Listening in: Climate Panel Grapples with Urban Future

January 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Dr. Klaus Jacob of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory discusses changes in New York infrastructure he says will be necessary to prepare for climate change.

In the first in a series we’ve dubbed “Listening In,” we take you inside The Nature Conservancy‘s lively discussion about climate change and cities held late last month.

New York is full of discussions… Talks, panels, smart conversations about a wide range of issues–every week. Listening In will feature some of those events, and “Climate Change: What Aren’t We Talking About” is one of them.

The panel, held January 24 at The New York Academy of Sciences in lower Manhattan, brought together scientists and urban planners, including Klaus Jacob, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Radley Horton, of Columbia’s Center for Climate Systems Research; Nicole Maher and Rob McDonald of The Nature Conservancy; and writer James Russell. The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin moderated.

All the panelists agreed that the stakes are high. “As a society we are living with very high risks in our cities,” said McDonald.  “There’s just a lot of uncertainty–the things that worry me most are the uncertainties,” he added.

Addressing adaptation strategies, Horton cautioned that time is running out. He said we need to be open to the possibility of surprises and to think about how we can try to adapt to them. “If we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” he cautioned, “we may be heading towards some changes that we can’t adapt to.”

Jacob called rising sea level “the greatest threat to the metropolitan area” and advocated a managed retreat from shorelines instead of just building storm barriers. “Nobody wants to talk about moving,” Jacob said. “Everybody wants to see how we can improve it.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Maher suggested implementing proposals outlined in the NYS 2100 report, such as building natural infrastructure.

Citing the High Line in Chelsea, Jacob envisioned a Manhattan with waterways instead of just streets. “There could again also be transportation high lines that connect us and we walk from the second floor of one building to the third floor of the next and we see the ducks swimming underneath,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful picture of downtown Manhattan.”

Jacob detailed more of his ideas in an interview with the Gotham Gazette.

The Nature Conservancy will host additional events on future planning in the coming months.

You can see the full panel here:

“Cities and Climate Change: What Aren’t We Talking About?” Part 1:


“Cities and Climate Change: What Aren’t We Talking About?” Part 2:


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