Preparing For Climate Change

A week or so ago, I suggested that it was time–past time, actually–to rethink federalism. Not to dispense with it, but to reconsider which governance tasks should be left to state and local governments and which must be tackled at the federal (or even global) level.

The problem with nationalizing too many issues is that sending authority to Washington effectively demoralizes local activists working on those issues. If the only people who have authority to do X or Y are far removed, the result is likely to be those feelings of powerlessness I’ve been writing about.

The problems with keeping too much local control over issues more properly addressed at the federal level include lack of impact and incentives for all sorts of mischief–see vote suppression..

There are also an increasing number of issues where we need all hands on deck. When it comes to overwhelming problems like climate change, even enlightened national/global efforts will require equally enlightened local measures. And individuals really can affect local decision-making.

A recent report from Inverse highlighted the resilience efforts of five cities, providing an “instruction manual” of sorts–a delineation of local measures that can make a positive difference. As the article noted, despite the grim evidence of impending climate catastrophe,

 there are a few cities whose leaders have taken proactive measures to adapt their cities and protect their residents from the climate crisis. These cities serve as models for how we can modify and strengthen our built environments, reduce human suffering, and protect urban centers from the effects of a warming planet.

Fukuoka, Japan has been adding green spaces, including parks, community gardens and green roofs. It decides where to site those spaces based on surveys of windflow through the city and other measurements to determine the most effective places to plant trees and maintain parks. These green spaces reduce extreme heat and help absorb water runoff during periods of intense rainfall.

Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is growing plants along railways to absorb flooding and reduce heat, and developing ‘water squares’ that can absorb rainfall and ease the stress on sewage systems.

Ahmedabad, India (a city of 7.2 million that I’d never heard of) was included for its “cool roofs” initiative.

This entails using eco-friendly building materials — such as coconut husk and paper waste — and cheap lime-white paint to deflect sunlight away from buildings. This keeps residents cool. According to Madan, cool roofs reduce indoor temperatures lower by 3.6 – 9° F.

Copenhagen, Denmark has pledged to become the first city to go fully carbon neutral by 2025. It has made substantial progress toward that goal: 49 percent of all trips in the city are by bike, and 98 percent of the city’s heating comes from waste heat from electricity production. Seawater cooling measures have removed an estimated 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the city’s atmosphere.

Here in the United States, Chicago, believe it or not, was one of the five cities cited in the report. Chicago made the list because is was an early adopter of green stormwater infrastructure, and a developer of urban vertical farms.

In 2014, under then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city developed a $50-million, five-year green stormwater infrastructure plan with the aim of reducing basement flooding and water pollution and improving environmental quality and climate resilience.

Some of the key features of Chicago’s plan included capturing, storing, and filtering water through green techniques rather than channeling it into storm drains; investing in permeable, or more water-absorbent, pavement to reduce flooding; compiling rainfall frequency data to better predict flooding; and offering resources on green design to maintain water runoff and reduce flooding through rain gardens and natural landscaping.

The city also plays host to one of the world’s largest urban vertical farms, which grows vegetables in a 90,000-square-foot facility. Chicago made this urban vertical farm possible by changing its zoning laws.

The linked article not only highlights these cities, but includes suggestions for how other urban centers might emulate them.

We are finally, if belatedly, recognizing the threat posed by climate change, and large numbers of citizens–especially but not exclusively young ones–are coming together to combat it. Working at the local level on measures targeted to the specific threats faced by those localities can not only help ameliorate the effects of an over-heating world, it can give citizens an opportunity to work together to effect important changes.

Ultimately, the ability to actually do something–something that clearly matters– to work with our neighbors to ameliorate a threat we all face (and that, increasingly, we all recognize) can help us overcome the extreme polarization that has paralyzed our government.

After all, there’s nothing like a common enemy to bring people together.


  1. Sure. The innovations must be made at the local level, but, as with so many things in the United States, if there isn’t a short-term profit, those innovations designed to save us from ourselves will simply not happen. It’s always about the money. It’s always about the conflict between doing good for the civic interests overall versus private business and industry who wants to make profits off of everything.

    If the Federal government initiated local programs, the squabbling, bureaucracy red tape and the profiteers will reduce or slow any good ideas. Climate change has been on the front burner for over a decade. Why has so little been done? Why are all the other industrialized nations going full-bore to reduce their carbon footprints, and not us? The answer is simple: private enterprise sees no profit, and the energy industry is scared to death that they’ll actually have to invest that depletion allowance instead of using it to buy up their own stock.

