11/02/2012 12:19 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2013

Fix the Debt or Save the Coasts?

One of the casualties of Hurricane Sandy is the premise that America's biggest economic problem is deficit reduction. That's because the United States just became a much larger version of the Netherlands.

As events like Sandy become more common, and the ocean levels rise even in the absence of hurricanes, the communities of the Eastern and Gulf seaboard will increasingly be at risk of regularly being underwater -- unless we build a massive system of seawalls, dikes, levees, storm-surge barriers, and pumping facilities, as the Dutch have done for centuries.

America's seaboard cities will need to spend serious money not just on seawalls, but on public improvements to prevent flooding of subways and electric power stations and the swamping of water and sewer systems.

The new normal is here, the legacy of our denial of the reality of climate change. The federal government needs to do a comprehensive assessment of the public investment necessary to protect our coasts, which will run into the trillions of dollars.

All of this public outlay will have the handy side effect of stimulating a real economic recovery, instead of the half-recovery that will limp along for years absent drastic policy changes.

The damage of 9/11 was small compared to the damage of Sandy -- and 9/11 prompted increases in military spending north of two trillion dollars. The cynical corporate CEOs who are spending tens of millions to demand that we "fix the debt" should get serious and back a campaign to Fix the Coasts.

Read the full article at The American Prospect online here.