Cities taking initiative on climate change preparedness

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South Ferry subway station flooding (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

South Ferry subway station flooding (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

We have seen all-too-much evidence that the U.S. is unprepared for a rapidly changing climate. In the absence of coherent national climate policy, local leaders are moving forward. New York Mayor Bloomberg announced a hugely ambitious strategic approach and 45 mayors have launched a new Resilient Communities campaign. More than five years ago we called for a national climate change preparedness initiative, as a necessary component of a comprehensive climate policy. Today that idea seems to have moved significantly into the mainstream.

In March 2008, when the Bush-Cheney administration was still in office, I said in an interview:

“Global warming is not the only area where the evidence is one thing and the politics is something else and it leaves the nation in a tough position, because if you don’t understand the problem and you don’t have a political leadership that is willing to talk about it straightforwardly with people—what the risk is, how we’re going to manage it—then you have a breakdown of the country’s preparedness to deal with problems. Then you have the aftermath in Iraq, then you have the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—failure of preparedness, failure of preparedness—and we’re doing the same thing on climate change, it’s just a more slow-rolling disaster, so you don’t see it happen quite so fast.”

So, while the ability to adapt to global climatic disruption will be limited, and while preparedness can't substitute for a radical transformation to a sustainable energy system, I think these are good developments:

45 Top Mayors Pledge Action on Extreme Weather, Launch National Resilience Campaign

Mayors of Washington DC, Denver, Cincinnati, Sacramento, San Diego, Milwaukee, El Paso, Broward County and others—commit to creating more resilient cities and counties in response to nation’s growing extreme weather, climate and energy challenges; call for greater federal support

[Washington DC, June 17, 2013] – Forty five leading local elected officials today committed to creating more resilient cities, towns, and counties in the face of unprecedented extreme weather and energy challenges that threaten communities across the country. The “Inaugural Signatories” of the Resilient Communities for America Agreement letter pledged to take cost-effective actions to prepare and protect their communities from the increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change, such as heat waves, floods, droughts, severe storms, and wildfires. In addition, they called for more action and support from federal leaders. …

View the full list of signatories at www.resilientamerica.org.

Over the next two years, the Resilient Communities for America campaign will connect local governments with one another to share the best solutions and innovations and help them accelerate their efforts—because we don’t have the luxury of time.

At the campaign launch event at the National Press Club today, local leaders called for more action at the federal level.

“Local governments have always been the leaders on climate action, but we need more support from the federal government,” said Mayor Cownie of Des Moines. “We need better local-federal coordination on disaster preparedness, and we need them to address our aging and inadequate infrastructure, which has been under-funded for far too long. …

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Resilient Communities for America describes itself as a “new movement of resilient cities and counties that are taking smart steps to prepare for climate change and energy challenges, and turning adversity into economic opportunity.” From their website:

We cannot ignore the new reality: More frequent heat waves, droughts, floods, and storms have arrived, and threaten our health and safety, our economic prosperity, our energy security, and our way of life. Local governments are on the front lines of these challenges and must respond.

Extreme Weather and Climate Change
 A changing climate is driving destructive weather and less visible impacts that put our families, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and economic stability at risk. The past two years have cost us $188 billion and untold lives, and we cannot ignore this new reality.

Energy Security, Economic Uncertainty
 Heat waves and severe storms stress our aging and unreliable power grid. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels exacerbate climate change. And dependence on costly energy sources that put us at the mercy of price spikes. Learn more about why our energy security is at risk in communities across America.

4 Paths to Building Resilient Cities and Counties Resilient communities are better able to bounce back from disasters and disruptions in a sustainable way and maintain a good quality of life for all. Local governments can build resilience by addressing climate change preparedness, energy security, infrastructure renewal, and economic competitiveness.

And in New York City:

Bloomberg Outlines $20 Billion Storm Protection Plan

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg outlined a far-reaching plan on Tuesday to protect New York City from the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storm surges by building an extensive network of flood walls, levees and bulkheads along its 520 miles of coast.

The mayor said the plan would initially cost about $20 billion, and eventually far more. The city would spend the money on fortifying infrastructure like the power grid, renovating buildings to withstand hurricanes and defending the shore, according to a 438-page report on the proposals.

The proposals, in all, would change the look and fabric of the city, though not until well after the mayor leaves office at the end of the year.

Still, he emphasized that Hurricane Sandy was such a devastating event that the city had to move immediately. ...

The report details 250 recommendations, including the installation of flood walls and other measures to protect some of the areas that were hit worst by the hurricane in October. ...

Mr. Bloomberg said that the price tag was high, but that the cost of not taking action would be higher. …

“This is a defining challenge of our future,” he said. …

In recent months, he has sought to contrast his activist stance on climate change with what he has said is the unwillingness of Washington to tackle these issues. …

On New York, see also:

New Climate Data Depict a City More at Risk

Bloomberg Storm Plan Praised, but Faces Obstacles

Bloomberg Seeks to Redo Building Code in Sandy’s Wake

New York Times editorial board: The Storm, Next Time

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ambitious proposal to protect New York’s 520 miles of shoreline and fortify the city against storms that could be worse than Hurricane Sandy will require intense planning, engineering, community input and all sorts of adjustments. But Mr. Bloomberg has done the city a great service by pushing for the necessary short-term repairs and mapping out a broader strategy that takes into account many of the worst consequences of climate change. …

As Mr. Bloomberg said of the need to start working immediately: “Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point; the bottom line is we can’t run the risk.”

Some earlier posts on climate change preparedness:

Undermining preparedness: flood mapping budget slashed

Undermining preparedness: National Weather Service cutbacks

Federal budget sequestration begins to undercut extreme event preparedness

Climate change preparedness “Guardian of Gotham”

Flood Insurance Reform Act could promote better climate preparedness

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

New York City struggles with climate impacts preparedness

US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s evasiveness on climate change and drought

Rising Temperatures Expose Cities' Vulnerable Electrical Supplies

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

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

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

For a National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative

Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz, speaking at a national conference on “Climate Change: Science and Solutions,” in Washington, DC., on January 17, 2008, as part of a panel on the future of the the federal global change research program:

In dealing with the threat of global climatic disruption, the nation needs a way to deal with intelligence, risk assessment, risk management, and preparedness, that is much more effective than what we have right now.  It would entail a large-scale, federally supported effort to bring leading science and technology experts, engineers, economists, and other experts together in a two-way, ongoing interaction with a wide range of policymakers at all levels — and with the private sector, managers, civil society — to diagnose the potential implications of climate change, discuss measures necessary to adapt to the impacts, and to deal with mitigation — emissions reduction — issues. …

Climate Science Watch proposes that the next administration undertake what we are calling a National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative, to deal with this nexus of intelligence, risk, and preparedness questions. ...

In calling for a National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative, we said in March 2008:

A primary goal of Climate Science Watch is to see society integrating research, policy, and implementation effectively to reduce the rate of global climatic disruption while improving our ability to adapt to its unavoidable impacts. We see increasing evidence that our nation is unprepared for a rapidly changing climate. As we continue to load the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, global climatic disruption is projected to pose mounting threats to human health and well-being, damage and destroy ecosystems and natural resources, and pose difficulties and dangers to many aspects of our daily lives. A strong US federal role with leadership from the top levels of government, combined with meaningful participation of many entities – public and private, local and national, individual and institutional—will be essential to climate change intelligence, risk assessment, and preparedness.

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