    On an even more cynical note, humans evolved socially as use-it-up-and-cast-it-aside creatures. Our cleverness at adapting ourselves to survive as a species when we shouldn’t have will not be sufficient to overcome the profit motive of big energy… at least in the United States. Short-term profit mentality will relegate us to the new version of third-world status.

    In my latest book, “The Medalist”, I created an urban renewal element to the compelling story of the hero. She ended up earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work at bridging the gap between the Federal government and local enactment of policy. But the book is, after all fiction.

  2. Rain gardens in neighborhoods can help mitigate the effects of rain and flooding.
    Wetland preservation, protection, and restoration would go a long way to prevent catastrophic flooding, as well as recharge our diminishing aquifers and helping stressed populations of birds and other animals. Of course, our Republican legislators passed SB389, the “Wetlands Destruction Act” in the last session, which shows how committed they are to dealing with reality…

  3. In my uneducated, high school dropout with a GED, 84 year old understanding of the basis of democracy, Rule of Law and upholding the Constitution of the United States of America; states are allowed to make local laws as long as they do not violate the Constitution. States even have their own individual Constitutions to abide by; usually written to strengthen and uphold the national constitution to protect citizens. The federal government is being forced into a position of creating specific protections of human and civil rights of citizens to override the local and state laws which are increasingly ignoring basic rights of humanity in many cases. Thinking people world-wide have been begging for Climate Change protection for decades; while there may be lessons to be learned from other countries, they are using no protections which have not been offered and ignored in this country. Time to watch Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the movie “Soylent Green” as lessons in truth-becomes-fiction in this country.

    The problem with the Constitution of the United States of America is that it provides no authority to force elected officials to honor and uphold their individual Oaths of Office, or remove them, at all levels of government. Take McConnell…PLEASE! And while you are at it; take Trump, Manchin, Sinema, McCarthy, Graham, Jordan, Gorsuch and Amy what’s-her-name.

  4. I highly recommend watching the documentary “Kiss The Ground” on Netflix about regenerative farming. While I agree that MUCH can be done locally, and a small percentage of farmers HAVE transitioned to sustainable farming methods, we have a federal-ag-industry industrial complex that needs to be dismantled and replaced with incentives and subsidies to restore soil health on millions of acres of US farmland and at the same time improve its ability to store GIGATONS of carbon in the ground by doing no more than GROWING diverse plant life and allowing livestock to graze it!! But so far BIG FOOD, Inc. and BIG CHEMICAL, Inc. hold both Dem and GQP House Reps and Senators hostage.

  5. It’s challenging to take on significant projects to reverse or lessen the damage of big problems like climate change when enormous industries use their power to mis- and disinform the public, as the above posters have mentioned.

    Denial is one way to cope with these issues negatively impacting us, but we are way past denial. What remains now are climate change disinformation campaigns funded by oligarchs who own polluting industries. They have their teeth in 23-24 states, giving them control at the state and federal levels. The forces of obstruction.

    This problem can easily be fixed with leadership by the POTUS, who is standing in front of the world now talking about these issues at the United Nations, but he’s lying to those people, and they know it. He’s a coward, as are the entire political class, mainly from top to bottom.

    They are allowed to lie because the cowardly press won’t call them out on their bullshit. The press pretends like campaign finance reports don’t exist, and bribery isn’t a term that can be used anymore. There is no activism or backbone because they are all owned by giant entertainment companies. Unless a Marvel character takes a stand, it won’t happen en masse, but we are a culture built on myth and storytelling (propaganda) versus truth-telling.

    We need a massive truth campaign to slice through all the bs coming from the oligarchy through their owned media outlets.

    We’re getting ready to learn about #RussiaGate, but it probably won’t be televised. The indictment of Sussman, a lawyer for the Democratic Party, who lied to the FBI is just a start. All of you holding Democratic Party pom-poms better get ready for a shock. because Rachel has been lying. 😉

  6. I just received a newsletter from Media Lens, quote:

    “Similarly, Matt Kennard, head of investigations at Declassified UK, a vital resource for independent journalism, put it well:

    ‘If you’re sympathetic to the weak, it’s activist journalism. If you’re sympathetic to the powerful, it’s objective journalism.’

    The public is, in effect, constantly being subjected to gaslighting by corporate journalists purporting to inform the public what is happening around us. We are being told, explicitly and implicitly, that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the system of economics and power politics that prevail in the world. We are being misled that any serious problems that arise – even climate instability – can be ‘fixed’ by ‘incentivizing’ changes to consumer behavior, rejigging the economy by redirecting public subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, but all still within a corporate-driven ‘market’ framework to maximize private profit, and by implementing technical ‘solutions, such as capturing and storing carbon emissions (which have failed to live up to the grandiose PR promises made, while fossil fuel companies have received large injections of public cash from governments).”

