February 22, 2014 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Adam Glenn, panel moderator and AdaptNY founder
Councilmember Mark Treyger, New York City Council Committee on Recovery and Resiliency
Bill Ulfelder, The Nature Conservancy, New York program
Laura Tolkoff, Regional Plan Association
Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News
The video timestamp is included to make it easier to locate material within the accompanying videos.
[00:00.00] Adam Glenn: The issue of climate is obviously an enormous one, and we couldn’t do it justice in even a whole day. So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to touch on some of the most critical outlines of the problem focusing again on this idea of adapting to the risks of climate change.
[00:27.22] Adam Glenn: One quick note we are, we’re expecting Councilman Treyger to join us, but I spoke to Dr. Gornitz this morning and unfortunately she had an accident, a fall, and called me this morning to say that she apologizes to all of us that she won’t be here. However, she did give me something to share with you, some basic data, a presentation, actually a copy of which is in your packet, and I’ll just walk through some of the numbers to kind of bring home some of the risks that we’re facing.
[01:00.15] Adam Glenn: And we are facing a crisis. We know that the risks of climate change are upon us, particularly in the New York area, here felt what that would be like with Superstorm Sandy. I mean it means a number of things, the risks, a whole range of them, drought, heat waves, and so on, extreme weather of various kinds, but for New York and much of the region as we’ll here from our panel, it really means flooding. And that can be from a combination of sort of the chronic problem of sea level rise, ongoing over many years, and we’ll look at some of those numbers, but also storm surge from events like Sandy.
[01:43.08] Adam Glenn: Now I just want to say because I think it’s important and the panelists might address this themselves that we don’t want to ignore the importance of what’s usually referred to as mitigation, which is stopping the things that we might be doing that create climate change in the first place. Consumption, industrial processes, our automobiles, etc.
(Five minutes) Great, so Councilman Treyger will be with us in five. Thank you.
So we don’t want to ignore that part of the equation but for today and for the purposes of this workshop what we’re focusing on is the risk that we believe is coming our way and what are communities can do and our design challenge, how to involve them.
[02:27.22] Adam Glenn: The presentation, the panelists, real experts, as Reggie said, pay attention to what they’re saying, really make note, for today, for today’s process and brainstorming, but for beyond. I mean these are real, very important resources and sources for you. It’s going to be a Q&A format. I’ve asked them to not really present anything, but we’ll ask a series of questions that we’ll hopefully get at some of these concerns. I want to encourage your questions as well. So we have a mike that we can pass around and some time before the coffee break. A good solid hour.
Think also not just about what they’re saying but who they are, as individuals, vey kind of them to be here on a Saturday, we can think that first of all. But second of all, who they represent, who they’re organizations are, who they work with. I mean these constituencies of theirs are representative of what we want to get at in the brainstorming today. We’ll be talking about folks just like them to some extent. And in your work you may be addressing folks like them as well so consider that.
[03:50.23] Adam Glenn: By the way, I didn’t mention this when I reviewed the packet, but there are full bios, some fuller than others, I apologize, in my editing, but there are bios there and also our intrepid team of reporters is going to be posting links, not only those bios, but links to other material, bios and their websites on our live coverage page. So there’s plenty more there.
[04:24.12] Adam Glenn: I’ll introduce them in order now. I’ll skip over Councilman Treyger. So Bill Ulfelder here—thank you for being here—is the executive director of the Nature Conservancy’s New York program. Laura Tolkoff is with the Regional Plan Association, and you are an associate planner there. And then, Katherine, or Kat, (Bagley) as I wrote on her badge there, since I took liberties with her name, is with InsideClimate News and she, as you’ll see in her bio, covers the climate issue among many others, and InsideClimate News won a Pulitzer for it, not its climate coverage, although it’s related energy coverage, this past year. So they do a very fine job.
[05:25.10] Adam Glenn: Also before we start with the panel I just wanted to share with you one…One thing I wanted to share with you for a moment was what can be done with one single project. This is kind of a response to this challenge of climate change resilience. I’ll just spend a moment on this here. This site that I brought up before, AdaptNY. So essentially just a journalistic response to this, essentially a kind of one-person operation, although I’ve gotten a lot of help with this, so a minimally resourced operation here. And I just want to point out as one possible solution that I’ve tried to create hopefully to help inspire a little bit.
[06:14.29] Adam Glenn: The idea basically of this site in a nutshell is kind of three prongs. One is curation. The other is documentation. And the third is conversation. Curation which today unfortunately there’s an ad in there, “My mother has four noses” I’m intrigued all ready but. Along the right rail of this site and often dominating the homepage is the coverage that exists elsewhere, both news coverage and the kind of give and take that you see on social media. I focus on that. So bringing the existing conversation to the fore.
But in order to better inform that conversation, I also bring in primary source documentation wherever possible and you can see an example, there are many. I’ll bring this up since it relates to what Dr. Gornitz would talk about. We have a partner, a news developer named DocumentCloud, and they’ve allowed us to create not only these, in effect, very readable PDFs of reports and other governmental and organizational information, but we’re piloting a kind of innovative approach that allows the public, the user of this site to comment on the documents and to engage in a give and take around the documents.
[07:37.00] Adam Glenn: The conversation part arises out of those two, curation and documentation, allows us to say, let’s talk about this. Let’s keep this in the public fore, but let’s do it in such a way that it’s informed, an informed discussion. Because as you know a lot of online discussion is let’s say less informed. Okay. And that’s an important part of this equation. Now we don’t ignore the sort of old-fashioned shoe leather reporting that journalists do. And we had one other partner, I’ll mention this very briefly, Gotham Gazette, some of you may know is a public watchdog site in New York. And we partnered with them this fall along with a team of reporters to investigate how City Hall and the Bloomberg Administration was actually communicating its climate resilience policy at the neighborhood level, in effect with community boards, which is part of what Councilman Treyger will talk about.
[08:30.19] Adam Glenn: And what we found is they really weren’t. The communication was broken. And that generated a lot of discussion and conversation, hopefully informed conversation. So you know this workshop is part of this process as well. The idea is how do we, as you’ll try today, how do we engage our public and users, our constituency, in a discussion about this. And today’s workshop with the help of the reporters that are doing the live coverage, we’ll gather all this material, share it, it will echo through our conversation hopefully to a greater or larger extent over the coming days and weeks and just help foster this.
[09:12.08] Adam Glenn: So I just wanted to share that as one possible approach. The panel, however, what we want to do is, we want to get at some basics here for your kind of edification. You know, why does climate adaptation and resilience matter? Who does it matter to? And who does it matter most to and why? And what have we done in the past, in various institutions or individuals done, to try to engage people, try to involve people that it is important to and what’s worked and what’s failed? Okay. So those are the kinds of things we want to try to get at with the panel.
