Cities Are Leading the Charge to Deal With Global Warming

Cities are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. At the same time, they are dynamic centers for change.

As the world becomes more urbanized, it has created opportunities as well as vulnerabilities. Cities are economic hubs. Close living conditions make disruptions of resource management and city functioning urgent matters. Slum areas become problems for environmental justice. These areas are the first to suffer from extreme events and have the least resilience. In recent decades, climate-related extremes have taken a front seat in urban planning priorities. Two of the most persistent climate-related vulnerabilities are flooding and extreme heat events.

Shanghai skyline at night, panoramic. (Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov)

Shanghai skyline at night, panoramic. City districts regularly flood during heavy rains and winds. (Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov)

Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal communities and river basins subject to littoral (shoreline) flooding. Cities are also heat islands where temperatures are typically higher than adjacent rural areas.

The cost/benefit analysis is clear. Between 2010 and 2015, the direct cost of climate change disasters has exceeded $1 trillion globally. The indirect costs are multiples of that figure and increase each year.

At the Earth Summit in Rio, most of the nations of the world adopted Agenda 21. It reaffirmed the drive to improve scientific knowledge as the key element for environmental decision-making. While the U.S. has dragged its feet in partisan politics, the EU and many other nations have been active, especially at the local level, implementing this action plan.

Taking early action has prevented even more serious damage from recent climate events. Inaction has had the opposite effect for others. “We have 10-15 years, not even one generation to get it right,” writes Kim and George Haddow.

Cities don’t have the option to endlessly debate if climate science is 100 percent conclusive. Cities are suffering and must take action immediately or suffer irrevocable physical and economic devastation.

Two Immediate Threats That Can’t Be Ignored


Hurricane Sandy floods Casino Pier in Seaside Heights in Ocean County, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

Hurricane Sandy floods Casino Pier in Seaside Heights in Ocean County, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

Hurricanes Katrina and Haiyan killed thousands and did billions of dollars in damage. Flooding in Thailand put much of Bangkok under two meters of water when the Chao Phraya River overflowed levies. This February, areas of London and the lowlands (UK) were flooded by high tides and record rain. Most Americans are already familiar with the impact of extreme events on cities like New Orleans and New York.

What about events that are becoming the “new normal?” In Miami, Norfolk and Annapolis high tides now routinely flow backward through storm drains and flood downtown city streets. In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and in 2014, floods in Pakistan not only swamped the capital of Karachi but repeatedly flooded more than half of all Pakistan river basins, killing thousands. In a 2012 study of nine major coastal cities, Shanghai was ranked most vulnerable followed by Manilla, Dhaka, Calcutta and Rotterdam. Disruption of commerce in these cities has global economic affects.

Heat Extremes


Between 2009 and 2015, Delhi, India experienced repeated heat waves with sustained temperatures over 110℉, killing thousands. In 2015, Karachi and the surrounding province of Sindu experienced temperatures that exceeded 120℉, killing an estimated 2,000.

Modern heat stress analysis uses the “wet bulb” index. Normal human body temperature is 37℃ (98.6℉). For the body to dissipate heat and maintain itself, the ambient “wet bulb” temperature index should remain below 35 ℃. If temperatures exceed 35 ℃ for extended periods of time, people begin to die. This past summer, areas of the Middle East experienced unprecedented temperatures that hovered above 50℃ (122℉) for weeks.

A Parable for Climate Change

Whether one believes in God or not, the following story serves as a striking parable for the mess we’re in. The longer real climate action is delayed, the more relevant the story becomes.

Severe flooding during the 2011 monsoon season in Thailand. In this photo, an SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter flies around the Bangkok area. (Photo Credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Villalovos)

Severe flooding during the 2011 monsoon season in Thailand. In this photo, an SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter flies around the Bangkok area. (Photo Credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Villalovos)

A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.

A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”

The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”

As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”

The floodwaters rose higher, pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”

The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.

A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”

Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.

When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”

And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

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