Emerging climate risks require not only local solutions, but also wider, regional responses, according to climate experts participating in a recent panel discussion on climate resilience.
In the post-Superstorm Sandy era, community-level solutions are necessary to defend New York neighborhoods against extreme weather, rising sea levels, and storm surges, said New York City Councilmember Mark Treyger, speaking on the Feb. 22 panel hosted by AdaptNY, the Online News Association, and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media.
“We have to really build smarter,” said Treyger, who represents Coney Island and other parts of south Brooklyn. He stressed local challenges, especially Sandy’s impact on public housing residents, some living in buildings still relying on temporary boilers, as well as the need for city government action. But Treyger and other members of the panel added that larger-scale solutions are also needed to help New York City and the metropolitan area become more resilient to extreme weather, like Sandy, which devastated New York, New Jersey and the region in October 2012.
“Climate change is a problem that individual governments cannot solve alone,” said Laura Tolkoff, an associate planner for energy and the environment for the Regional Plan Association. She posited the potential “regional implications” on the Northeast corridor of Amtrak and Metro-North commuter trains if large-scale flooding occurred: commuters in the entire metro area would be affected.
The panel, hosted by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and moderated by A. Adam Glenn, associate professor and founder of AdaptNY, focused on the risks associated with climate change and possible solutions to promote climate resilience. Several dozen attendees later participated in a hands-on workshop exploring how best to communicate with specific audiences about resilience, using human-centered design thinking to brainstorm and prototype ideas.
— Meral Agish (@meralagish) February 22, 2014
During the panel, Bill Ulfelder, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of New York, said, “Adaptation is ultimately local,” but federal, regional, state, city and borough level responses will also be necessary. He suggested a mix of engineered and “natural defenses” to promote resilience, like building sea gates, dunes and oyster reefs to protect against rising sea levels. “Nature has a role in making us more resilient and safer,” he said.
Treyger, who chairs the City Council’s new Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, said some Coney Island residents are still displaced from their homes more than a year after Sandy hit their waterfront community. He said the city needs a “Sandy czar” to organize an effective resilience plan on the local level, and has done a poor job reaching out to diverse communities regarding available Sandy assistance.
“I’ve seen more PowerPoint presentations and reports than progress,” he said. Indeed, an investigation by AdaptNY and Gotham Gazette last fall found a notable communication disconnect between City Hall and local community boards representing neighborhoods most affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Responding to a question from the audience, panelists agreed that addressing poverty and housing issues would help mitigate climate risks for low-income communities. Heating issues and unreliable temporary boilers at New York City Housing Authority developments, slow action and needed infrastructure repairs have been some of the main issues felt by low-income New Yorkers, Treyger said.
“We need to have a plan in place to replace [temporary boilers] with reliable, sustainable, permanent boilers,” the councilmember said in an interview with AdaptNY following the panel discussion. He also said the impetus for creating the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency came from constituents voicing concerns and asking questions about the Sandy recovery and rebuilding process. “We need greater oversight at the City Council level to deliver those answers to the public,” Treyger said.
— Elijah Stewart (@EJ_Stewart) February 22, 2014
Katherine Bagley, a reporter with InsideClimate News, said journalists covering climate change must strive to tell the human side of the story. But news industry pressures can weigh heavily on environmental journalists.
At a time when they are needed most, Bagley said reporters covering climate issues are often the first to be downsized. “To me that’s like cutting technology reporters in the middle of the dotcom bubble,” she said.
Despite the politicization of the issue, Glenn, the moderator, said most people could understand the risks associated with not preparing communities for extreme weather. “Climate is a very polarized issue in this country,” he said. “Adaptation is less so.”
Treygar will join members of the City Council Committees on Recovery and Resiliency and Public Housing for a public hearing on Feb. 27 in Coney Island to discuss the status of provisional heating systems at NYCHA developments installed in the wake of Sandy.
With reporting by Meral Agish, Nesh Pillay and Elijah Stewart.