[09:52.21] Adam Glenn: Now I’ll do one last thing and then shut up. Well, I’ll ask my questions and shut up. Since Dr. Gornitz wasn’t able to come, let me just share with you very quickly something of her presentation. Let’s see if I can find it here…
[10:31.10] Adam Glenn: This is research that Dr. Gornitz did with a number of other climate researchers, including some folks at Columbia as well as CUNY people. These reports are available, what she pointed out here, well, you’ll see a couple of images that will bring back what happened during Sandy, the flooding in Hoboken in the PATH station and Brooklyn’s, the onslaught in Brooklyn. What happened as a result was that Mayor Bloomberg convened for a second time a panel to look at climate change, the New York City Panel on Climate Change. And that panel was meant to create some scientific grounding for what was to come in New York. There are links here and we can share this presentation online as well as the links. In addition, the mayor put together a group to come up with recommendations. So there’s kind of what are the risks and then what is our response. Both of those reports were issued in June of last year. They can be found on the AdaptNY site on the documents section.
[11:46.05] Adam Glenn: But I just want to share with you what Dr. Gornitz was going to tell you. And I’m sure she could do it in a much more thorough and eloquent way. But what I just want to point out is what is projected for rising sea levels in New York City, just to give you an idea. There are three ranges over a period of time, low, middle and high. And if you just work with the middle range you can see that by the 2020s sea level rise projected for New York City is four to eight inches. If you go out to the 2050s in our lifetime, 11 to 21 inches. In other words the baseline level of the water that surrounds us on the many islands of New York City and hundreds of miles of coastland is going to go up as much as a foot or more, and that’s the middle range estimate. And you can see from the numbers that it gets more extreme as the years go out. So for your kids and grandkids.
[12:45.04] Adam Glenn: The other thing that she was going to share with you here was what that means in terms of what I mentioned, not just the sort of chronic issue of sea rise but the more acute issue of what happens during a storm. The sea levels are already higher. A storm comes along like Sandy, and you can see—and again these are in your presentation packets, your folders—but if you look at some of the numbers…
If you look at 2050, for example, the middle range, the chance of a hundred year flood, which is essentially what happened with Sandy, goes from the baseline of one percent to 1.7 to 3.2. That means three times the likelihood of a hundred year flood based on that middle range. Oh councilman, please join us.
[00:09.20] Adam Glenn: So you could see from what Dr. Gornitz was going to share that you have two things colliding in effect, and New York is where they’re colliding. The sea level rise and then the increased chance of storm surge because of sea level rise and the events themselves. Okay.
This is a little less visible but starts to give you an idea of the flood risk here using some of those ranges we just looked at. And unfortunately councilman, South Brooklyn doesn’t look so hot.
[00:42.00] Mark Treyger: No. It does not.
[00:43.25] Adam Glenn: So we’ll talk about that in a moment. So again, my apologies for Dr. Gornitz, and we’ll report back how she’s doing later in the day, but please do look at this and most particularly at the two reports, the scientific report that shows this data and the response report, which is the climate resilience report that’s available as well.
This is not just New York City by the way. I’m showing you New York City. As we’ll here from some of the panelists hopefully, this is regional. So it’s the larger metro area, it’s the region and the coastline, the Atlantic seaboard. It affects areas also on the West Coast, and around the world. I mean these sea level rise and storm, extreme weather event issues are common in many locations. They all face a similar risk.
So I am going to just briefly introduce Councilman Treyger. Again his bio is in here, but what I wanted to ask as we go into the questions here is you know these kinds of risks, but what in particular, as we try to think about what it means for individual communities, what are some of things that you’re facing and your constituents are facing in South Brooklyn? Both near term and longer term. And what kinds of things, this whole day, as I mentioned to you, is about adaptation and resilience, what kinds of things do you see can be done at your community level, and then we’re going to broaden out to the metro area and regionally. You take a moment.
[02:24.08] Mark Treyger: Good morning. Thank you for having this very important and informative event. And thank you for having me all the way out from southwest Brooklyn. My name is Mark Treyger. I am a newly elected city councilperson represents the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island and Sea Gate, which is the 47th district. I’ll begin just first saying that last year, for the last eight years actually, I was a high school teacher. I taught history, U.S. government and world history. And last year during the course of my campaign, I had many students from my classroom from Coney Island who were displaced by Sandy.
That’s why I took my campaign very serious. And there were some in the previous administration who, when they opened up the Coney Island beaches, they were saying, oh we’re back. The Cyclone’s running. The beaches are open. Coney Island is back. And I knew that we were not back until our families came back. Hundreds of people were displaced. Some are still displaced now. Our vital health clinic, the Ida G. Israel health clinic in the west end of Coney Island is still shuttered where people don’t have access to health services. Our infrastructure in southwest Brooklyn is in dire need of repairs.
[03:44.20] Mark Treyger: So those stories of my students became my campaign theme. And I still keep in touch with them even after the election. We are facing major, major issues still over a year post Sandy. Just the other night I hosted a meeting with Build It Back, which is a city formed group that I guess morphed from the rapid repairs program and we did a presentation just to give people an update about the status of people’s applications. Again Build It Back is a program for people whose properties were affected, and they give you options and so forth.
In the zip code 11224, which covers Sea Gate, Coney Island, almost up to Brighton Beach, they claim that only 876 people applied to Build It Back to get assistance from the government when I know thousands of people were impacted and affected. And that’s a dismally low number. And I kind of stopped them during their presentation to say, how is this possible? And that will lead I guess to a separate discussion from the panel. But just to point out from a micro-level, from a neighborhood level, standpoint, we have much work to do.
[05:07.10] Mark Treyger: My first week in office, during the first snowstorm, there’s been a series of storms already, I have actually the most NYCHA buildings in all of Brooklyn. And one of my NYCHA developments, O’Dwyer Houses, which still has a temporary boiler because their boiler was flooded by Sandy, so NYCHA installed a temporary boiler outside the complex in a wooden enclosure, broke down. So when you had temperatures outside close to zero degrees and you had snow falling, hundred of families had no heat, no hot water, some for two days.
The tenant association president of O’Dwyer is a retired electrician. She went down to the boiler site herself. And she found out that on the compressor part of the boiler, it says that it should not operate below 40-degree temperatures. So whoever installed these things I question their, I question the practice. But those are some of things we’re still dealing with. These boilers break down. One day they’re working. One day they’re not.
[06:12.29] Mark Treyger: And after I won the election I proposed that the Council create a new committee to deal with the recovery process and to try to make our city more resilient moving forward. And not only did they agree to form the committee, I am the chairman of this new committee. It’s called Recovery and Resiliency. And my first hearing will be on Feb. 27th and it will not be at City Hall. It will actually be in Coney Island for the first time in history because my message to people in my district is you don’t have to go to City Hall to be heard. City Hall’s coming to you. I’m very proud of that. And it’ll be a joint hearing with the public housing committee chaired by Councilmember Ritchie Torres to discuss issues as far as these temporary boilers and the impact Sandy had on NYCHA, where many people are still deeply affected by that storm. So I thank you for this opportunity to speak today.
[07:07.10] Adam Glenn: And certainly questions from the crowd. You had something you wanted to ask? Please.