    It sums up our issues quite well.

  7. Conservation, and ultimately saving the environment, will work because it will be financially beneficial to do so. As the realization of the economic negative effects of climate change sink in, all national politicians will want to be able to take credit for solutions. The Rs will do so in the name of profits for new environmental saving companies.
    Vernon is right….it is about the money…..and, for members of Congress, taking credit for it. But who cares as long as it gets done.

  8. Systemic oligarchy per Todd is nothing new, but the oligarchs are. Thus English royalty in colonial days ordered that East India Tea enjoy a monopoly on all trade from India (in return for a piece of the action). There were no “market forces” at work; there was no Sherman Act. Adam Smith’s dicta was ignored; those colonialized were essentially enslaved to make the crown and a few East India Tea oligarchs ever wealthier.

    Present day capitalistic practices have much in common with English colonialism what with Stone Age wages, chronic and never-ending wage and wealth inequality, “right to work” and other horribly misnamed programs on one side of the coin and stock buybacks, virtually taxless accounting for profits, executive compensation out the gazoo, “carried interest” for hedge and equity funds etc. on the other. The identity of the oligarchs has changed; the oligarchy that profits off others’ labors has not. We now have state and federal politicians standing in for English royalty. Marx correctly diagnosed the problem but prescribed the wrong medicine. So now what?

    Here’s what. Redo the internal revenue code and the bankruptcy code to realign their terms to foster the common good. Tax the rich and corporate class on both their income and wealth so as (finally) to meet the wants and needs in initiatives that benefit all of us. Can’t be done? It is already being done. See the prosperous Nordic countries and their programs that have erased poverty and who score among the first five countries in the world in the annual “Happiness Index.”

    So can capitalism work and endure? Perhaps, but not as currently practiced.

  9. I second Patrick Wiltshire’s suggestion to watch the documentary “Kiss the Ground”! In 35 years of work on ecojustice, I’ve never seen a better presentation of both the challenges and the already proven, effective, and increasingly affordable solutions to the Climate Crisis, esp. Regenerative Agriculture. Judy O’Bannon was so fired up by it she’s doing her next documentary on efforts in Indiana. Kiss the Ground is available on Netflix and narrated by Woody Harrelson.

  10. Marx did get the diagnosis right.
    “Conservation, and ultimately saving the environment, will work because it will be financially beneficial to do so.” Not if it takes too long. The word “ultimately” is the issue. If we have not already gone past the “Tipping Point,” which I think we may have, what “ultimately” happens may be the end of society as we know it, or of society, period, if Stephen Hawking’s prediction turns out to be valid.
    If what I have read about much of the youth of the U.S. is right, and the youth are turning against our system of rabid capitalism, which augurs well, in my estimation, that may also be too little, too late.
    “Follow the money,” is a well known phrase, and clearly “The Money” is running the show. Reportedly, that is what is running Manchin’s puppet dance, and if he dances to the end of time, Pres. Biden will/may look virtually useless by the mid-terms, and could well loose his congressional (thus far useless) edge.
    Voting rights will not matter, when there are not enough water taxis to get people to the polls!
    St. Reagan was the equivalent of the devil, playing his biggest acting role, with a smile.

  11. The power of Crony-Capitalism and Corporatism is thoroughly embedded into our politics. It’s tentacles are wide spread. From the Guardian:

    Policy experts warn new proposals to plug abandoned oil and gas wells amount to huge subsidy for the fossil fuel industry.

    Oil and gas companies have a century-old bad habit of drilling wells and ditching them. And while Congress finally has a plan to plug some abandoned wells, new proposals effectively pass the fossil fuel industry’s cleanup costs on to taxpayers and may even enable more drilling.

    But powerful special interests have carved out a presence in federal well-plugging efforts – one of the most bipartisan corners of Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure bill, which is due for a vote later this month. Instead of requiring fossil fuel companies to cover the actual cost of drilling and cleanup, policy experts say the proposal is an additional multibillion-dollar subsidy for the industry most responsible for driving the climate crisis.

    But tucked inside the proposal is $2m in funding that goes directly to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), an organization closely linked to the fossil fuel industry.

    The IOGCC was originally sanctioned by the government. But as an InsideClimate investigation found, in 1978 the Department of Justice recommended that Congress break it up on the grounds that the group had evolved into an advocacy organization.

    Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt currently chairs the group. Stitt, who received more than $240,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas sector in 2018.

    Advocates point out these measures won’t stop drilling and well abandonment on state and private land, where most drilling takes place. Upset landowners and advocates say lax regulations have long let companies get away with covering just a fraction of the actual cost of plugging wells.

