Ed note: This post originally published on GlobalWarmingisReal.com and has been entered in the Masdar Engage blogging contest for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week If you’d like to enter, there’s still time. Just follow these instructions. The deadline is Jan 3nd!
At the national and international level climate action is stalled under the unyielding weight of factionalism and meeting the diverse agenda of a global community. At the personal level, the issues of climate change and building a sustainable future for our children seems overwhelming; whatever efforts we can lend to the cause feels too small and inadequate.
In many ways meeting the challenge of climate change and sustainable development is often most effective at the municipal level. Cities strike a balance between meeting the diverse needs of its inhabitants with the ability to adopt and adapt to the realities and challenges of global warming, development, infrastructure and energy.
Coming to grips with the risks, especially as climate change bears down on urban centers with more intense storms, there are a growing number of initiatives aimed at building resiliency in the urban environment. Earlier this year the Rockefeller Foundation announced support for RE.Invest, a new public-private partnership aimed at helping cities across the U.S. integrate increased resiliency into urban infrastructure and adapt effectively to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. The Foundation, in partnership with c.dots development and CH2M Hill, has pledged $3 million in the effort.
Initially, RE.Invest will select eight U.S. cities through a national application process to provide seed money and technical support to create "community investment vehicles" that leverage private investment in local municipal water infrastructure.
"Using innovative sustainable infrastructure such as replacing concrete with porous pavement, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities manage storm water often at a fraction of the cost of upgrading traditional concrete infrastructure. These projects can also save significant taxpayer money, beautify communities, and make them more attractive to businesses and investor and more resilient to extreme weather," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, in a press release.
"As we focus on ensuring the federal government makes it easier for cities to build and invest in sustainable infrastructure, the RE.invest Initiative is a great example of how private organizations can forge creative partnerships that leverage private investment to support clean and healthy cities, and save taxpayer dollars."
"We are now an urban species by definition," says Stewart. It took until 1960 to reach 1 billion people living in cities, another 25 years for the second billion, 18 years for the third, and "if projections are right only 15 years to add a fourth."
From a sustainability aspect there are "significant positives in terms of this tipping point we've reached," explains Stewart:
"So on the social side, cities have been a boon, really, to humans. On the resources side cities also, theoretically, provide us economies of scale delivering basic services like utilities or water, or even health care, safety, security.
It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances," writes Zolli.
On December 3rd, 2013 the Rockefeller Foundation named the first 33 cities for its 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge. Each city was selected based on its vision, need and plan for building resilience in a manner that connects government, citizens and the private sector. The Challenge is an example of how cities working together can develop and share ideas, innovations and best practices for meeting the common challenges we all face in the 21st century as individuals as well as members in local and global communities.
In the end the global community will need to step up and do its part and individuals will need to embrace how their singular understanding and action feeds the collective effort to create a livable future. But, as Stewart says, we are an urban species, and it is in the cities where ideas can take root and the great challenge of our times will be met.
Will our cities save us? To the extent that cities, and networks of cities, represent the best collective effort toward a better future, they are the best catalyst of change for a sustainable, resilient future.
In cities we can most effectively plan for the worst and hope (and work toward) the best.
Image credit: Nicola since 1972, courtesy flickr
Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists