Study could help city prepare for impacts already on the way
The City of Oakland is forging a comprehensive Energy and Climate Action Plan aimed at mitigating climate change. Even by California standards; it’s ambitious, calling for a 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 (statewide emissions decreased 5.3% between 2005 and 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available). It also lays out the policies and programs needed to make it happen. What the plan doesn’t answer is how the city will cope with the climate change that has already been set in motion.
Enter a study prepared by Oakland’s Pacific Institute for the California Energy Commission, published in July but not widely circulated until this month. It fills in the holes in the city’s approach by advancing “climate adaptation planning,” in which local governments prepare for dealing with climate change on a short-and-long-term basis and across all segments of the population.
“Our concern was that we’re already down the road a bit on climate change, and we’re going to see significant impacts no matter what you do with greenhouse gases,” said Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, which helped prepare the report. “So we were looking at how will people react to climate change over the next fifty years, because we’re definitely going to see it happen to us.”
Not that the city itself is blind to the issue. A chapter of its plan entitled, “Climate Adaption and Increasing Resilience” dedicates five pages out of 81 to the idea that a certain amount of climate change is inevitable and beginning to occur now — and that in addition to avoiding future impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve got to learn to live with it.
The chapter lays out a nice little suite of looming climate challenges for the city:
“…significantly decreased snowpack in the Sierra Mountains (the source of most of Oakland’s potable water supply); rising Bay and Delta waters; increased fire danger; greater frequency and intensity of heat events; added stress on infrastructure; pricing and quality of life impacts; and ecological impacts.”
The plan offers some potential solutions but leaves the details for another day.
The Pacific Institute teamed up with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, a 50-member consortium housed at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, to nudge the city along. Its report identifies more than 50 specific strategies for building resilience and adaptability into local communities, organized by climate disaster. A sampling of the (admittedly intimidating) recommendations:
- Develop early-warning systems for extreme heat events
- Open air-conditioned buildings to the community during extreme heat events
- Install cool pavement
- Install green roofs
- Limit development in floodplain
- Preserve or restore wetlands
- Raise existing structures above flood level
- Build levees and seawalls
- Replace flammable vegetation with less-flammable options
- Limit development in fire-prone areas
- Ensure adequate shelters are in place
Rising utility and food costs
- Promote energy and water efficiency
- Develop and support local food systems
- Programs to reduce financial hardship on residents
- Create green economy and workforce
Poor air quality
- Insulate/seal homes
- Create “safe rooms” with HEPA filters
- Develop warning system for air-quality
“We don’t have a very prepared society for these events,” Beveridge said of Oakland. “There are still places in the hills that are very hard to get to with a firetruck. In my neighborhood in the flatlands, our storm system and sanitary sewer system is 100 years old.
“We have not spent the time on infrastructure maintenance to prepare us for what could be coming in the next couple decades.”
An aspect of its plan entitled “Climate Adaption and Increasing Resilience” dedicates five pages out of 81 to the idea that a certain amount of climate change is inevitable and beginning to occur now — and that in addition to avoiding future impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve got to learn to live with it.
This post has been revised. An earlier version misstated the number of pages that the Oakland plan devotes to adaptation.