    Oil and gas giants are increasingly selling less productive wells to smaller companies that buy them up and scrape them dry. But when those smaller companies later go bankrupt – which has happened increasingly during the pandemic – the fossil fuel entities that drilled the original wells essentially cash out and cumulatively dodge hundreds of billions in cleanup costs.

    The scheme ultimately lands those cleanup costs – an estimated $280bn – on taxpayers, including, most egregiously, residents suffering from the impacts of pumping and scraping oil and gas from the ground. Proximity to a well is linked with increased risk of preterm birth and elevated childhood cancer rates.

    You might think the fossil fuel industry should be taxed to provide the funding for clean-ups in the event the responsible companies for the pollution bail out with bankruptcy. Not in America the “Commons” not the polluters pick up the tab.

  12. Thanks Shiela for all the good news about addressing climate change. I just read on Good News that 2 countries in S. America are using an additive to feed for dairy and beef cows that reduces methane emissions from the cows.

    I also heard this morning on NPR that a coal burning plant is going to be changed to a carbon reduction plant in Colorado.

    It will be interesting to see how rapidly this country moves to electric cars. The question for me is simply how much carbon will be burned to create the batteries and the infrastructure to recharge them?

    I wish business and governments had been more proactive rather than reactive in response to climate change. I am saddened by the fact that they did not move toward the reduction of global warming until wildfires, hurricanes, and floods woke them up and cracked their complacent denial. They are so invested in making profits and keeping shareholders happy, that they are slow to change their business/market strategies.

    We can create change at the local level. We can also do this as individuals. In addition to Kiss the Ground, there is a documentary on Netflix called Minimalists. It’s about 2 men who were quite affluent who decided to change their spending habits. They consume no more than they need. There is also a tiny house movement.

    As a kid, my parents and my girls’ scout troops taught me to leave the camp site like I found it. Littering from the car would have created severe consequences from both my parents. As a result, I have cultivated flower beds that integrate with the woods behind me. I’ve planted trees, recycled, bought electric yard tools, and recently a Prius Prime which runs on electric for 25 miles. I don’t yet know how much electricity I use to recharge it.

    For those of you who believe my individual efforts are an exercise in futility, I would simply respond with this. I have Nordic and Germanic ancestry. Like my ancestors, if necessary, I will go down fighting. This is not just about saving the planet for me. It’s about having a life of meaning and purpose.

    I am certain that each of you is doing what you can to help our Mother Earth.

  13. On the surface, it would seem to be simple. The Federal government launches, “markets”, funds and coordinates a national “moonshot” climate mitigation project. They set national targets, coordinate/collect information from international partners/UN, fund institutional/private industry research and hand out incentives to states.

    Perhaps most importantly (Federalism lives) they actively collect/share ideas/projects from the states, the “labs for democracy”.

  14. Thank you Patrick and Carol for the recommendation to view Netflix: Kiss the Ground. I will look for it. AND to Gerald’s comment about Nordic European Happiness Index, Sweden hosted a thought leader global panel yesterday online focused on promising new ideas that foster a fossil fuel free economy. Sweden has minimal fossil-energy resources and relies on imported oil and natural gas. At the same time, the country possesses important supplies of renewable energy, mainly in the form of biomass and hydropower. According to 2017 data analysis, Sweden sources 22% of energy from fossil fuels while only 1.2% from electrification. On the panel at conclusion we’re experts from the USA based Electrification Coalition, a Bloomberg enterprise, that develops THRIVE plans for major cities to develop research based sustainable environmental friendly strategies. The Swedish initiative is one of many regional dialogues working toward a global conference on climate change mitigation.

  15. No one is willing to take climate change seriously. No one is willing to change their lifestyle to accommodate the changes badly needed. That’s the truth.

    Nothing having an effect upon climate change has been done in the past. Nothing will be done.

    When it comes to real issues affecting everyone,both parties are all hat and no cattle.

  16. When you consider our late start in doing anything, and our slow pace because of the necessity of fighting fossil fuel advocates to the last man standing, we have eliminated most options of adapting in place and have only migration as the affordable survival alternative. It’s the dust bowl years all over again with the poor mostly left to their own devices trudging out of town to resettle in new places where the weather may be awful but is not regularly deadly. In other words, our procrastination has left us only awful options which will not become apparent until the end of the next century when we are finally able to stop making awful weather more so by dumping fossil fuel waste into the home of weather, earth’s single global atmosphere.

    There’s no satisfaction as scientists in being able to say that we told you so but that’s the simple truth. We lost the argument to short-term investors who bought democracy out from under us.

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