Gotham Prepares for Global Warming

By Keith Kloor | September 11, 2009 11:12 am

I had no idea that NYC was taking such a pro-active approach to climate adaptation.  When I read stories like this, which also discusses how other major cities in the world are making similar plans for a hotter, more turbulent climate, I can’t help but wonder if climate change debate has broken off into two parallel tracks: one focused entirely on mitigation, which dominates public discourse, and the other focused on banal matters such as building codes and floodplain maps, which takes place in bureaucratic agencies. As this excerpt makes clear, not everyone is waiting to see what comes out of Copenhagen:

An Adaptation Task Force, made up of some 20 city departments, New York State and interstate authorities, and power and communications industries, has begun developing an inventory of infrastructures at risk. Working with local communities they hope to develop strategies “” from keeping development away from the waterfront, to maintaining sewer systems, to evacuation plans, to protecting waterfront neighborhoods.

The Department of Buildings will reassess building codes to reduce energy use and make certain that homes can avoid flooding and high-rise apartment buildings can withstand increased storm winds. The city’s Office of Emergency Management is updating its floodplain maps to bring them into correspondence with predictions of rising sea level and expected storm surges.

As I was reading Bruce Stutz’s piece in Yale Environment 360, my jaw kept dropping at the level of detail and the seriousness of purpose.  Here’s the big-picture mindset and an example of the coordination already underway:

While the costs of adapting to climate change will be in the billions of dollars, New York City’s working philosophy is that the costs of not adapting will be far greater. Gary Heath, Director of the Bureau of Operations for the DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis, says that the NPCC’s report puts everyone on the same page, providing a common set of predictions that every agency can work with.

This is an impressive demonstration of foresight and planning. It’d be great if other journalists can track the adaptation developments as they proceed. There’s bound to be many hiccups and obstacles in such a massive and novel operation.  If other cities look to NY as a model, then they can also learn from the kinds of setbacks NY encounters along the way.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: adaptation, climate change

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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