Wednesday, August 17, 2011

US cities try to adapt to climate change

Wendy Koch in USA Today: Adapt to climate change? While some members of Congress debate its scientific validity, U.S. cities are going beyond efforts to mitigate climate change with lower greenhouse gas emissions. They're at the forefront of an emerging trend: adaptation.

"It's a new field," says Brian Holland, director of climate programs at ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA. His association launched a Climate Resilient Communities program last year to help cities study effects of climate change and finance ways to adapt. Nearly 600 local governments, representing one-fourth of the U.S. population, have signed on.

As extreme weather continues to sweep the nation and Americans struggle to deal with heat waves and flooding, Holland says many are convinced they need to act. "We're already seeing consequences of climate change," he says, "and those will only intensify."

"We're mostly at the study and planning phase," says Michelle Mehta, co-author of the "Thirsty for Answers" report this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which looks at how a dozen U.S. cities will be affected. Mehta says some projects meet immediate needs but will also help cities cope with problems exacerbated by climate change. Among them are elevating homes and rebuilding levees in New Orleans, which is steadily sinking. Other projects are more tailored to climate change:

In Chula Vista, Calif., new waterfront buildings will be required to have higher foundations because of a projected 12- to 18-inch rise in sea levels in the next 40 years. This city in San Diego County approved a climate plan in May that also calls for more shade trees and "cool" or reflective roofs.

In Chicago, where flooding is predicted to worsen, residents can get rebates for putting rain barrels, compost bins and native plants in their yards. It's also planting trees and replacing impervious surfaces such as concrete sidewalks with permeable materials to allow rain to seep into the ground. It has more than 600 green roof projects completed or underway. "We're making the city resilient to climate changes right away," says Karen Weigert, the city's chief sustainability officer....

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Flood gates and new pumps under construction near Lake Pontchartrain end of Orleans Canal to prevent storm surge coming in to city via canal again. Photo by Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

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