Key concerns of climate change are the climate hazards and climate extremes facing cities going forward. In the Climate Change and Cities First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Network, Buenos Aires is used as an example to try and put value to the types of economic losses that will occur in the future: $80million of loses per year by 2030, which grows to $300 million per year by 2050 (not even including the human suffering, death, etc.).
The report points out that coattails cities are especially vulnerable to climate change given increasing hurricanes and other storms. This made me question what impact climate change had on Staten Island – where I currently live – during the most recent hurricane. Some facts: 16% of the island was flooded during Sandy, approximately 75,651 residents were impacted by flooding, 23 people died, and FEMA paid out more than $103 million in grant money this is a small part of total losses (DeJohn, Web).
In one of the forewards to the report, Anna Tibaijuka states, “it is the urban poor, who often are forced to live in flood- and landslide-prone areas and who face other vulnerabilities, who will bear a disproportionate share of the effects of climate change.” This is also borne out in the example of Sandy’s effect on Staten Island. The homes built in the flood plains on the East of the island were initially small, vacation-like beach properties and not primary residences. As the islands population grew, these areas attracted poorer immigrant populations due to the cheaper cost of housing.
Lastly, climate change has significant impact on every major urban system and network. The article discusses how power grids are expected to be impacted, transportation networks, general health care, water supply, wastewater collection. All of these are major enablers of the modern urban city and without these networks it is challenging to see how urban living could be maintained. There were some very sensible ideas presented that showed how urban land can counteract climate change: reduce sprawl, change building codes to reduce energy use, increase urban tree coverage. These are great ideas, but left me disappointed. First, they don’t seem to go nearly far enough to really solve the kind of disctruction anticipated by climate change in major urban centers. Second, I look around and see the state of the current infrastructure in NYC and worry that there is an inability to make significant changes in preparation. It seems that many of these systems in this city are already in decline.
The terrifying question: How does a city make changes, and adapt to the threat of destructive climate change forces when it struggles to improve current infrastructure?
Another fascinating article, which discusses how climate change impacted seasonal patterns in the U.S. shows impacts to my last place residence, Utah. In particular, changes to the Gulfstream have caused areas west of the Rocky Mountains to be drier and hotter and eastward to be cooler than historical averages (Prather, Web)
In the time I lived in Utah I really saw this play out with very warm winters. The town I lived in is very high elevation, almost 7,000 feet above sea level. Long-time residents expect it to get cold in the winter despite it being in the desert. This last winter it was very warm, what on would expect in L.A. According to the article this is explainable, “The disrupted weather pattern has effected what Utah winter weather will look like going forward. The winter storms that usually produce our snowpack get broken up before they hit Utah by the stagnant high pressure system in the West. This makes for less frequent and lighter snowfall that gets melted off due to the overall warming of the West. Wang said it is hard to predict exactly what next year is going to look like, but the models have shown this trend for some time.”
Utah’s slogan is “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” With the changes to winter climate and the issues this is having on the snow pack in the mountains this could have major impacts to the states economic resources as skiing is more and more challenging. This isn’t even mentioning the very real problem of water supply.
This image from the article shows the trends very clearly:
Credit Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center. Image Link
Here is proof of warm winters, my children enjoying a very warm February.
DeJohn, Irving. “Hurricane Sandy, one year later: On Staten Island, lives and homes are still in disarray.” The Daily News. October 26, 2013. Web. http://nydn.us/1OqYwGs
Prather, Justin. “How Climate Change is Altering Western Winters.” Utah Public Radio. Web. http://upr.org/post/how-climate-change-altering-western-winters