Adapting to climate change may be the greatest challenge we face. Sea levels could rise from one to three feet by mid-century, flooding will affect large swaths of both inland and coastal areas, and more intense heat and cold will put the health of the most vulnerable at risk. Yet greenhouse gas emissions remain much too high and the natural systems that help protect against the impacts of climate change are threatened.
Climate change also has increased the risks – and the intensity – of severe storms. Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene made plain our vulnerability to flooding, a risk that will only grow as sea levels rise. Sandy alone took the lives of more than 60 people in the tri-state area, and cost us more than $60 billion.
Our open spaces, which support clean air, a pure and abundant water supply and recreational opportunities, will take on even greater importance, playing a critical role in storing carbon, absorbing stormwater, ensuring a redundant food supply and providing paths of migration for habitat.
By 2050, 59% of our energy capacity will be in areas prone to flooding, as will all of the region’s shipping ports, four of our major airports, 21% of our public housing units, 45% of our major wastewater treatment plants and 12% of our hospital beds. By 2050, 2.3 million people are expected to be living in areas of the tri-state region that are at risk of flooding. Adapting our communities and infrastructure to climate risks while reducing our carbon footprint will require significantly greater investments than we currently are making, as well as improved systems of governance to help manage our way to resilience.
Our region’s vulnerability extends beyond the risks of a changing climate. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks underscored that disasters pose a threat to our critical infrastructure, from airports to train stations to power plants. To be truly resilient, our infrastructure needs to be made resilient against both one-time threats and long-term wear and tear. A failure to replace aging pipes, tunnels and power networks heightens the risk of major and potentially deadly disruptions. Growing reliance on complex technology and tight consumer supply chains mean that once-isolated outages can have far-reaching effects. These problems defy local boundaries. Addressing them will require a regional vision.