Climate change and extreme weather challenge communities to be resilient
Flooding in Texas and again in Louisiana, a category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic hammering Caribbean islands and Florida and, of course, memories of Sandy and Katrina place extreme weather events like hurricanes and the flooding, storm surge and winds that accompany them in the minds of people in the storms' paths, but also forefront in the minds of administrators, first responders, government officials and city planners.
"Managing Risk in a Changing Climate," a documentary produced by Penn State's public television station WPSU in partnership with the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRIM), focuses on Louisiana and New Orleans and their efforts to create a master plan for future events.
"We chose New Orleans because in a way it is the 'canary in the coal mine' for climate impacts," said Kristian Berg, senior producer-director, WPSU Penn State. "Clearly, it was a case study we could use."
New Orleans has already done a lot to face climate impact and is in a unique situation. The Mississippi River was altered after the great flood of 1927 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the world's longest system of levees. The land has been sinking ever since.
Much of the land around the mouth of the Mississippi was already below sea level, protected by levies or consisting of marsh or bayou. Post-hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi River was again altered.
"If we add sea-level rise to the existing circumstances, the situation just becomes worse," said Berg.
According to "Managing Risk," 38 states rely on the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans. If the port closes, an estimated $300 million a day will be lost.
The river also carries 160 metric tons of sediment which gets deposited in the delta, but over the past century, that sediment deposition has been interrupted by the building of levees beginning in 1928. Dredging to accommodate transportation and for oil and gas exploration has made matters worse by widening channels and destroying protective wetlands.
Major alterations to the natural cycles in such an important system have consequences. The delta begins to sink and wetlands disappear. Without wetlands, there is no protective barrier against storm surge, and water comes on land with more force and travels farther.
Planning, not just for today, but for the future, is the way New Orleans and other cities are approaching this problem. "Managing Risk" features some of the nation's leading climate experts and a broad section of stakeholders — city planners, government entities and citizens – investigating how decision makers can manage the risk of sea-level rise and stronger and more frequent storms.
"We hope this video can provide useful information for planners on how to deal with climate risk and how to plan to remain resilient," said Keller.
National Science Foundation's Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management links a transdisciplinary team of scholars at universities and research institutions across several nations to address fundamental challenges in sustainability. It tries to answer the question, "What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies?"
"Managing Risk in a Changing Climate" has been and will be broadcast by PBS television stations, The Knowledge Network and is available for viewing at wpsu.org/changingclimate/. The National Science Foundation through the Network for Sustainable climate Risk Management (GEO-1240507) partially supported this work.
A'ndrea Elyse Messer