Climate change continues to bring about one disaster after the next. In a month alone, an onslaught of five hurricanes hit regions of the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria have wrecked entire cities, destroying infrastructure, homes, and lives. Hurricane Lee now threatens to follow.
Some U.S. cities have made and/or are making an attempt to confront these disasters. A new report from Business Insider, based on contributing factors such as policy, community organization, and infrastructure, lists the 13 most livable cities to escape climate disasters.
The Pacific Northwest is the best region overall. Topping the list are Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco, California.
“[T]heir infrastructure tends to be newer and more resilient to major shocks,” according to one of the researchers, Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning. Newer infrastructure is key to dealing with heat and rising water levels.
Seattle and Portland also have a history of fighting to protect the climate. Portland was the first to come up with a Climate Action Plan in 1993 while Seattle created its own in 2013.
Seattle even pledged to cut carbon emissions as far back as 2001. Unfortunately, the results haven’t matched the pledge and stronger policy is needed. This being the case for one of the most climate-ready cities, one can imagine how dangerous the situation for those cities less prepared.
San Francisco’s edge comes from the fact that most of its population lives by and uses public transportation. There is also a Climate Readiness Institute for the Bay Area where government, non-profits, public and private sectors research and develop solutions for climate adaptation and policy.
Also on the list are:
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Chicago, Illinois
- Denver, Colorado
- Austin, Texas
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Phoenix, Arizona
Minneapolis is home to many water resources, which will be increasingly valuable with polluted water and water shortages. It also boasts its own Climate Action Plan, as does Denver and Ann Arbor.
In 1995, Chicago suffered a heatwave that took the lives of hundreds as people went without electricity for two days in record-breaking temperatures of 106 degrees. Those who suffered the most were the poor and elderly. Since then, the city has done much for community building and condoning green infrastructure. Ensuring that people aren’t isolated when disaster strikes is one of the keys to survival.
Madison has a Sustainable Madison Committee in addition to a Climate Protection Plan from 2002, and issued an ambitious plan in 2016 to cut carbon emissions including working with Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) to expand renewable energy. The Committee also looks at racial and social equity, community health, and the arts as factors that enrich society and necessary components of climate plans.
Like Madison, Philadelphia is looking at ways to ensure environmental equity and sustainability in all neighborhoods, regardless of race or class. Greenworks, its sustainability plan, focuses on investing in green infrastructure:
“Sustainability is a key part of ensuring that every resident is healthy, lives in a quality neighborhood, and has the opportunity to prosper. That work starts with an acknowledgment that not every neighborhood in Philadelphia enjoys the benefits of sustainability, such as well-maintained parks and sidewalks, tree canopy, access to food, or litter-free streets… Our vision also acknowledges and addresses the local impacts of the biggest environmental challenge of our generation: climate change.”
Austin has an Office of Sustainability, with a plan for resilience and adaptation. It offers ways to reduce your carbon impact and has a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Of all the cities, their website appears most useful and easy to follow. You can chart out a personal plan of action, as well as track the progress of Austin as a whole.
Baltimore adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2012 with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through cost-efficiency energy, green infrastructure, education, and outreach about ways to save energy.
Salt Lake City’s Climate Positive 2040 lists programs and initiatives focusing on community collaboration to reduce pollution with a target of 100% renewable energy for electricity by 2032.
NYC didn’t make this report’s cut. In 2013, under Mayor Bloomberg, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” was released in response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of NY in 2012. But a plan after the fact is sadly too late. And rebuilding takes years. Climate change will destroy and devastate if we don’t plan, taking small and large actions to lessen our carbon footprint.
As so accurately put in Ann Arbor’s climate plan mission statement:
“… the consequences to society and natural systems from continued inaction far outweigh the costs and challenges associated with the implementation of the proposed actions.”