Audience member question: I’m wondering about the makeup of residential, like how much is residential, how much are landlord owned? I’ve not spent a whole lot of time in that area so I don’t have a very good understanding of whether these are a lot of individual residents owning places or if there’s a lot of landlords involved.
[07:36.01] Mark Treyger: In particular dealing with Coney Island and Sea Gate, Sea Gate is predominantly homeowners. It’s a gated community, which has it’s own complexities to it because there are certain things the government will not fund in a private, gated community, similar to Breezy Point. Coney Island is a mixed bag. You obviously have a lot of NYCHA complexes, but you also have in the past decade, through a series of rezonings, they have allowed for more private developments so you do have NYCHA buildings. You still have bungalows, like these small homes on the west streets of Coney Island. But you are seeing more and more condominiums being built, or more cooperatives being built. And cooperatives have their own share of problems because FEMA does not recognize coops as residences. They see them as corporations because technically when you buy a coop you’re buying shares in a building. So that creates a whole set of problems because how can they get reimbursed and how can they get help. So FEMA has not been helpful to coops. It’s as if Washington, D.C. doesn’t know what coops are. But Build It Back is supposed to be helpful through the city’s HPD department. But we are a mixed bag. So it’s a mixture of, you have public housing, you do have some, I would say more apartment rentals you might have at Bensonhurst, Gravesend neighborhood. But you have more condos being built and some bungalows. And Sea Gate is predominantly a homeowner community.
[09:17.29] Adam Glenn: Let me just ask, and then we’ll come to additional question from the audience and welcome any other questions, so you know, one of the things we’re hearing is how localized the problem really is. We think sometimes about climate change on a global scale, and I think Alexander Washburn, who was the chief urban designer for the city planning department under Bloomberg, said that climate change is global, but adaptation is local. And so the kinds of things that the councilman is talking about are the real work of adaptation and sometimes ignored. And also as he alludes to, there’s sometimes conflicting arenas in which solutions are raised. One is at a local level, and you might have a city level, we’ll talk about region. Although there’s no regional government in a sense, state, regional, and then federal. So all of those can work together but often they don’t.
The quick question I wanted to ask too was another area of conflict besides those multiple arenas which you might address and others may as well here, is the conflicting timeframes for these responses too. Because obviously you have the example you used of families without heat. I mean you can’t set up a committee and research it for months. You have to help them out immediately and in the wake of Sandy there was a need for immediate emergency response, but then if you build it back to the way it was the risk remains, and worsens because we know the risk is getting greater.
[10:58.15] Adam Glenn: So how do you deal with those longer timeframes and all of these conflicts at a local level and then maybe we can broaden this too, and I know there’s a question as well, but to what’s happening more regionally?
[11:10.15] Mark Treyger: That’s a great question because that was my immediate question when we experienced the problem at O’Dwyer Houses. I asked folks from NYCHA, it’s been over a year since Sandy, what’s the plan to replace these temporary boilers?
[00:00.00] Mark Treyger: And some folks are, I guess, afraid to speak on the record but off the record I’m hearing that FEMA obviously is setting forth regulations, and also HUD, I’m sorry, and that’s a whole other thing by the way, navigating these regulations because that is a whole other ballgame. You need experts just to follow compliance.
They’re saying that they will not replace the boiler in the basements where they flooded during Sandy, which is understandable, but it’s been over a year. What’s the plan? You cannot subject these families to these unreliable boilers that they’re breaking down. One day they’re working. One day they’re not. So the purpose of this hearing really is to get NYCHA on the record and to try to forge some sort of an immediate action plan. I’ve heard estimates that they’re paying $50,000 a month in rent per temporary boiler. Almost all my NYCHA buildings are running on temporary boilers and it’s not just my district.
[01:03.12] Mark Treyger: Councilmember Carlos Menchaca represents Red Hook. Many of his NYCHA buildings are running on temporary boilers. Councilmember Donovan Richards from the Rockaways also has the same problem. And I’ve heard reports from them as well that these boilers are unreliable. So we are trying to force the administration to tell us what’s the plan. And I personally, I’ve come up with my own recommendations already in the first month in office, I’ll be honest with you, we need a Sandy czar. We need a Sandy point-person to connect these dots. There are so many different pieces to this puzzle that someone needs to kind of bring this all together. I think that we’re lacking that right now at the local level.
[01:44.25] Adam Glenn: And as a matter of fact, the chief Sandy point-person has just stepped down from the city, and a Ford-funded resilience czar is waiting appointment for the city as well. Ford Foundation has given a number of cities around the country and globally millions of dollars to focus on this resilience issue.
Let’s broaden it a little bit although I think we will want to come back to some of the concerns that you raised, did you have a question specifically?
[02:13.14] Audience member: real quick. Where is this meeting on February 27th?
[02:17.12] Mark Treyger: Yes. It’s at Carey Gardens Community Center. It’s at 2315 Surf Ave. It’s at 10 a.m. 2315 Surf Ave. 10 a.m. on the 27th. Carey Gardens Community Center.
[02:35.14] Adam Glenn: So for all the reporters in the room, you hear that. You should be there. Let’s broaden this out though with Bill and Laura and Kat. As I was saying there’s really no regional governance and yet there are regional issues around this problem, the risk of climate and the resilience response. What are some of the things that we see in terms of regional risks that are particular? And then I can see—good, you guys are coordinating. That’s good because I didn’t do that for you—but we have two regional experts here. Let’s take advantage of that.
So what are some of the risks? And then what are some of the things that might happen on a regional adaptation level that might help, and including for communities like southwest Brooklyn? Laura?
[03:25.29] Laura Tolkoff: Actually I’d like to take a step back and tell you a little bit about RPA, and about what we’re doing on this topic for some context. Regional Plan Association is a 90-year old non-profit organization that works in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, specifically in 31 counties of the New York metropolitan region. We have been working since Sandy on a number of issues. Some of them are engaging on federal policy and legislative issues with our friends like the Association of State Flood Plain Managers, the Nature Conservancy, etc. So we’re working on things related to flood insurance to Army Corps policy and benefit cost analyses to helping cities sort of mix-and-match funds across different agencies, working with FEMA, etc. So I won’t get too into the weeds on that.
[04:22.25] Laura Tolkoff: We’re also working to implement Rebuild By Design, which hopefully you’ve heard of, which is a competition that came out of the president’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce. We’re one of four organizations in the region tasked with shepherding that process and the purpose of Rebuild BY Design is to bring innovation and design and planning into the Sandy-affected region. So in early April we should expect to have sort of winning designs and winning teams selected to move forward for implementation in specific communities around the region, including, some of the places they’re working now include Red Hook, Asbury Park, New Jersey, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Southshore, Nassau County, etc.
