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.
At the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, where the population has increased five-fold in the past year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is treating growing numbers of patients and preparing for the additional hardships that will come with the approaching rainy season.
Angelina Jolie discusses her preemptive double mastectomy.
I’m posting this, I think, partly because I’m a fan of Brad Pitt’s climate adaptation/green architecture project “Make it Right” in Louisiana. Partly because cancer has taken many people in my life. And partly because I have so many young women followers. So, even though it’s way off topic, I hope it means something to someone somewhere…
I’m very tempted to jump on a plane and go to this conference. It’s run by the UNISDR (United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction). It’s basically a conference where politicians, stakeholders, and leaders in DRR gather to discuss and share ideas.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is now the world’s foremost gathering of stakeholders committed to reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations.
A stronger and more sustainable ISDR movement world-wide that leads to increased responsibility for reinforcing resilience to disasters.
A dynamic and trend-setting forum for decision makers, partners, experts and practitioners to announce initiatives, launch products, share information, promote campaigns, and provide evidence around disaster risk reduction.
Directions and new alliances for the development and use of new tools and methodologies aimed at understanding and applying the economics and investment in disaster risk reduction.
A forum to discuss progress and consult over a post-Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA).
Events that follow-up and progress on the 2011 Global Platform (examples may include an update on disaster loss in schools and hospitals, accounting for disaster losses, the status of National Platforms, and progress of the Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction).
The fire maps show the locations of actively burning fires around the world on a monthly basis, based on observations from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The colors are based on a count of the number (not size) of fires observed within a 1,000-square-kilometer area. White pixels show the high end of the count —as many as 100 fires in a 1,000-square-kilometer area per day. Yellow pixels show as many as 10 fires, orange shows as many as 5 fires, and red areas as few as 1 fire per day. Via EO NASA
Josh Fox, the filmmaker behind Gaslandand Gasland II is the guest on Andrew Sullivan’s Ask Me Anything series this week. Yesterday, he discussed how he got involved in this fight. Today, he has a great answer to the question of whether natural gas is a necessary evil.
Actually, that is a very important question. With North America’s population aging, thousands of people – our parents and grandparents in particular – are in more danger from heat related illnesses than at any time in recorded history.
Let me temper that a bit. The amount of heat related deaths in North America are very low – less than 500 per year.
I can’t speak to the above odd trend line (*I’m guessing the chart reflects budget cuts. That Bush’s cuts in the 2000’s affected how mortality stats were reported and collected by the CDC. And that Obama [vis a vis his hospital administrator wife] reestablished some of those reporting mechanisms, accounting for the dips. You know what? I’d bet the above chart would overlay nearly perfectly with Bush’s cuts and Obama’s reestablishments).
I digress. Compare heat deaths to: 600,000+ from heart attacks (keep eating that bacon b/c wgaf, right?); 575,000 from cancer (beach, beef, who cares!); 70,000 from diabetes (big gulps and sugarize all the things!); 30,000 from guns (it’s our constitutional right to ignore this because our founding fathersblahblahderp); 3,330 from distracted driving (txt msging, applying make-up, dropping nugs, – but of course, “Won’t happen to me” said derp); 3,000 from house fires; etc. (CDC).
So – currently, comparatively – the numbers for heat deaths in the U.S. are quite low! We Americans are the global exception. The 2003 heat wave killed 70,000 people in Europe – most were pensioners (e.g., grandparents and old people) whose children or neighbors didn’t check on them. And A/C is not a common household item in the EU. (I’ll digress briefly again and say that adapting to climate change has negative effects, too – like the increased demand for household air-conditioning and heating, both of which will increase use of fossil fuels. This is called maladaptation.).
There are a lot of resources on the future affects of climate change on human health, especially heat:
How are human and animal diseases in general affected by the climate becoming “wilder, wetter and warmer?” New research shows that ticks have spread over larger geographical areas in Norway and that climate and environmental changes, access to host animals and demography affect tick distribution in Norway. Furthermore, local climatic conditions can have a decisive influence on the ability of the tick to spread dangerous viruses. The climate can also play a role in the spread of gastrointestinal infections.
The effects of climate changes are the easiest to detect and are probably most pronounced near the geographical distribution limits of the infection or for the vector which carries the infection.
Ticks are champions at spreading diseases, expanding in both poor countries and rich ones, and delivering an extraordinary menagerie of bacteria, protozoans, and viruses. In a 2010 report on the dangers of ticks, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, declared the animals, with what sounds almost like admiration, “the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors.”
IT’S STARTLING to look at the graphs of tick-borne diseases over the past few decades. They’re mostly going in the wrong direction. The research on Lyme disease is fairly recent, sparked in the mid-1970s after a cluster of children around Lyme developed fever and aches. They were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis—a peculiar diagnosis for so many children in one place. Their parents searched for an explanation, and eventually Allan Steere, a doctor at Yale, figured out that they suffered from an infectious disease. The fact that they all came from a rural part of the state suggested that an insect or some other animal had delivered the infection. In 1982, Willy Burgdorfer, an entomologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discovered corkscrew-shaped bacteria in black-legged ticks from Long Island. He exposed the bacteria to serum from people with Lyme disease and discovered that their antibodies swarmed around the microbes. That was a sign that these bacteria—which would later be named Borrelia burgdorferi after him—were the cause of Lyme disease.
Since Burgdorfer’s discovery, Lyme disease has spread relentlessly. New York and other northeastern states started recording new infections in the eighties. In the Midwest, Lyme disease came to light around the same time in Wisconsin and began radiating out from there. Today it can be found as far west as California, as far south as Virginia, and to the north across the border into Canada. Each year, 38,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition. The list of symptoms includes fever, aches, fatigue, and, if left untreated for a length of time, arthritis, heart arrhythmia, and neurological damage. Lyme disease is rarely fatal.
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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