This Week in Climate Change News
American cities have faced record-breaking droughts and superstorms throughout 2012, as well as a contentious presidential campaign that simultaneously and inexplicably ignored the topic of climate change.
However, the reelection of President Barack Obama gives us the hope that, for at least another four years, U.S. politics might favor science (Bill Nye, I’m looking at you). And perhaps the good folks at Foggy Bottom might finally, resolutely, turn the public discourse to the facts that predicate the need for urban sustainability.
In other words: Let’s talk about climate change. Afterall, the media sure is.
NPR ran a very interesting piece today about the dangerously low, post-drought levels of the Mississippi River and how it is negatively affecting the business of local towboat operators in southern Illinois.
According to the piece, the Mississippi River stood at 45′ last year, and it’s just 5.5′ today. The low water and rocky, underwater outcroppings make navigating the river dangerous in this area, so the local towboat operators want the Army Corp of Engineers to:
- Divert water from the Missouri River to this area of the Mississippi
- Smooth the bottom of the Mississippi River by blasting away the rocky outcroppings
The Corp, for their part, says they can’t do it.
Allow me to also direct you to a piece aired 18 months ago, also on NPR, that discusses the economic impact to southern Illinois’ towboat operators because of extreme flooding of that region of the Mississippi River.
File it under: The Economic Impacts of Global Weirding.
Meanwhile in the east, the tri-state region struggles to bounce back from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand testified this week before a (seemingly empty?) Senate committee, where she told the heartbreaking story of two toddlers in Staten Island that were washed away from their mother’s arms during the storm.
Unemployment surged following Superstorm Sandy, as workers were forced to stay home or wait for their businesses to rebuild. The overall cost of the storm is estimated to be over $70+ billion in New York and New Jersey alone, and new estimates put the death toll at 125.
After years of denying that climate change event existed, the discussion in the U.S. has shot past mitigation and settled on adaptation. It’s about time. We are, as they say, a little late to the party. But thankfully, that means that other governments have been working on climate adaptation for years and we have examples in London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo that we can adopt, and adapt, as our own.
The challenge now isn’t money, as Michael Kimmelman writes in the New York Times, “considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.” The problem is politics. How can we get the needed urban-adaptation projects passed through our vitriolic political system?
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
As we strive to build Smart Cities, the need for strong citizen engagement has never been more crucial. Can a City really be described as ‘Smart’ if it makes changes without consulting with a diverse sample of the citizens affected by these changes before, during, and after projects are implemented? Will citizens adopt Smart Initiatives if they aren’t part of the decision-making process? Recent case studies suggest not.
The Environmental Impact Bond. It can be used to finance green infrastructure and similar resiliency-oriented projects, which not only protect cities against flooding and pollution, but also create jobs and green underserved neighborhoods. The return to investors of these projects is based on the extent to which the projects produce results; such as the amount of stormwater diverted from flowing into nearby rivers.
To plan for the transition to automated vehicles, cities and county governments should develop building and zoning codes that not only accommodate adaptable parking but encourage it by design. This can include amending building codes to require infrastructure that makes transforming garages into inhabitable buildings possible. As automated vehicles begin to enter the marketplace, cities should consider incentives and other programs to begin the conversion of ground level parking to commercial uses.