Cities and Climate After Sandy: How Should We Prepare?

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Published on January 29th, 2013  |  Discuss This Article  

Watch Cities and Climate Change Panel on PBS. See more from MetroFocus.

The clean-up continues in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — and so does the debate: how should hurricane-prone coastal cities prepare for the next Sandy, not to mention all the smaller storms whose surges sea-level rise will put on steroids? Are monster seawalls with mechanical doors the answer? Migrating cities away from the shore? Could salt marshes and oyster reefs blunt some of the waves? And is the devastation of Sandy obscuring other climate change impacts — like heat waves and disease — that could be nearly as damaging to urban populations as superstorms?

All these topics were up for spirited discussion last Thursday at the first of this spring’s Nature Conservancy/New York Academy of Sciences’ “Nature and Our Future” panel discussions. Long-time New York Times environmental reporter and current Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin moderated the panel — “Adapting Cities to Climate Change in a Post-Sandy World” — and Yahoo! News just posted an excellent summary of the event’s high-level messages. But here are some money quotes from the panelists:

“By 2080, there will be a 50-fold increase in probability that storms will flood New York City every two years…Managed retreat has to be started now and spread out over the next 100 years — we can’t do this like Katrina.” –Klaus Jacob, Columbia University

“We could be on a pathway to changes that are impossible to adapt to…We need to ope to the possibility of surprises regarding climate change — the evidence is increasing that we could end up in an outcome outside what models are predicting.” –Radley Horton, Columbia University

“We have the opportunity to build a more resilient city in the wake of Sandy, and as the Cuomo Report indicated, New York should promote natural infrastructure like wetlands as part of that.” –Nicole Maher, senior coastal scientist, The Nature Conservancy

“Don’t just fight the last war when it comes to climate change and cities. There are other things that are going to matter besides sea-level rise, like heat waves and disease–and those aren’t going to be just developing world problems.” –Rob McDonald, senior scientist for sustainable land use, The Nature Conservancy

“We need the kinds of tools that The Nature Conservancy uses to save farmland–like easements and mitigation banks–in order to help people who want to move away from these storms. What if we said that the community will buy the land and you can be renters — if a storm hits, you have to move? We haven’t even begun to think about these tools.”  –James Russell, Bloomberg News architecture critic and author, The Agile City

Two more panels are slated for this spring in the “Nature and Our Future” series — including February 28th’s “From Where Will the Water of the Future Come?“, which will feature the Conservancy’s Brian Richter and Adam Freed as well as Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, Manu Lall of Columbia University, Brooke Barton of Ceres, and author Fred Pearce as moderator. If you’re in the New York City area, please plan to join us at the Academy for these exciting discussions.

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