Building the 'On Ramp' to a Resilient Future

Albert J. Slap, President 


June 27, 2015

 Building the 'On Ramp' to a Resilient Future

Imagine you're stuck in traffic on an old, two-lane road inside a crowded, coastal city. The road's in pretty bad shape with many potholes. Some areas are starting to flood. A number of motorists have abandoned their vehicles in the rising waters and appear to be wandering around in a daze.  

High above the ground, you and the other the motorists can see a gleaming new superhighway. Electric vehicles and shiny new buses whiz silently by overhead. You desperately want to escape the ground-level gridlock and ascend to the calm serenity of the superhighway, above. 

You look for an on ramp to the superhighway, but none can be found. You search Google Maps and your GPS. It appears that no on ramp to the highway has ever been constructed. You grumble and fume. Who would build a superhighway without an on ramp? Who indeed...

Obviously, this little allegory is really about where we are, now, regarding coastal climate resilience, both in the U.S. and around the world. We're stuck in traffic on a two-lane road to nowhere that's flooding more and more frequently with each passing year. High above us, we can envision what a resilient future might look like -- the gleaming superhighway -- but, we haven't designed, let alone built, the "on ramp" to the future.

Do we even know what components the "on ramp" should contain? Well, let me suggest 10 ingredients for starters:

#1 - Predictive flood modeling - the ground-level "layer" of coastal cities must be properly and accurately modeled at the appropriate scale, so that residents, businesses and governments know what areas are most vulnerable to climate impacts -- where flooding will occur, when, and how deep?

#2 - Move to Code Plus - Land use, zoning and building codes must be upgraded so that new construction is more resilient, modular and adaptable to future design requirements. Continuing to permit large residential and commercial developments that utilize outdated codes just increases the resilience deficit and shifts a greater share of adaptation costs to future generations.

#3 - Better Information Means Better Decision-Making - Coastal Cities must collect and analyze large data sets so that government decision-making can keep pace with real-time developments. These datasets may include: demographics, weather, flooding, traffic and other relevant information.

#4 - Balance Benefits and Burdens - The benefits and burdens of the resilient future must be fairly distributed or else the political will to build the "on ramp" will never fully materialize. For example, news stories recently reported that a $100 million flood control project for Nashville, TN, was voted down because the a majority of the city council believed control measures favored downtown interests too heavily over neighborhoods.

#5 - Use Regional Approaches - Adjoining jurisdictions must be consulted and engaged in planning the resilient future. It's unlikely that any one coastal city can build their own on ramp to a resilient future. Historically, for example, in South Florida storm water and sewage have generally been transferred from west to east for ocean disposal. But, with rising sea and groundwater levels, regional east to west approaches must be developed in order to deal effectively with the vast amounts of water that will need to be removed from coastal cities.

#6 - Build Social Resilience - the on ramp to the future can't be built exclusively with concrete and steel. Voters, residents and stakeholders must be educated about the climate impacts facing them; and, they must be actively involved in visualizing and developing progressive solutions. This will build a stronger and more resilient future. 

#7 - National Consensus/National Funding - national governments must face the fact that climate impacts are eroding and, at an accelerating level, will continue to erode trillions of dollars in real estate value and economic activity in coastal cities around the world. Local and even regional governments will be unable, by themselves, to stem this tide, because their tax bases are too small compared with the size of the investments required. National governments must develop appropriately-scaled, coastal resilience funds to address existing infrastructure deficits.

#8 - Engage Private Sector Leadership - while there are notable private sector leaders who support coastal climate resilience, such as Mayor Bloomberg, Treasury Secretary Paulson, Tom Steyer (and others), there are not enough Fortune 100 CEOs embracing this issue and exerting corporate leadership. To reach the "resilient future" superhighway, societies will need to cultivate public/private partnerships powerful enough to overcome historical inertias. 

#9 - Resilient Infrastructure - although the requirement for upgrading public infrastructure in coastal areas is included in many of the areas mentioned above, it's a critical component to build an on ramp to a resilient future. For example, Super Storm Sandy crippled hundreds of low lying, wastewater treatment plants on the east coast of the US. As a result, over 11 billion gallons of raw sewage polluted near-shore waters. Making potable water, sewage, health care, emergency management and other facilities climate ready and storm safe will require over a trillion dollar public investment in the US, alone.

#10 - Build Forward Momentum - in order to get from "here" to "there", global societies need to build up and sustain resilience momentum. To do this, disciplined "feedback loops" must be established. Through the routinized collection and analysis of data, valuable decision-informing patterns will be revealed to all stakeholders.

With a road map like the one above -- and with a large serving of good luck -- we'll soon all be traveling on the superhighway of the future in peace and serenity.


CRC Shares Insights on Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding at Leading Conferences

  • Adaptation Canada, April 2016
  • Environmental Seminar and Earth Day UpdateUniversity of Pennsylvania, May 2016
  • PROVIA Adaptation Futures, Netherlands, May 2016 
  • Sea Level Rise & South FL Real Estate, Fort Lauderdale, FL May 2016  
  • Wharton Business Radio Show, Preparing for Rising Sea Levels, May 2016

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