[05:08.26] Laura Tolkoff: We also actually immediately after Sandy utilized some of our existing networks and infrastructure around the region, supported by the HUD, DOT, EPA sustainable communities initiative to really try and pivot from immediate disaster recovery concerns like what contractor do I use, things like that, to thinking about building back better, so building resilience. So I don’t know if we ever defined resilience today but I work with the understanding that it’s not just…(video cuts out)
[05:54.24] Laura Tolkoff: So what we try to do is work with local planners around the region to try to do some scenario planning to kind of pivot from immediate disaster recovery to forward thinking, long-term rebuilding. And I think you know, hopefully during today, you’ll talk a little bit about scenario planning or visit our website to see some of work that we’ve done on it as a way to talk about and visualize climate change as well. So okay, back to the original question. Let’s see if I can remember all of it.
[06:27.03] Laura Tolkoff: So regional risks. I think some of the presentation there showed certainly at least in the New York area what sort of sea level rise impacts we’re going to see, but we also really have to think about not just adaptation on the local but really thinking regionally. So climate change is a problem that individual governments cannot solve alone. We just don’t have the capacity to do it. And also there are also certain effects that are going to have very regional implications.
So when a segment of the northeast corridor where Amtrak and MetroNorth all operate goes under water it’s not just that segment that goes down, right. So it’s going to impact your whole commutershed for the New York metro region. It’s going to impact things like food security. So for instance, Hunt’s Point food market goes down it’s a real problem for the whole metro.
[07:19.21] Laura Tolkoff: We also have to think, and RPA is working to think very thoughtfully about this, how do we utilize our footprint more effectively? We’re seeing that it’s going to shrink and that we’re going to need to move inland and upland. And so how do we think about housing all the people that are going to be affected by this and that really has to take a regional approach. Not just in the immediate aftermath of a disaster where you have to house people and give them vouchers to move certain places. I actually worked for HPD when the storm hit so I’m very familiar with this. It has a lot of regional implications for how we organize ourselves in the footprint of our region.
[08:10.03] Adam Glenn: Bill do you wan to pick up on that and talk…(video cuts out)…thinking about the Nature Conservancy
[08:19.03] Bill Ulfelder: Sure. So great to be here. I think, I mean these are all very important points and for us, one of the things I think about after Sandy, so on the one hand there’s still a lot going on to clarify information and distribute funds and build back smarter and take a regional approach. The things that I take heart in are, so first of all, the most important elected official in the State of New York, Governor Cuomo, is no longer talking about is there or is there not climate change. It’s, this is real. We have to address it. And that is a huge change, and that’s very important.
And the second is, which I think is true, and it goes to this point, and I really believe this, that adaptation is ultimately local and we’re going to have to have a federal, state, tri-state or multi-state, and city and borough and neighborhood approach. It will play out on all of those. What we’re focused on at the Nature Conservancy and one of the key things I’d like to leave with you all today as you go through this is nature has a role in making us more resilient and safer.
[09:25.27] Bill Ulfelder: What we often hear about are engineered solutions, and this was the other big change from my perspective was immediately in the wake, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy everybody was talking about this sea gate, you know, this thing that was supposedly going to protect the entire city from the next big storm. And that conversation went away in a matter of weeks. And because through the governor’s 2100 commission there was this analysis of how do we look at New York State as a whole and make it more resilient.
And there was an appreciation that this is, there’s no silver bullet. There’s not a simple, singular solution to this. This is going to take a lot of different solutions in different places under different circumstances, and it’s going to be a mix of engineered solutions, some things like perhaps modest sea gates in places and walls, but also there is a lot of natural infrastructure in this city. New York is one of the greenest cities in the United States actually.
And so if you think about dunes, wetlands, restoring oyster reefs, mussel beds, parks, those are all things that help make New York more resilient, and that has to be part of the mix. So it’s not an either or, it’s, how do we mix together these things of built infrastructure and natural areas. We’re blessed regionally in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York with a lot of natural infrastructure or natural defenses as we say. So a lot of these solutions, whether they be regional or hyperlocal, it’s a great opportunity to think about these natural defenses. And they bring all these co-benefits like clean air, clean water, places to recreate, access to waterfront.
I mean part of the reason, the reason the city was founded here was because of its proximity to the ocean and it had the best harbor in the new world. So how do we still take advantage of that, but also make people safer and the quality of life here better.
[11:15.12] Adam Glenn: And again you’re welcome to add questions into the mix. But there’s one from me, one of the things that Laura mentioned was, I don’t know, you used the word retreat, I think you might of, and of course Mayor Bloomberg was very adamant about New York, we’re not going to retreat, and however you take that, the reality is that…(video cuts out)
…face of this danger, and so one of the questions that comes to mind when we talk about green solutions is some of the places where it would make sense to have that kind of buffer zone are places where people live. So what, and I’m sure you’ve thought about this a lot, what are some of the solutions that might, are there solutions and what are they that might allow for that combination of human habitation and a green buffer?
[12:15.29] Bill Ulfelder: Right, and ultimately and again, I think everybody here has great or important things to say about this. It’s going to be a mix long-term. Right now there are places where there is voluntary relocation. So the Nature Conservancy is working with the city, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers out on Staten Island where there are more than 400 households that have said, we’re out of here. Oakwood Beach, Staten Island. And it wasn’t Hurricane Sandy. Even before Hurricane Sandy at a full moon high tide, there was water in the neighborhood. It was just sort of Sandy was the last gas. And so the governor, where Mayor Bloomberg has said no retreat, the governor has said we’re going to begin a program to buy people out who are voluntarily leaving.
So you’re right Adam. The question is then how do you take a comprehensive approach and put resiliency back into a system where these folks are leaving. And that’s what were working on, is how to restore a wetland out there in which the neighborhood was built that can better absorb water and energy from future storms and provide greater protection for folks who remain a little higher upland.
[13:24.27] Bill Ulfelder: And over time, quite honestly, over time and as sea levels continue to rise, you showed the statistics and what will happen this century, people, there will be an increasing desire, I believe, to voluntarily relocate. I mean the way I think about is, you think okay that’s just a small percentage, the one percent of the one in 100-year storm to a three percent, but three percent out of 100 means if you have a 30-year mortgage you’re probably going to get smacked during the lifetime of your ownership of that property. And so now imagine that…
[00:00.00] Bill Ulfelder: You’ve got this huge investment and you’re likely going to be suffering the consequences of a major storm event and flooding on your property. Now we’re going to see a different dynamic and I think as sea levels rise and the risk and more storms come and the flooding you will see more people ready to voluntarily relocate. And we need to have the programs there to allow them to do that.
[00:23.04] Adam Glenn: Yeah and then Kat, but just to point out that yes, those numbers show that if 100-year storms are happening every few years the kinds of responses that we’re seeing in Councilman Treyger’s district where it’s taking a year or more to respond, well, if another assault happens or you’re not back to where you even were, you can see the effect. Kat, please.
[00:43.10] Katherine Bagley: I was just going to add I think one of the key points, one of the key factors in doing kind of regional, addressing this at a regional level is making sure that there’s interstate collaboration when you’re dealing, you know, a lot of the solutions deal with things like sea walls and dune systems, and kind of building back wetlands, but if you build, New York released a huge plan to build kind of a sea wall defense around their own boroughs, but the water is going to go somewhere. And if New Jersey doesn’t have a similar program or if they don’t work together to create a comprehensive protection system then one community’s going to get slammed while the other community is going to bear the brunt, kind of be protected.
