How prepared are American cities for increased natural disasters? Over the years, Americans have insisted on expanding and building cities and suburbs in locations that are clearly threatened by natural hazards. This week’s monster tornado in Oklahoma demonstrates this. Cities and states have encouraged people to live in these areas through city planning, architectural design, and the so-called need for “economic development.”
Thus, instead of encouraging people to not live in these hazard zones, city leaders have created methods to help people survive relatively normal lives there. Houses in California must meet specific earthquake design standards, buildings in Oklahoma have “safe rooms,” and countless structures must be stable enough to handle floods and erosion along American coastlines. These are adaptations. Not good adaptations (I believe people should not be encouraged to live in these areas), but there it is.
With the climate changing, the impacts on communities are likely to increase. Incidences of natural disasters are expected to rise, costing many lives and causing a need for an endless stream of disaster aid.
Researchers at MIT teamed up with the non-profit ICLEI to survey cities around the world. The goal was to compare how they were adapting to climate change impacts, or preparing for future impacts. Progress, the researchers found, is very slow in the US, while cities around the world are far more advanced.
It’s a great read, very visual so if you don’t have time you can skim it.
The Berkshires are a small mountain chain and community located in western Mass and Connecticut (near me!). It’s widely known for its picturesque New Englandy towns with lots of arts, music, hiking, skiing, hunting, fishing, apple picking, and and nice things.
The local paper, called the Berkshire Eagle, posted this really well written piece on how the economy will be impacted by climate change. The locals have not been responding well to the article, but I admire it for being as straightforward as you can get.
By the end of the century, the Berkshire County economy — much like the global economy — may be forever altered by the effects of climate change. Some local economic changes have already begun in response to impacts expected from climate change in the coming decades.
Land-use planners and policy specialists in the insurance industry are preparing for changes likely to be brought on by warmer temperatures and more severe weather events. Local farmers and business owners are already looking to their future, many doubtful about the climate change concept, but still determined to build revenue streams that will withstand climate changes or compensate for weather-generated losses.
In one example of a specific local economic effect likely to result from climate change, Cameron Wake, associate professor with the Institute of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire and a lead author of the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, had a dire assessment of the local ski industry: “By the end of the century, the only ski areas that remain viable [in the Northeast] will be in the western mountains of Maine.”
The number of deepwater semisubmersibles and drillships working in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico could rise to 52 in June 2014 and 54 in December 2014 if all of the deepwater rigs currently under contract remain so according to data from Rigzone’s RigLogix database.
Operators with rigs under firm contract in the U.S. Gulf in December 2014 will include BP plc, which will have six rigs, the most from any operator. Royal Dutch Shell plc will have five rigs under firm contract during that time. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is expected to have four rigs working, followed by Chevron Corp. and LLOG Exploration Co. LLC, with three rigs each under firm contract.
Exxon Mobil Corp., Petroleo Brasiliero S.A. (Petrobras), Plains Exploration & Production Company, and Statoil ASA each are expected to have two rigs under contract in the Gulf of Mexico in December 2014. At that time, BHP Billiton Ltd., Eni S.p.A, and Murphy Oil Corp. will each have one rig under firm contract.
Several of these drillers are foreign oil companies. And many of the permits were fast-tracked by the Obama administration.
The Center for American Progress is a DC based think tank that works on several policy issues, including energy, national security, immigration, education, and health care.
They’re starting to get involved in climate adaptation, which is the process of lowering risk from environmental harms. And they recently published an interesting paper that aims to motivate the Federal Government to invest in America’s infrastructure and resilience policies. For those new to the issues of resilience, this makes for a decent primer. For those familiar with the concepts, the section on making the business case might be most interesting. The paper is here. Below is an edited excerpt:
It is time for a national strategy for infrastructure resilience
There are three parts to forming a national strategy for infrastructure resilience. First, the federal government should launch a national infrastructure-vulnerability assessment that evaluates the ability of the nation’s current infrastructure to withstand climate-related extreme weather. Second, the Obama administration should build on the proposals laid out in its FY 2014 budget and harmonize financial resources to invest in these resiliency projects in a coordinated way. Third, the administration should elevate resiliency as a priority by tasking cabinet-level officials to work systematically with cities and states in directing these resources.
