How American Cities Are Adapting To Climate Change

A new report by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives highlights twenty local government across the country that are taking the initiative to combat global warming.

The report follows up an earlier survey ICLEI did of 298 American cities, which found that 74 percent had perceived changes in the climate — including increased storm intensity, higher temperatures, and more precipitation. Almost two-thirds are pursuing adaptation planning for climate change, compared to 68 percent globally, and virtually all U.S. cities report difficulties acquiring funding for adaptation efforts. (Only Latin American cities reported similar levels of difficulty.) And over one-third of U.S. cities said the federal government does not understand the realities of climate change adaptation.

Several examples from ICLEI’s new report on local adaptation efforts include:

New York City, NY shouldered 43 deaths and $19 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy. The city’s sustainability plan, PlaNYC, includes $2.4 billion in green infrastructure to capture rainwater through natural methods before it can flood. New York is requiring climate risk assessments for new developments in vulnerable areas, as is restoring 127 acres of wetlands that serve as a natural storm barrier.

Atlanta, GA has been seeing hotter seasons year-round, and an increasing urban heat island effect. In response, the city is finalizing a climate action plan that includes cool/reflective roof standards for new construction, requirements for use of “cool pavement,” increasing canopy coverage by 10,000 trees by 2013, and improving building efficiency.

Chicago, IL, is experiencing more frequent extreme heat and flooding, threatening extensive damage, especially to the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Chicago has responded with a landmark Climate Action Plan. They boast the greenest street in America, a pilot program they’re looking to scale up to a citywide design standard. They also lead the green roof industry in installations, with the most square feet set up, and are encouraging further green infrastructure

Eugene, OR is facing more ultra-dry conditions with the attendant possibility of wildfires. One major nearby fire produced enough smoke to threaten the health of Eugene’s more vulnerable residents. The city is also responding with a Community Climate and Energy Action plan, including ramping up water conservation, increasing energy efficiency, and promoting climate-adapted trees for public spaces.

Some of the remaining cities included in the report were Miami Dade County, FL; Houston, TX; Denver, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Washington, DC.

The rise in extreme weather events has highlighted the need to build greater resiliency into communities’ infrastructure, through both local and national policy, and how to rebuild better infrastructure in the wake of destructive events.

11 Responses to How American Cities Are Adapting To Climate Change

  1. Superman1 says:

    Adaptation is admission of defeat; there needs to be actions for reversing the situation. There are about 65 million people in the 15-30 demographic in the USA. They are the ones with the real energy to carry the fight, and they are the ones whose lives will be cut short if the climate catastrophe plays out. One would think they would put this issue well above any others in their collective lives. Yet, the target listed for the 18 February demonstration is 20,000, which is much less than one in a thousand participation from this demographic. Even if they were to get ten times that much, it would be at least ten times too low, given the importance of that issue.

  2. Superman1 says:

    We are really doing a Kabuki dance. All the different players know exactly where the problem lies, but they refuse to admit it for their own unique purposes. So some politicians, especially from fossil energy producing states, call it a hoax; most climate hawks blame the fossil energy companies, the media, and the deniers. We are the problem; we are willing to continue our profligate ways at the expense of survival of our progeny.

  3. Superman1 says:

    This post should precede my previous post. Wili said: “The time is now to fight, with no illusions, whatever the cost may be…and to never surrender.”

    The main problem we have is publically admitting who we are fighting. Churchill knew who Britain was fighting. Most of us know who we are fighting in the climate war, but we refuse to admit it. It is difficult to bring adherents into the Cause if the adherents are part and parcel of the problem. If, in fact, they are the main part of the problem.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    I don’t think this is accurate.

  5. David Goldstein says:

    Just for accuracy’s sake- here in Eugene we are NOT- repeat NOT experiencing ultra dry conditions. (HA!- I wish). We are in the Willamette Valley which is typically socked in with clouds and rain starting in October- which is indeed occurring. The fire referred to happened about 40 miles to the East out and above the valley in the foothills of the coastal range. Just a heads up for anyone who might decide to come to Eugene for the ‘dry’ conditions- better wait another 20 years or so!

  6. Superman1 says:

    What specifically do you disagree with?

  7. I agree that Eugene, Oregon has not been experiencing ultra-dry conditions. Coastal Pacific Northwest areas have been among the most normal during the current long run of climate-related drought across the US. It is nonetheless possible or likely that wildland fires in areas to the south and east of Eugene, that put heavy smoke into the southern Willamette Valley last year, were in areas where climate change added to seasonal fire conditions.

