This Week in Climate Change News
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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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People seem frequently to assume that the terms “sustainability” and “resilience” are synonyms, an impression reinforced by the frequent use of the term “climate resilience”, which seems to enmesh both concepts firmly. In fact, while they frequently overlap, and indeed with good policy and planning reinforce one another, they are not the same. This article picks them apart to understand where one ends and the other begins, and where the “sweet spot” lies in achieving mutual reinforcement to the benefit of disaster risk reduction (DRR).
As extreme weather conditions become the new normal—from floods in Baton Rouge and Venice to wildfires in California, we need to clean and save stormwater for future use while protecting communities from flooding and exposure to contaminated water. Changing how we manage stormwater has the potential to preserve access to water for future generations; prevent unnecessary illnesses, injuries, and damage to communities; and increase investments in green, climate-resilient infrastructure, with a focus on communities where these kinds of investments are most needed.
A few years ago, I worked with some ARISE-US members to carry out a survey of small businesses in post-Katrina New Orleans of disaster risk reduction (DRR) awareness. One theme stood out to me more than any other. The businesses that had lived through Katrina and survived well understood the need to be prepared and to have continuity plans. Those that were new since Katrina all tended to have the view that, to paraphrase, “well, government (city, state, federal…) will take care of things”.
While the experience after Katrina, of all disasters, should be enough to show anyone in the US that there are limits on what government can do, it does raise the question, of what could and should public and private sectors expect of one another?