A national strategy is needed to reduce infrastructure vulnerability to climate change. If we don’t, then federal funding for disaster relief becomes much more expensive.
For this reason, it is essential that the federal government tightly link its work on infrastructure investment as an engine of economic prosperity with the expanding priority it has placed on resilience.
We recommend that the president, Congress, mayors, and governors work together to make an immediate commitment to design a national strategy for infrastructure resilience.
To realize this plan, the president should act immediately to:
1. Launch a national infrastructure-vulnerability assessment: Improve the availability and usability of information on infrastructure needs and resilience. It would look systematically at the ability of U.S. transportation, energy, water, communications, and other strategic infrastructure to hold up to both current and future threats.
2. Establish a comprehensive federal infrastructure-investment strategy: This would build on recent commitments in the administration’s budget plan, and would both access new financial tools and better harmonize existing financing authorities within the federal government to more effectively leverage public and private capital in priority-infrastructure investments.
3. Create an infrastructure and resilience council: The council would function as a working group within the president’s own cabinet to support presidential leadership in improving coordination across all federal agencies and in partnering with cities and states to accelerate the development of these priority-resilience projects by increasing public and private investment.
President Obama has already taken important steps to lay the foundation for a national infrastructure-resilience plan. In Executive Order 13514, signed into effect in October 2009, the president called on agencies to “evaluate agency climate-change risks and vulnerabilities to manage the effects of climate change on the agency’s operations and mission in both the short and long term.”
Since 2009 the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force—led by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—has been coordinating federal actions to reduce climate-change risks to federal assets and communities.
In February 2013 executive agencies released their plans to begin adapting to climate change. Additionally, the administration has already adopted national-action plans overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency to safeguard our oceans, fresh water, and fish, wildlife, and plants from the worst impacts of climate change. Though agencies have yet to develop a national resilience strategy for public infrastructure, Executive Order 13514 and the real rising risks of climate change give them the clear authority to do so.
Climate change will mean more landslides, experts warn
“Nearly 100 experts from 14 nations, representing scores of global institutions and governments, gathered at UN University in Tokyo January 18-20 to set international priorities for mitigating human and financial landslide losses and to promote a global network of International Programmes on Landslides. The meeting marks the first anniversary of the landmark UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan.
Asia suffered 220 landslides in the past century - by far the most of any world region - but those in North, Central and South America have caused the most deaths and injuries (25,000+) while Europe’s are the most expensive causing average damage of almost $23 million per landslide.
And experts attending the Tokyo conference warned that climate change-related increases in the number and intensity of typhoons and hurricanes will produce in tandem a rising danger of landslides in future.
“Increasing rainfall intensities and frequencies, coupled with population growth can drastically increase landslide-associated casualties, especially in developing countries, where pressure on land resources often lead to slope cultivation and slope agriculture which are very much prone to landslide disasters,” according to the International Consortium on Landslides (ICL), United Nations University, Kyoto University and UNESCO scientists organizing the three-day international meeting on landslide prevention and damage mitigation.
Climate change may promote landslides in other ways as well. A December landslide that claimed 60 lives in Yemen was blamed on mountain boulders shifting due to changes in temperature. Other landslide inducements include earthquakes, volcanic eruption, poorly planned developments, and mining.”
To ensure a gender-sensitive approach to climate finance, women’s particular vulnerabilities must be recognized and women included in the planning, experts said during a Twitter chat with the Global Gender and Climate Alliance.
With the global community investing billions of dollars to fund a response to climate change, the alliance said it is essential to ensure these funds promote policies and programs that reduce inequality between men and women so they are able to address climate change effectively and on an even footing.
The chat addressed why gender-sensitive climate change matters, who benefits and why it is important now. Participants questioned what could be done to ensure climate funding is inclusive and fair to all.
Rare Chinese Porpoises Dive Toward Extinction. Above, A Carcass of a Rare Yangtze Finless Porpoise.
“There are just 1,000 individual Yangtze finless porpoises left in the wild, according to a new report. That’s less than half of what a similar survey of the porpoises found six years ago.
The rapidly dwindling numbers have conservationists worried that the species could vanish from the wild as early as 2025.