[01:29.01] Mark Treyger: When I was teaching government I would always, I showed to my class Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke.” So they had all these experts saying, oh, they’re safe, they’re good, the best scientists, engineers are working on this. But at the end of the day Mother Nature has the last word. And these maps, I know particularly at least southern Brooklyn are somewhat also misleading because large portions of South Brooklyn was built over landfill. They were extended. If you look at the map of Coney Island back in the 1600s it’s an island. And thanks to Robert Moses and other folks they wanted to connect it when they built the Belt Parkway and so a lot of our land was built, and that land that was flooded during Sandy was built over landfill. And Mother Nature, as the governor pointed out correctly as well during his comments, wants her land back. She knows where she left her land.
[02:34.04] Mark Treyger: And I absolutely agree with the sentiment that you can’t just engineer your way out of this problem. You’re going to have to work with Mother Nature here and look to her to have some nature-based solutions. There already has been talk about, one of the areas that flooded in my district during Sandy was Coney Island Creek, which is that creek in between Coney Island and almost Bath Beach Bensonhurst. So there was this plan to build this gate between Kaiser Park, which is a park in Coney Island, and Dry??? park, which is a park to the north in Bath Beach. And they said well this gate will prevent flooding into the creek but first of all they’ll say that this gate will be high enough to cover 100-year storms.
Well, as pointed out, every year we’re beating a 100-year mark. We’re beating the 500-year mark. It’s just year after year you’re seeing Mother Nature put together these just major weather events and I just think that we have to really build smarter. I always point out to my students when I was teaching the Ikea in Red Hook. How many of you have been to that Ikea in Red Hook, right?
[03:49.07] Mark Treyger: So I always, people wondered, why isn’t there anything on the first level? Right, the escalators up? Well, they know what they’re doing. Because all their inventory is on the second level, not the first level, so they didn’t experience as much damage as other businesses did during Sandy. So the Swedes obviously have some good experience on dealing with coastal events.
[04:14.22] Adam Glenn: Just to add, and then to Bill. This Alex Washburn book is very good on this. I’ll see if I can dig out the title for you, but one of the things he talks about is that as a response if you know you flood you build up, but the problem he points out is that it’s not enough to make a city resilient really in the end. It has to be livable. And I don’t know about you, but if I was walking down a street in Brooklyn and all I saw was one garage or parking area after another as opposed to storefronts and homes my experience would be very different and less pleasant.
[04:48.10] Bill Ulfelder: Well I was just going to add to that or to the other examples, if all you looked at was a 10-foot sea wall, but essentially separated the community that settled there because of a love of ocean and place and water and you entirely lose that. That’s it. I mean we just did an analysis of Howard Beach, Queens and that’s a neighborhood where folks are not moving anytime soon so what would a mix of green and engineered solutions look like? It really is a hybrid approach that gives the community the greatest resiliency benefits, and there are different ways you could do it.
[05:25.27] Bill Ulfelder: I mean you could raise every house in that neighborhood and that would be about $900 million or you could invest in this kind of combined natural, engineered defenses which we estimated somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 to 300 million. So it’s a massive savings. Or you could do nothing and now people just pay massive amounts of insurance because all insurance premiums are going to go up now and you’re still going to get hit with these storms and every time they do you’re sort of awash in this lack of clarity and information about solving your problem and you don’t know exactly what you should do at that point. But what gives me optimism, and I have a 10-year old daughter, if I told her for her $10 allowance, she gets a dollar for every year of being around, that she would get a 400 percent return, you know quadruple what she gets, I think she would know that’s a smart investment. And resiliency investments have shown you get about $4 of avoided disaster mitigation for every resiliency and disaster risk reduction dollar invested. And that’s true of engineered or natural solutions.
[06:30.07] Bill Ulfelder: So 400 percent return. That beats the stock market folks. So it’s this American cultural thing of we want a return on investment. We don’t want to avoid costs. But at the end of the day what do you want to do? Do you want to spend $5 billion on resiliency and disaster risk reduction or do you want to spend $20 billion on disaster mitigation. And I think that’s partly what we need to be thinking about is really the opportunity that this poses to make it more livable and save us massive, massive amounts of resources.
[07:02.22] Laura Tolkoff: And just to add to that, that 400 percent return is actually on the low end. It’s much higher for flooding. One of the questions that I think Adam had asked us was where have we tried and failed to talk about climate adaptation and climate resilience. As a country we got into this habit of saying, coastal protection, flood protection, 100-percent you’re going to be fine. It’s sort of this false sense of security that we’ve gotten ourselves into and I think a major thing that we need to talk about or shift that discussion is just about risk reduction. It’s about continuing to live with risk and acknowledging that there’s still risk and making sure that people who are in places that are hazardous take responsibility for that.
And unfortunately that responsibility often comes at a cost. And so I think that one of the big shifts that I would hope you would think about is really changing that discourse from complete protection to risk reduction and that you’re still going to be living with risk.
[08:12.27] Adam Glenn: There’s a question in the back I think.
[08:17.11] Audience member (Katie Honan): I was just curious. I guess the question is for the councilman and anyone else who wants to chime in. How productive do you think the city’s been in the last year and half since the storm in actually creating real protective measures as opposed to plans and kind of discussion? Because it’s good to open the discussion about climate change and the hazards of living so close to the sea yet for many coastal communities there’s really been nothing done and hurricane season starts in June and I mean we were lucky last year that there wasn’t a hurricane, but I always point to the fact that Hurricane Irene was in 2011 and the city literally did nothing after Irene. In Rockaway Beach, they didn’t even fix the boardwalk that was damaged. It was damaged up until Sandy. So I mean how well do you think the city’s done in taking these really real threats and actually acting on it, instead of just talking about it?
[09:10.04] Mark Treyger: That’s a great question. That was actually one of the inspirations for my proposal with Carlos Menchaca to have this committee. To be honest with you, I’ll be very blunt. I’ve seen more PowerPoint presentations and reports than progress.
Everyone has a presentation. Everyone has a published report. (And the consultants get a lot of money too. -KH) The consultants who draft them up, sure. We really have not seen that much in terms of progress. Now what I’m hearing from folks at city government is there’s this web of regulations that we have to navigate through. And a lot of it has to do with what happened or what did not happen post-Katrina in New Orleans. That there was a lot of waste, fraud, abuse of monies in New Orleans post-Katrina and along the Gulf Coast and so they put, Congress put together a whole new set of regulations, to try to rout that out. But the problem is we’re spending a lot of time trying to navigate through these regulations and, to try to get progress flowing.
[10:25.14] Mark Treyger: Now the other thing that I mentioned in the Build It Back meeting in my district the other night was that in my district especially, a third of my constituents are Asian American. A large number of folks also speak Russian. I happen to be the first Russian-speaking member of the council history, which is pretty cool. I was born here. My parents are from Ukraine. (They’re doing well in the medal count too, in the Sochi games -Ulfelder) Well, they could do better in the country too.