    I also agree that adaptation, especially in a non-coastal area like Eugene, is a secondary concern to mitigation. Without a massive commitment to mitigation, current research shows, reasonable adaptation will be impossible.

    The report mentions the Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan, which has gotten a lot of recognition.

    While that plan was being formed, I did a detailed quantitative analysis of a draft version, and found that it fails grossly and in several key areas to define levels of specific action sufficient to meet its own stated goals.

    The reality of climate planning in Eugene so far is that it is somewhere between a bandaid and a feel-good exercise.

    The City of Eugene is right now, just for instance, planning a large freeway expansion project, an urban growth boundary expansion, and a massive hard-surface riverfront development lacking any significant environmental remediation.

    I’m sure many places are far worse. In Eugene, so far, the reality still falls miles short of the hype.

    In Eugene, so far, the establishment is giving intermittent lip service to climate change planning, happy to collect kudos for statements of good intentions, while in terms of implementation, good old American business-as-usual seems to be chugging along largely unperturbed.

  8. Joe Romm says:

    We aren’t fighting the majority of people. They want to act — and have made clear they would support the kind of action that is needed now.

  9. wili says:

    Since you are quoting me, may I clarify that my analogy was to suggest not that we are all the enemy, bu that we are…what’s the right word? not quite un-wittingly, more like half-wittedly?…aiding and abetting the enemy, both by investing in ff companies, and in buying (and burning) their products, directly and indirectly.

    At another level, we have turned the climate into our enemy by adding climate-toxic levels of CO2…, and we are aiding in this enemy’s destructive capacities every time we burn fossil fuels.

    The good news in this is that the needed change is completely within our collective power. We can all do a whole lot right away to dramatically lower our gw impact–to stop aiding and abetting the enemy. But we have to go way beyond changing light bulbs (useful as that can be).

    Put it this way:

    When we fly, we are sending atomic bombs to the climate enemy even as these are being dropped on your major cities.

    When we eat meat or drive, we are sending incendiary bombs even as these are burning up our forests, torching our houses and decimating our towns.

    When we live in houses far larger than we need then insulate them poorly and super heat and cool them, when we buy tons of useless crap only to throw it away, when we eat mostly processed food that has been shipped thousands of miles…we are donating various levels of ordinance to an enemy that is destroying the very farms and livestock we will soon starve, and who is draining away the very water without which we will die miserably and quickly.

    When we invest our individual and institutional funds in portfolios that include death fuel companies, we are sending collectively vast sums of money to supply the corporate enemy that is not only extracting all the material for all the ordinance, but is the main treasonous party propagandizing the populace and lobbying/owning the politicians so that many are confused about or in denial of the basic facts of our situation.

    We are not the enemy, but we are actively aiding corporate and climate enemies that are far deadlier more ruthless than any conventional military force ever assembled.

    In the lead up to WWII, “appeasement” allowed Nazi Germany to build up military forces it would then unleash upon the world. But at least by the time the bombs started dropping, the British people and leadership realized that appeasement was no longer acceptable.

    We have long done more than appease our enemies–we have actively supplied them with all the ‘arms’ they need to devastate our civilization and much of the living planet.

    But even as the climate ‘bombs’ are now starting to drop, we continue with our more-than-appeasement policies, attitudes, and actions.

    In short (and I seem to have become incapable of saying anything ‘in short’ recently’–sorry about that), Pogo missed it by just a bit. He should have said: “We have met the appeasers and abettors of our enemies, and they are us!” (Of course, this is not quite as brief, witty and snappy as the original.)

  10. wili says:

    “the establishment is giving intermittent lip service to climate change planning, happy to collect kudos for statements of good intentions, while in terms of implementation, good old American business-as-usual seems to be chugging along largely unperturbed.”

    Well put.

    This seems to be the norm pretty much everywhere, as far as I can see.

    All power seems to be deep in the pocket of moneyed interests, that is short-term business schemes, most of which drain money from the public to enrich the few and do long-term harm to all.

  11. jammer says:

    willie has it about right. The largest contributer to climate change is the American middle class. The wealthy are too few and the poor tend to transit leaving the middle to exhibit hyper mobility and consumption. This model of human behavior has been exported globally and grafted on to emerging nations like China, India, and Brazil. Good luck trying to reverse the inertia and convincing the populous of making different living arrangements.