“The species is moving fast toward its extinction,” said Wang Ding, head of the expedition to count the porpoises and a professor at the Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Yangtze finless porpoises, the only freshwater finless porpoise in the world, live mainly in the Yangtze River and China’s Dongting and Poyang lakes. They are threatened by shrinking food resources and man-made disturbances like shipping traffic.
The expedition, which took place over 44 days last fall, comes after a similar trek along the Yangtze in 2007 failed to find any surviving Baiji dolphins, a close relative of the finless porpoise that was subsequently declared functionally extinct.
The new report showed that some finless porpoises are splintering off into relatively isolated groups, which could hurt their ability to reproduce. The scientists also noted that more of the animals seemed to be flocking to wharf and port areas, perhaps to look for food. ”
Dan Pallotta’s new TED talk criticizing charity systems is great stuff. “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”
Why you should listen to him:
“The nonprofit sector is critical to our dream of changing the world. Yet there is no greater injustice than the double standard that exists between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. One gets to feast on marketing, risk-taking, capital and financial incentive, the other is sentenced to begging,” Dan Pallotta says in discussing his latest book, Charity Case. This economic starvation of our nonprofits is why he believes we are not moving the needle on great social problems. “My goal … is to fundamentally transform the way the public thinks about charity within 10 years.”
Pallotta is best known for creating the multi-day charitable event industry, and a new generation of citizen philanthropists with the AIDS Rides and Breast Cancer 3-Day events, which raised $582 million in nine years. He is president of Advertising for Humanity, which helps foundations and philanthropists transform the growth potential of their favorite grantees.
“He liberates charity from its Puritan constraints and cogently attaches it to entrepreneurship.” - Gary Hart
“Air and water quality, national parks and surrounding communities, and clean energy development will be hard hit by across-the-board spending cuts in the federal budget that took effect today.
President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders came out of a White House meeting this morning without resolution to the budget impasse, known in Washington as the sequester. Each side blames the other, but regardless of who is to blame, the sequester means painful cuts to natural resource and environment services across the country.
Municipal water supplies, already underfunded to the tune of about $30 billion a year, will lose millions more. “With the sequestration, the State Revolving Funds, the most common mechanism through which communities receive federal support for their drinking and wastewater systems, could be cut by about six percent, or $135 million, says Hauter, citing figures from the Associated General Contractors of America.
In a letter addressed to President Obama and Congress, businesses emphasized how reducing park budgets kills jobs. Kirk Hoessle, local business owner of Alaska Wildland Adventures said, “Congress needs to understand that my business suffers when Denali National Park suffers from cuts. Not only do we need to keep park roads and visitor centers open, but we need to make sure visitors have a great experience.”
Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter. (The World Bank says the earth could warm by 4C by the end of the century.) Their strategies include buying water treatment companies, brokering deals for Australian farmland, and backing a startup that has engineered a mosquito to fight dengue, a disease that’s spreading as the mercury climbs.
Derivatives that help companies hedge against abnormal weather and natural catastrophes are drawing increased interest from some big players. In January, KKR (KKR) bought a 25 percent stake in Nephila Capital, an $8 billion Bermuda hedge fund that trades in weather derivatives. (The firm is named after a spider that, according to local folklore, can predict hurricanes.)
“Climate risk is something people are paying more and more attention to,” says Barney Schauble, managing partner at Nephila Advisors, the firm’s U.S. arm. “More volatile weather creates more risk and more appetite to protect against that risk.”
Drought is helping spur business at Water Asset Management. The New York hedge fund, which has about $400 million under management, buys water rights and makes private equity and stock market investments in water treatment companies. “Not enough people are thinking long term of [water] as an asset that is worthy of ownership,” says Chief Operating Officer Marc Robert. “Climate change for us is a driver.”
Hundreds of tanker trucks and railroad cars snake for miles through the vast landscape of North Dakota now. For his video diary, Reuters correspondent Ernest Scheyder drove into the Bakken Oil Express, a sprawling project at the heart of the state’s booming oil economy.
The US military - not politicians - is leading the federal government on climate change action.
America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
The cover story this month is an important one: The U.S. is experiencing a big boom in oil and natural gas due to new technologies to extract hard-to-reach oil.
The new “gold rush” is affecting with special intensity northwest North Dakota, bringing new fortunes, transforming the prairie landscape and also causing environmental concerns while boosting the U.S. fuel supply.
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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