So we have a very diverse community. People who speak Spanish, different languages, and I think the city did a very poor job in reaching those diverse communities. When I saw that number of 876 out of the thousands that are eligible for help, particularly people who living in Mitchell-Lama housing, people who live in coops, many folks had no idea about Build It Back or they were just discouraged because they haven’t seen progress for those who have applied.
When I had that meeting about 100 folks showed up, half those people never applied but are eligible to apply and they closed registration last October so now I’m urging the administration to reopen registration again and do a much better job with community-based organizations, nonprofits, houses of worship, elected officials, will work together, local newspapers, diverse newspapers, Russian papers, Chinese papers, you name it, to do a much better job of outreach, but as mentioned before that the director Ms. Mallon just stepped down recently.
[12:00.05] Mark Treyger: So to me we really at this point, and I know that he’s, the Mayor is still going through a series of transitions and we do have to give him some time here because it’s not easy. But at some point soon we really need to have a Sandy czar. We need someone to coordinate all the moving pieces to this puzzle because it’s not just Build It Back, it’s also our infrastructure. The sewer system, and I hear in other parts of the city, but at least in my district as well, it’s shot. It’s dead. Even if it drizzles it floods on Mermaid Avenue. And there’s a lot of sand that came in from the beaches into the sewers. And there’s major, major flooding. So we don’t even have to wait for a Sandy or half the strength of a Sandy. Any storm that hits our area, any type of rain storm we see flooding in Coney Island and Sea Gate and parts of Bath Beach.
So we have major, major infrastructure needs and we are still waiting for that money to flow down. We are still waiting for people to navigate this web of bureaucracies from HUD, from CDBG monies and so forth. There’s actually a meeting of the 24th in Sheepshead Bay High School, southern Brooklyn, with regards to the next round of monies we should be getting. I’m still trying to figure out where the first round of money is so to me I think City Hall needs to staff up on people who deal with compliance. To make sure that we’re navigating these bureaucracies and getting results on the ground.
[13:37.26] Bill Ulfelder: There’s something I’d just like to add based on sort of the focus you guys have today, and again I think this very important point about optimism and the challenge is the short-term and how much gets done and how it gets done. Longer term I’m very optimistic for…
[00:00.00] Bill Ulfelder: the reasons the councilman mentioned. So you know the minority is this country will be the majority in this century as we grapple with this issue, and African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans all disproportionately get this issue. They understand climate change. They go to the polls in ways that recognize this as an issue and are prepared to invest in it, including their own resources. I mean national polls, local polls all show that. The issue is there’s this window, the time it takes for the minority to become the majority, climate change and its impacts are raging. So longer term I think we’re going to be a much more savvy and sophisticated country about this, but it’s sort of what do we do in this generation where all of these effects are being felt now. That’s part of the challenge. But longer term I think this is a huge part, this diversity of our country and what that will mean for how we address the challenge.
[00:58.12] Adam Glenn: There are a number of questions, but just a couple of quick points and then if you can pass the mike back up in this general direction. I saw some numbers on Build It Back recently that something, less than two percent of the money has been spent 16 months later. There was like 1.5 percent. So there’s a disconnect there. And also I talked earlier about the investigation that my project AdaptNY did with Gotham Gazette and found a real disconnect between City Hall and the Bloomberg administration and the community boards. Sort of the most basic level of governance in the city and some would argue about their relative powerlessness, but they certainly should have a voice. And there was really a lot of discontent about the communication level so there’s a disconnect there certainly.
[01:50.29] Adam Glenn: There were a few questions here so let’s get at them. Use the mike and if you could just mention your name as well.
[02:05.07] Karen Workman: I’m Karen Workman and I work in the Financial District and that’s where this question comes from. We saw a major impact in the financial district and it’s a unique area compared to others. What is, what can be done?
[02:29.18] Laura Tolkoff: Well, so. The interesting thing about the Financial District is who’s there, right? You have a lot of corporations. Brookfield is a major property owner there. The way it’s played out is that the answers for different types of tenants are very different. Goldman Sachs can put in a microgrid and be fine except that none of the people can actually get to work, right, when your subway goes out. What you’re seeing is that companies can recover pretty quickly by investing huge sums of money in their own, either hazard mitigation through elevation or removing their data centers to a top floor, or by putting in a microgrid, which is, to island them from the rest of the electric grid or things like that.
[03:22.03] Laura Tolkoff: But the challenge is really getting them to invest in the community that’s there. And it’s a marathon not a sprint. So recovery and long-term rebuilding end up kind of blending together. So the question that we’re trying to think about is how do you improve the adaptive capacity of small and large businesses to think about what’s going to happen over the long-term and why they should really have a stake in their broader community in terms of rebuilding. The solutions are going to have to be tailored to different people but we would urge that we can’t just think that every building is an island because it doesn’t work that way. So, I don’t know if that totally answers your question.
[04:13.06] Adam Glenn: And we’ll do these, we have about 15 minutes so we’ll go through the questions and answers quickly and there are a couple of things, I particularly want to get to our media person there too because it’s a big part of what we’re doing.
[04:25.05] Kristen Chu (Sp?): Hi, I’m Kristen Chu, I’m a freelance writer from Staten Island, and it’s become very clear to me that you can’t address these issues without addressing poverty and the lack of affordable housing. And yet I rarely here this discussed. People who live on Staten Island, who were hit the hardest are in a neighborhood that on Staten Island we refer to as “below the boulevard,” below Highland Boulevard. Small houses, a very stressed neighborhood in many respects hit very hard by the recession, and very dependent on community ties to get by. Now we’re talking about either having them leave and the governor’s plan so far has been very generous, but it has been applied to very few people, and the rest of them are trying to figure out what to do next. They simply don’t have the resources to just pick up and leave.
[05:33.08] Adam Glenn: So your question is how do we address that…
[05:36.20] Kristen Chu: How do we address poverty and how do we integrate that into the plans?
[05:40.25] Adam Glenn: So that should be a short answer, addressing poverty…but it’s a very valid concern. Quick thoughts.
[05:49.12] Laura Tolkoff: Someone that I work with said you have your poverty and your crime and the problems that are your everyday vulnerabilities and then you have the water issue. And then if you don’t have the water issue, well, you fixed your poverty issue in that location because nobody is going to want to be there anymore. And if you fix the poverty issue, and the crime, and the housing, and all those everyday vulnerabilities, then you’ve also kind of fixed the flooding issue because everybody is more able to deal with stresses and shocks when they happen. So it’s really a challenge and we understand that.
So I was at a community meeting the other night at a public housing project I guess, that’s going to be flooded, it has been flooded, so many of the units already have been boarded up because of mold from Irene and then Sandy and then the blizzard. People are saying the only way we survived this is because we actually pulled together as neighbors and when we’re talking to them to imagine what could be there in the future it’s a challenge. We hear, “We love our backyard so can we have something that’s a raised duplex but we still have a front and a back so we can spend time with our neighbors in our yards and having that community.” And so when we’re thinking about relocating people it’s a really serious challenge because you’re right because your neighbors, and your family, and your community organizations, and your houses or worship are what you need to get by and so I think it’s critical that we address some of those everyday vulnerabilities because that’s what’s going to make you vulnerable when a disaster happens.
