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Earth Institute Discusses Effects of Climate Extremes and Change in the New York Metropolitan Region

By Jennifer Freeman

Michael Crow offers welcoming remarks

There was standing room only at SIPA last Friday as over a hundred people gathered at a working lunch to discuss the effects of climate change on the New York Metropolitan area.

WABC-TV news called the Columbia Earth Institute luncheon "A kind of environmental summit."

The event was held in honor of the release of the Metro East Coast (MEC) report, "Climate Change and a Global City: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change."

"Today was about scientists working together with stakeholders to bring climate change into the decision-making process," said Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia, who was co-leader of the MEC study and a host of the event.

Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow delivered welcoming remarks, and Associate Vice Provost of the Columbia Earth Institute John Mutter, who is also a member of Governor Pataki's Greenhouse Gas and Climate Change Task Force, pointed out that we cannot wait to understand all the variables before starting to do something to respond to climate change.

The MEC report documented climate trends and their potential impacts on many aspects of life in the New York region: coastal development, transportation, wetlands, water supplies, public health, energy demand, and decision-making. After showing how recent climate trends are resulting in more extremes including both droughts and floods, Rosenzweig called for both adaptation and mitigation strategies to address the problem.

Adaptations recommended by the report included such coping strategies as:

  • Protecting transportation infrastructure.
  • Creating buffer zones so that saltwater marshes may retreat as seas rise.
  • Safeguarding sewage-treatment plants from enhanced storm surges.
  • Improving energy efficiency and passive cooling methods to lessen urban island effects.

Cynthia Rosenzweig and State Assemblymember Pete Grannis

Pointing out that New Yorkers should be proactive about climate change and needn't wait until a crisis develops to act, Christopher Zeppie of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said "The stone age did not end because the human race ran out of stone."

A number of activities are either underway or planned in the region to address the climate change issue. These include health, storm surge, and informational activities undertaken by Columbia, the authors of the Metro East Coast assessment, and the others.

State Assemblymember Pete Grannis, a speaker at the lunch, called for more involvement from the private sector in general, and the insurance industry in particular, in taking on climate change.

Architect Hillary Brown, who produced the 1999 City of New York High Performance Building Guidelines for the Mayor's Office of Sustainable Design, of which she was founding director, suggested that high performance buildings, designed with sustainable development in mind, can help to mitigate the effects of climate trends through measures as simple as using light colored paving and roofing to reflect the sun's light.

Summarizing the topic at the close of Friday's lunch was Roberta Balstad Miller, Director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a unit of the Columbia Earth Institute. Miller cited a need for multidisciplinary and place-based research as we move forward to address the issue of how the region should react to climate extremes and trends.

"Climate Change and a Global City" was part of a national study of climate impacts, commissioned by Congress and carried out by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, called the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change for the United States. It was the only part of the national assessment focusing on a primarily urban location, and is one of the only climate studies to date to focus on the important topic of climate's effects on major urban areas. As in the case of New York City, these are often located along vulnerable coastlines.

"We want New Yorkers to address climate variability and change in ways that will benefit the present as well as the future and that other cities can follow," Rosenzweig says. Adds co-leader of the MEC Assessment William Solecki of Montclair State University, "The Metropolitan East Coast Assessment was designed to be a template that other cities can follow as well."

Published: Mar 05, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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