the days of Westinghouse and Edison, is rapidly changing. It now seems that the way to make the power grid more resilient in cases of extreme events — particularly the kinds aggravated by climate change — is to pay more attention to its durability and flexibility. Localized technologies like rooftop-solar generation now allow users to also act as generators in distributed energy systems. Digital systems embedded in transmission networks can now control how much power commercial users request at certain times or how much power generators will produce, giving the network some characteristics of the user and the generator. We divide that work into three categories: hardening the grid, smartening the grid, and greening the grid, and point to the law and policy innovations which are needed.

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Research Handbook on Climate Disaster Law

Barriers and Opportunities

Edited by Rosemary Lyster and Robert R.M. Verchick

Through assessing climate disaster law in relation to international, public, private and environmental law this Research Handbook considers the unique challenges, barriers and opportunities that climate disasters pose for law and policy. Scientific and empirical evidence suggests that the laws addressing natural disasters cannot be adequately applied to disasters that are caused by climate change. Featuring contributions from leading international experts, this Research Handbook will be a useful resource for those with an interest in environmental law and international policymaking.