Feeling Vulnerable?

New York is doing something that few other urban centers are doing: it is starting to look seriously at what climate change has in store for the city. A report (.pdf)released this week presents a systematic look at what the city is likely to deal with before the century is out. Done in partnership with NASA and Columbia University, it attempts to take what we know from global level climate models done by the IPCC and make it meaningful at the local level.

With report after report after report showing that we are in this much deeper than we had realized, issues of adapting to the effects of climate change are starting to get peoples' attention. The days when we thought we could "fix the climate problem" if we just cut back emissions are quickly fading.

We all have a general idea of the likely effects of a more volatile climate (droughts, floods, heatwaves etc.). But it is very difficult to predict what the specific stresses will be at a local scale. As far as I know only a few cities are attempting this work; similar projects are being carried out in London, UK and Durban, SA (where I am at the moment) in partnership with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change research. And in Canada last year, a Federal Engineers Report (link to report) detailed the vulnerability of infrastructure in seven communities across the country.

For New York, that means starting to prepare for the human and mechanical stresses of a 4 to 7.5 degree (Fahrenheit) increase in temperatures and the impacts of an increase in both the occurrence and severity of storms and flooding. That for a city that already suffers from heatwaves and (on a dry day) pumps 13million gallons (50million litres) of water out of its subway system. What does it mean for your city?


2 Responses to "Feeling Vulnerable?"

Lunatrix said... 19 February 2009 at 02:19

It's great to have so many reports. Now, when will we start doing something about what we know, instead of wasting time, talent and money to figure out what we don't?

Alex Aylett said... 26 February 2009 at 12:58

It's true, Lunatrix. But deciding when we actually know enough to act can be a sensitive political question. Reports on vulnerability are interesting because I think they will push action in a very different way from the more "feel good" sentiments that have often been behind mitigation efforts. Hopefully they will be more effective. There is a danger though that they will get bogged down in an ellusive search for total certainty about CC's effects on a given city. Ultimately, we need to get comfortable with making decisions in conditions of uncertainty -- as cities already do with many other issues.


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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