Climate change preparedness “Guardian of Gotham”


Among their “Ten people who mattered” in 2012, the science journal Nature included Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change and senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. We strongly agree with Dr. Rosenzweig’s call for a wide range of initiatives on climate change adaptive preparedness planning and implementation. This is an essential component of a comprehensive climate change policy, and a crucial aspect of government accountability for using climate science with integrity in policymaking.

Rosenzweig was a Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC Working Group II Fourth Assessment Report chapter on observed climate changes. She is a Professor at Barnard College and a Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia Earth Institute.

She co-led the Metropolitan East Coast Regional Assessment of the first U.S. National Climate Assessment, which was completed in 2000 then essentially suppressed at the federal level by the Bush-Cheney administration – part of their science denial and another failure of national preparedness.

Today, federal policy and action lags behind more proactive approaches at the local level. There will be limits — probably very serious limits — to society’s ability to adapt to the harmful consequences of human-caused global climatic disruption. But along with emissions-reduction mitigation to reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change as expeditiously as possible, a comprehensive risk-management climate policy will necessarily require a strategic and multifaceted effort at preparedness to limit vulnerabilities and increase resilience to impacts that can’t be avoided.

Cynthia Rosenzweig has championed this approach for years and is a leader in developing scientifically based analysis of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, and in communicating and working with public officials in the U.S. and internationally. Recently we heard her give a presentation to the National Capital Planning Commission, the federal planning agency in Washington, DC, in which she framed the challenge for planners in the nation’s capital and suggested first steps.

From Nature 492, 335–343 (20 December 2012): Ten people who mattered this year.

Cynthia Rosenzweig: Guardian of Gotham

New York’s climate-adaptation champion is determined to make her city more resilient to natural disasters.

By Jeff Tollefson

… Sandy had driven a 4-metre wall of water into low-lying neighbourhoods, destroying homes, flooding transportation tunnels and leaving millions of people without power. Although the damage came as a shock to most, Rosenzweig and a team of researchers had forecast those consequences a dozen years earlier as part of the first national assessment by the US Global Change Research Program.

“Everything that happened is in our earliest report,” says Rosenzweig. Because of that work and many follow-on studies conducted for state and city officials, New York has incorporated climate-change adaptation and resilience into its long-term planning initiatives, which include upgrading building codes and managing parks and wetlands to accommodate flooding and sea-level rise. The actions have made New York a leader among cities working to prepare for the threats of climate change, says Rosenzweig. She is now trying to assess whether these steps helped to lessen Sandy’s impacts, which may offer a preview of the threats expected as climate change intensifies storms and raises sea levels. …

Today, she co-chairs the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which advises local policy-makers. She is also helping to coordinate regional and international groups that are exploring climate adaptation and resilience.

The city has a long way to go. Rather than focusing on big-ticket solutions such as storm-surge barriers, Rosenzweig calls for a range of initiatives, from increasing redundancy in the electric grid to sealing off tunnels and making coastal areas more resilient to flooding. She doesn’t pause for breath while running through the litany of needs. “We have to do more. We have to do better. We have to spend more money. We need pilot funding projects. There’s just a lot to it.” Then Rosenzweig flashes a wide smile. “I’m not a pessimistic person,” she says. “We have to succeed. We don’t have a choice.”

Mayor Bloomberg Releases New York City Panel on Climate Change Report That Predicts Higher Temperatures and Rising Sea Levels For New York City (2009)

New York City Panel on Climate Change 
2010 Report: Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response

New York Times, September 11, 2012:  New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn (An article that suggests the complexity of urban preparedness issues.)

With a 520-mile-long coast lined largely by teeming roads and fragile infrastructure, New York City is gingerly facing up to the intertwined threats posed by rising seas and ever-more-severe storm flooding.

So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has commissioned exhaustive research on the challenge of climate change. His administration is expanding wetlands to accommodate surging tides, installing green roofs to absorb rainwater and prodding property owners to move boilers out of flood-prone basements.

But even as city officials earn high marks for environmental awareness, critics say New York is moving too slowly to address the potential for flooding that could paralyze transportation, cripple the low-lying financial district and temporarily drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Only a year ago, they point out, the city shut down the subway system and ordered the evacuation of 370,000 people as Hurricane Irene barreled up the Atlantic coast. Ultimately, the hurricane weakened to a tropical storm and spared the city, but it exposed how New York is years away from — and billions of dollars short of — armoring itself. …

National Assessment Synthesis Team, National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2000)

2000 National Assessment regional report: Climate Change and a Global City: An Assessment of the Metropolitan East Coast Region (24-page Executive Summary)

The next National Climate Assessment is scheduled to be delivered to the federal government in October 2013 and published in final form early in 2014. A draft for expert and public review was posted on January 13. See Draft U.S. National Climate Assessment report released for public review.

Earlier posts:

New York City struggles with climate impacts preparedness

ClimAID science report: New York state must prepare for climate change now

Text of ClimAID report, “Responding to Climate Change in New York State”

Federal report warns of costly impacts to US cities from changing weather extremes

Senate hearing on “Impacts of Rising Sea Levels on Domestic Infrastructures”

Hurricane Sandy, climate change, and what is to be done – Q&A with Judith Regan on SiriusXM

Climate Science Watch Climate Change Preparedness post archive.

Climate Science Watch testimony at House Oversight Hearing (2007)  On what happened to the first National Climate Assessment. Testimony of Rick Piltz
, Climate Science Watch,
 Government Accountability Project,
 Before the 
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
 Hearing on
 Allegations of Political Interference With the Work of Government Climate Change Scientists, January 30, 2007.

The “Vanishing” National Climate Change Assessment

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1 Response to Climate change preparedness “Guardian of Gotham”

  1. Todd Miller says:

    It’s time we took action before it’s too late and it’s already very very late already.

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