[07:34.22] Adam Glenn: And just as, did you want to add something…
[07:37.04] Bill Ulfelder: I just wanted to say, that’s a great question for Mayor De Blasio. And the reason is, these are the people he ran for, were the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. And I think one thing is, and again for you guys today, is the mayor, those are the people who he championed. They are absolutely the most vulnerable people in this city in a climate-changing world. And when it’s cold, they’re coldest. And when it’s hot, they’re hottest. They’re the slowest to evacuate. They’re the slowest to rebuild. So how do you make smart investments today that address the challenges of the most vulnerable New Yorkers? And I think that’s a really important question for this mayor and it’s something that, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t run on sustainability. He came to that later. My hope is that Mayor De Blaiso will recognize the power of resiliency in meeting the needs of the chronically disadvantaged that he championed during the campaign. It’s a central question.
[08:33.02] Mark Treyger: That really is the question. And particularly in my district, I’m sure in Staten Island and the Rockaways as well, and parts of Red Hook, similar issues have come up, and look at the evacuation plan for example. My committee will at some point very soon will analyze the city’s evacuation plan in light of the new FEMA flood maps, in light of the fact that whatever was zone B is now zone A. And zone A is like zone triple A now. We’ll see a lot more zone A.
Just to give you an example, the evacuation center for folks in southwest Brooklyn is a school near Boro Park called FDR High School. First of all, if you just do the math, it cannot accommodate the thousands of families that would have to be forced to evacuate there. Secondly, when the previous mayor issued the mandatory evacuation many folks did not evacuate do to many reasons. Number one was financial hardships. Also, there was some language barriers as well. And the order was given way too late. And particularly in the public housing buildings, many folks just did not leave and they were trapped with no working elevators, no electricity, no heat, well, during that time, well, actually, no it was already cold.
And so many folks went through a couple weeks. And so they had to go up the stairs to get them waters and supplies. So we will be analyzing this evacuation plan because to me in light of the new data that we have, I don’t know who they relied on previously for their evacuation plan. I remember those packets, get ready or be ready New York, and all that. Well, we were not ready and we’re still not ready right now.
So we will be, have to analyze all of these, all of these factors, but that, your question cuts to the heart of what we’re talking about here today.
[10:22.26] Adam Glenn: Just before we get to the next question, these are some really remarkable rick points that are being made as someone who covers this all the time. There’s a lot of depth here. But one of the things I want to invite you to think about as you listen is if you had a particular constituency, whether as a journalist, or your organization or whatever it might be, a reader, a voter, how would you deal with these issues? If you were focused on homeowners. If you were focused on the poor. If you were focused on ethnic communities, engineers, environmental activists, how, as you go out through the day, how would you share this information and one thing I think is an overarching concern is can you divide by those kinds of definitions, those kind of constituencies or are the solutions cross-cutting? And I think that’s what you’ll start to find is that you want to reach a particular constituency, think about that as you hear these responses, but how do you get broader than that as you find solutions.
There’s one question, and then I think we have time for two questions, and then I think, actually I want to get a question to Kat after yours because I want to turn it to the media side of this, is that okay? And then we’ll end with your question.
[11:41.05] Corinne Rosen: My name is Corinne Rosen. My question is it sounds like there’s a lot of boilers that still need to be replaced now. And it seemed that Mayor Bloomberg, really part of his agenda was to switch all the boilers in New York City over to natural gas and to move forward doing that. Knowing that natural gas has a larger effect on climate change than oil I want to know if the current mayor and councilmembers included are considering re-looking at that proposal and trying to switch those over to oil instead of natural gas.
[12:17.08] Mark Treyger: Well, I think you already exposed one of the questions that will be raised at the hearing because one of the things we plan to raise at the hearing on the 27th, is the environmental impact of these boilers. And so that’s a great question and hopefully I’ll get you more information after the 27th.
[12:37.07] Laura Tolkoff: Also, just a slight correction, Mayor Bloomberg did a good job of switching home heating fuels which are typically sort of these heavy, kind of dirty heating fuels to natural gas, which is actually cleaner than those oils…
[12:52.12] Corinne Rosen: Yeah, but just to add to that, he could have switched to the other oil that’s available. So there are two other oils that are available that burn just as clean, that burn as clean as natural gas and when you look at the full life cycle they actually burn cleaner.
[13:06.15] Adam Glenn: So you guys have something to talk about at the coffee break…
[13:08.05] Corinne Rosen: That’s a common misconception though…
[13:14.10] Adam Glenn: Let me turn to Kat, who has been sitting very patiently, although she had a question, which a good journalist would, earlier. But I want to ask this, I mean someone brought up, I think it was you councilman, New Orleans, the example of Katrina, and one of the things I wanted to point out is that a couple of years before Katrina, reporters of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, including one I know, an environmental reporter named Mark Schleifstein, wrote about the impending failure of the levees and the risks, and what they wrote about is exactly what happened. Unfortunately it was not ignored and it was too late but the other…
[00:00.00] Adam Glenn: The other thing that I want to point out is that although those reporters are still active in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune doesn’t really exist and certainly not in the form it did. And so the question I have for Kat as a journalist, and for many of you who are thinking about this, is how do we actually communicate these issues if as journalists and media and communicators we either share information that because of vagaries of our community are not really heeded, warnings that are not heeded, or because we are losing the platforms as many major cities are losing the news organizations or they’re shrinking so there’s fewer resources on the ground to cover these things.
So with that kind of challenge facing us, I’m wondering if you could talk about what you do, how you get these issues across, and what you see as possible models for other media or news organizations, if at all?
[00:59.16] Katherine Bagley: Sure. So it’s definitely true that we’re seeing a lot of the news outlets that traditionally would have covered this are slashing their staffs and usually the first people to go are environmental reporters, which is comical to me because to me that’s like cutting technology reporters in the middle of the dotcom bubble. You have an issue that is increasingly going to become part of people’s everyday lives and yet we have fewer and fewer people that have the expertise to be able to actually cover it and cover it well.
And often times what you’re seeing happen at news outlets is if a major climate story arises an editor just goes, you have a little bit of science background, cover this. But it’s a big topic and there’s a lot of complicated science around it. And so it’s definitely a challenge within the media today and so I think what you’re seeing within the past few years is as these mainstream news outlets are cutting their staffs, you’re seeing nonprofits like InsideClimate News pop up to kind of fill the void. And that’s good, but we often times have very targeted audience. Somebody that reads Huffington Post for example might not necessarily click to our site because they won’t know they’re interested in climate change.
