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ECO New York, ECO New Jersey, ECO East Coast

November 1st, 2012 · No Comments

In 2005, just a week after Katrina hit New Orleans, blogger Meteor Blades outlined a plan for rebuilding New Orleans in a smart, sensible, leading-edge way: Eco New Orleans: ‘A Shining Example for the Whole World’. Meteor Blades began this must read (especially now, again) discussion:

The tragedy wrought by Katrina provides a chance to do what Mayor Ray Nagin said George Bush told him … : New Orleans can be remade into “a shining example for the whole world.”

Even as we are just in the opening days of recovering from Frankenstorm Sandy, with fellow Americans killed by this climate change-influenced severe weather event and millions of fellow Americans without power, we should look not to “rebuild” (as we have already heard from multiple politicians) what was (damaged or destroyed by Sandy) but to recreate a built infrastructure more resilient to mounting climate chaos and a built infrastructure that lessens humanity’s stress on the planetary climate system to reduce the likelihood and extent of future impacts.

Meteor Blades merits credit for the seriousness and quality of his : Eco New Orleans post, as it provided a very serious outline of measures to take with explicit examples of benefits to derive from them. In this post, I will not even hint at targeting the same level of detail but, instead, will simply put down some markers for consideration while opening the door for continued discussion (whether in comments or otherwise).

Basic principles that should guide reconstruction efforts and resources

  • Resources should not go to rebuilding with duplication of same vulnerabilities. Sadly, too many of our (limited) resources post disaster situations have gone to ‘rebuild’ to then find the same disaster occurring over again. For example, houses in flood plains that have, in essence, been flooded out multiple times. Sandy was an extreme, “unprecedented” event — however, climate change is making such events more likely and potentially more severe. Does it make sense to rebuild homes, essentially, at sea level or should such buildings be ‘recreated’ with lower vulnerability to rising seas and storm surges?
  • Rebuild “green”, with better public transit access, more energy efficient buildings, onsite clean energy generation (combined heat power, solar, wind, geothermal, etc …)
  • Target 100% low-carbon electrical system. This should include a major commitment to the offshore wind system but shouldn’t stop there as there should be a significant portion as distributed power. This can range from existing options (such as rooftop solar and small scale wind) to emergent systems (such as enhanced geothermal and small modular reactors). As part of this, the building code should shift (immediately) to requiring rebuilt structures to generate 20 percent of power onsite (with clean energy systems) and have that figure, for new buildings, go up 2.5 percent per year. (E.g, after four years, 30 percent onsite power.) (Imagine if those blacked-out areas had enough self-generation capacity to support basic needs…) And, create a backfit requirement for fostering a move toward more efficient built structures that produce at least some of their own energy requirements. And, for every kilowatt of capacity that a building falls short of this target, have a set fee (perhaps, to start, $3.50 per watt or $3500 per kilowatt) that will be provided to the local community for building community clean energy systems.
  • Green Public Buildings, especially schools.
  • Invest in infrastructure, energy, transportation, otherwise. For example, investing in ’smart grid’ will reduce the likelihood of large-scale blackouts as the grid will isolate problems rather than enabling cascading failures
  • Target ‘passive’/natural flood management, with parks, green spaces, otherwise more able to handle flooding inundations. (Note: not much help against nine foot storm surges on top of a high high tide …)

This post started, somewhat unfairly, invoking MB’s excellent 2005 work. While the above doesn’t pretend to provide “the” answers, we should immediately reject those who shallowly call for “rebuilding”. We should look to work like the New York Climate Action Plan for the elements of action to recreate for the 21st — not rebuild for the 20th — century. We don’t wish to and we can’t afford to “recreate” as things were, because they were built in and for a 20th century climate system. Instead, we need to recreate for 21st century realities and do so in a way that lessens our impact on the climate system and lowers the risks from future extreme weather events.

NOTE: There are millions of our fellow citizens suffering. While 10s of millions suffered disruption (for example, my day without power), that disruption is meaningless in face of real travails from dealing with death and injury, dealing with destroyed / heavily damaged homes and communities, uncertain economic prospects, and otherwise. These communities and people need immediate help — whether medical care, food supplies, batteries, shelter, or otherwise. Sadly, climate-driven Sandy has provide a starkly clear statement as to the need for and value of “Big Government”. Gladly, the Republican anti-tax mania haven’t succeeded in drowning government in the bathtub (yet) and FEMA is able to act. Even so, individuals can provide tangible aid through donating to organizations on the ground (not by doing photo-op supply drives a la the Ryan-Romney Potemkin Village charity events). Our hearts, thoughts, and dollars are with our fellow citizens dealing with Sandy’s devastation on their communities and their lives.

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