Climate Resilience III: ‘Scenario Planning’ Aids Climate Change Preparation; ‘Social Capital’ Speeds Recovery from Extreme Events
(This is the third in a series of posts based on Emerald Cities Collaborative’s June 12 forum in Washington, D.C., on climate resilience in American cities.)
The Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) recently convened a half-day forum in Washington, D.C., to explore how to build a climate-resilient economy that combines sustainability with equity for low-income minority communities.
“The High Road to Climate Resilience in American Cities” drew about 100 participants from the ECC board and staff, community and environmental organizations, business, labor, government and academia. Speakers – and then all participants, in roundtable discussions following each panel – addressed three aspects of resilience: infrastructure, economies and civic societies.
Joel Rogers, an ECC co-founder and board member, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of COWS, the national high-road strategy center, moderated the panel on resilient infrastructure.
He set the stage with the observation that infrastructure, because “it tends to stay in place,” is “a great area of community wealth-building."
Deron Lovaas, director of federal transportation policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, addressed the bad news that much of the “trillions of dollars-worth of infrastructure in the built environment…now needs to be retrofitted to accommodate both slow changes in precipitation and temperature, as well as extreme events like [Hurricanes] Sandy and Katrina.
“The good news,” he continued, “is that there are relatively inexpensive ways to get ahead of this.” The transportation sector, for example, is moving towards better performance and data management, as recently proposed rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for metropolitan and state planning programs.
Lovaas said the rules would make such programs “performance-driven based on specific metrics, which could include dealing with resilience and preparedness concerns related to climate change.”
Scenario Planning, Partnerships
Lovaas added that federal agencies, including DOT, are working with transit agencies, metropolitan areas and states to determine data needs for various climate scenarios. He recommended doing more state and local “scenario planning…more rehearsals for what the future is going to look like…to see what we might face in terms of climate change.”
Partnerships can reduce the public costs of resilience, Lovaas said. He cited the real-time mapping of disaster effects that Google provided when Hurricane Irene hit Vermont, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s post-Sandy Rebuild by Design contest that distributed almost $1 billion for recovery, “following on the heels of $3.5 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to complement and leverage a lot more public money.”
Asked by Rogers how various initiatives would be paid for, Lovaas mentioned that an increasing number of states are raising sales or even gasoline taxes to help pay for infrastructure work.
Lovaas supported his final point – the critical importance of social capital in facilitating communities’ recovery from disasters and extreme events – with the example of the Vietnamese community in New Orleans, which “recovered faster than others because of how tightly-knit the community was.
“And that’s a lot cheaper than some of the infrastructure investments we’re going to have to make,” Lovaas concluded.
Collaboration, Sustainability, Social Justice
Surdna Foundation Program Officer, Sustainable Environments, Alison Corwin observed that municipalities are driving innovation at the nexus of collaboration, sustainability and social justice by looking at how rebuilding infrastructure can provide community benefits and make up for historic exclusion.
Corwin said states are “connecting the dots” among infrastructure, service and quality of life, and that utilities are feeling the pressure and the need to respond to factors like the intermittency of renewable energy and the slower load growth that is leading to lower energy use and less revenue.
Strong Economy Needs Strong Infrastructure
The American Sustainable Business Council's (ASBC) Deputy Director for Policy & Engagement Bryan McGannon said the business community is aware that good infrastructure is needed for a strong economy.
He added that money needs to be found to support the broad mission of building a sustainable economy, from campaign finance reform to sustainable agriculture to taxes.
“Our members realize that good regulations lead to good outcomes,” McGannon said, citing building codes as an example.
He added, “The best place to make an impact is at the local level,” suggesting the ASBC website as a source of local partners.