[02:25.12] Katherine Bagley: You see often times, when you look at polling of what’s the priority for Americans, climate change is often way at the bottom. I think a Pew poll recently put it at 19th out of top 20 issues or something, and yet this is something that is going to affect everybody at some point, if it isn’t already. And it’s a challenge but I think that the nonprofits are starting to slowly help fill that, and doing that, we have, InsideClimate News, we publish our articles, but then we also have partnerships with other mainstream news outlets. So we’re able to get these stories published in places that other people might be looking at.
[03:18.20] Bill Ulfelder: Can I ask a question? Is part of it though, I mean my hypothesis is, and I’m curious Kat to hear your response, is less thinking about this as an environmental issue and thinking about it as the human issue or the planetary issue or the poverty issue or the sustainability issue. Is part of the challenge is what the polling data also show when you use an environment or conservation or those things up front you kind of, half the people will turn the page or click the button and move on, but if we’re framing this in ways that are about human well-being, alleviating poverty, allowing places to thrive economically, that puts it in a different light, and I think it’s genuine. Sort of re-framing that way, how important do you see that in all of this?
[04:09.29] Katherine Bagley: Yeah, I mean I think it’s very important. I think for a long time climate coverage was kind of all about the actual science behind climate change. What does each paper say? What does the research say? I think you’re finding that people are starting to expand the discussion. What impact is climate change going to have on your housing? What impact is it going to have on the economy? On the energy infrastructure of the country? On politics, which is kind of my focus?
I think you’re seeing that and I think because of that you’re seeing more and more people engaged because they’re able to say, okay this is, I might not be interested in direct climate science but I am interested in what’s happening in Washington, and what those conversations are. And also I think one of the most useful tools is actually telling the stories of the people. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a community newspaper or at a national newspaper or online only newspaper, actually being able to talk to people, see how they’re affected, see how they’re feeling, showing the human side of this issue is key.
That’s something, in November a colleague and I published a book called “Bloomberg’s Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York” and we went out to a lot of the communities affected by Sandy and talked to homeowners. Those were some of the most impactful parts of our book because these are people that are struggling with, do I leave, or do I stay and rebuild and spend thousands of dollars that I don’t have, but I love this community. And also not just the people that are affected but actually telling the stories of the people that are working on this issue. And they’re going through major struggles to try to get people to understand how big of a problem this is.
[06:05.29] Adam Glenn: So we have one question. Will do a quick wrap up with the panel. And then we’ll break…
[06:24.19] Adam Glenn: Why don’t I just ask the panel, I’ll just share one thought and then maybe 15 seconds, if there’s one thing that you think is really critical that we take away from this. One that I would share is this, the very fact that we’re talking about adaptation or resilience, climate is a very, very polarized issue in this country and globally. Adaptation is less so because it sort of assumes, okay something’s happening, as a community, as human beings, we have to deal with it. It’s not really about the environment in a sense it’s about us.
And it sidesteps that issue, the polarization of the climate issue to a great extent, and social science research has shown that. And that’s one of the reasons I focus on it and invite you to think about it that way as well.
Any final thoughts councilman before we wrap up on any of the issues we’ve touched on.
[07:24.11] Mark Treyger: I think it might have been Bill who mentioned that in the future we might see voluntary relocation from folks away from the coast further inland. To give you an example, Washington, D.C. is still debating the Biggert-Waters Act. This was a subsidy that was cut from insurance companies and what’s going to happen is, if this is not dealt with you’re going to see flood insurance rates, particularly in areas that are near the coast, not just here in New York but along the Gulf Coast and around the country, you’ll see flood insurance rates go up.
[08:13.17] Audience member: Because I cover flood insurance. Isn’t you can’t even buy flood insurance for certain areas because if you live in a high risk they’re just not going to insure you.
[08:23.16] Mark Treyger: Yeah, and you’re already seeing that. And banks will not even engage with you unless you get flood insurance, and some companies are not going to offer flood insurance. But for those, for example, in Sea Gate, at some point with these new FEMA flood maps, you will see the flood insurance rates skyrocket and it’s going to move from voluntary to forced relocations because there will be significant financial hardships to afford to live near the coast. So I do think that there will be significant economic factors for those who can relocate. Now for those who are living in NYCHA public housing, they are in a very difficult situation to relocate from the coast.
One of the things that I didn’t tell you, but during that, when the boiler broke down in the first week of January, NYCHA has an office of family services that went out there because I really pressured them to set up a warming center nearby to give folks a warming place, a blanket, a hot cup of coffee during the coldest time of year when they have no heat, no hot water. So when they went there they were experiencing problems speaking with people because different language is spoken in these buildings. So my staff and I went there to knock on doors to inform people. I speak Russian and some staff of mine speaks Chinese and so forth. So we went out there and the first response was Treyger you won your election. I said, well, I’m not here campaigning anymore. We’re informing you of your option to go to a warming center.
[10:09.02] Mark Treyger: Many folks were using their ovens as heat sources, which is a danger for carbon monoxide and other things. But just to close, some folks will be forced I think to relocate because of economic factors and some folks, ones we talked about, will have a very difficult time. So that’s the struggle and that’s the balance we have to…I apologize.
[10:29.22] Adam Glenn: Thank you. I should of known better than to offer an elected official only 15 seconds. That was kind of unfair. (It’s hard -MT) It is very hard. And as a matter of fact, if you have a moment and any of the panelists, we have a team of reporters who are covering this. If we have a moment, maybe you could stop by. I would like to hear more of that story myself, if time allows.
So the 15-second rule now in place…that’s okay.
[10:57.19] Bill Ulfelder: So I think we learned a lot from Sandy. I think we realized that flexible responses are best. That combined hybrid approaches, nature and engineered. And there are some bright spots. We’ve talked a lot about where the challenges are, and they are very real, but there are in the post Sandy world some of the neighborhoods on Staten Island, some of the things that are happening out on Long Island, through the New York Rising, how communities are re-envisioning themselves and how they want to make themselves more resilient with this combination of engineered and natural solutions I take great heart in that at this point.
[11:35.06] Laura Tolkoff: I think a couple of things to think about are just, recapping, how you frame the issue. We do focus groups all over Long Island, talk about traffic, talk about property values. In New Jersey, when you talk about climate change, talk about economic development. It’s how you couch it. Be optimistic. It is a marathon, not a sprint. We depend on people like you to help shape opinions about perceived risks, about their own agency and how to think about climate change and act on climate change so. Yeah, those are my two points.
[12:17.20] Katherine Bagley: I think one of the main points for me is that often times the media will cover climate change in waves. Like as soon as Sandy was approaching and as soon as, you know, in the aftermath you saw a lot of coverage about it, but then it’s died off. One of the key things is that we have to keep the pressure up and we now have a new mayor and yet he hasn’t really talked about climate change at all. I think part of the problem is that nobody is forcing him to talk about the problem. There hasn’t really been any media coverage about what Bill De Blaiso is going to do or what he has done with all the work that the Bloomberg administration does and so that’s one of the things that I think we just need to…
[13:05.01] Adam Glenn: Great. Great point. Part of our job. All of this, I’d like to say is a really rich and thoughtful discussion so let’s give a big hand to the panelists. Thank you.