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Climate Resilience II: Let’s Not Pit Funding for Climate Resilience Against Schools, the Elderly, Poverty

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(This is the second 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.

False Choices: Health Vs. Jobs
J. Phil Thompson, associate professor of urban planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, passionately embraced the equity theme, declaring that communities should not face situations where the only good jobs are in polluting, disease-causing industries such as petrochemicals or fast food. He added that broad public-private coalitions can collaborate on far-reaching policy changes, such as improving healthful food options in fast food restaurants rather than simply seeking higher pay for fast food workers.

Governments, he said, should not have to choose between funding climate change mitigation and tackling poverty or improving public education or serving the growing elderly population, projected to reach 80 million in the next 20 years.  

In such scenarios, Thompson said, “I don’t think climate change wins.  The key is not pitting those things” against each other. 

He also suggested ways that climate resilience and equity could complement each other, such as locating electric car charging stations in neighborhoods being rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy – potentially cutting down on asthma from diesel fumes in vulnerable parts of the Bronx, for example – and the possibility of incorporating energy efficiency retrofits into the mold mitigation program at Montefiore Medical Center, also in the Bronx. 

The Climate Clock is Ticking
Addressing the topic, The Climate Clock: What’s at Stake?, Georgetown Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo emphasized the urgency of the situation, as climate disasters increase in frequency.

Vicki Arroyo

Arroyo cited the accelerating rate of sea level rise and increasing costs for federal crop and flood insurance. She also noted that last year for the first time, the U.S . Government Accountability Office included climate change in a list of “top threats” to the nation.

Arroyo then provided numerous ideas for making disaster response more logical and cost-effective, such as portable covers for subway entrances; operable windows, co-generation, setbacks and elevated equipment in buildings in storm-prone areas; and using clean-fuel and electric vehicles to move people out before and after storms. “Charged EVs zip right past gas lines!” she pointed out. 

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