Major cities along the East Coast of the United States are now scrambling to adapt to, not necessarily prevent, climate change.
With recent research showing that sea levels are rising quickly along the East Coast, major hubs such as Boston and New York City have been busy thinking up ways to ensure they won’t end up underwater. To combat the environmental threat, both cities have assembled action committees composed of scientists and government officials that will assess just what can be done.
The fear of flooding is particularly worrisome in Boston, a waterfront city that has multiple neighborhoods built on marshes and mudflats and that frequently experiences major storms.
Regardless of the ongoing national debate about climate change, Boston is calling the projected sea level rise a near-term risk. Projections range from 2 to 6 feet here by the end of the century, depending on how fast polar ice melts.
Add to that a hurricane storm surge, and some models show parts of Boston under 10 feet of water. Researchers have told the city that by 2050, that could happen as often as every two to three years.
To combat concerns, city officials have assembled a climate action plan that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to consequences of climate change such as rising sea levels by asking developers to build away from the waterfront.
One firm, Boston-based health care group Partners HealthCare, has kept the risk of flooding in mind while building a new hospital in the Boston Harbor. The developers have designated patient rooms to the upper floors of the building and have put mechanical equipment on the roof rather than in the basement where such gear is usually kept.
In New York, where sea levels are expected to rise around five feet by the end of the century, the city has created two panels that will advise New Yorkers on the issues of global warming.
The New York Times reports:
The two panels, which receive no pay, were convened by Mayor Bloomberg in 2008 to help fulfill the goals of his environmental agenda for the city, known as PlaNYC. James F. Gennaro, who chairs the council’s committee on environmental protection, said the legislation creates “an institutional government mechanism to assess the latest climate change science, plan for climate change impacts and implement adaptive strategies” and should serve as a model for other local and state governments.
The legislation broadens the responsibilities of the advisory bodies, including requiring the adaptation task force to create an inventory of potential risks to vulnerable populations like the elderly and low-income residents of industrial areas where flooding also raises the risk of toxic spills. It requires the scientific advisers to meet at least twice a year to review the latest climate change data and to update their projections every three years. The task force is then required to submit its recommendations a year after projections are released.
As Monica Brady-Myerov of NPR points out, more and more cities have adopted “resilience thinking,” giving adaptation the same priority it once did to prevention of climate change.