Climate Primer #32: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 15. Urban Threats

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, food insecurity, and deteriorating health. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

Although droughts, floods, heat waves, and water scarcity have all already been addressed in previous posts, given that more than 50% of the human population globally already lives in urban areas (with the UN projecting that nearly 70% may live in such areas by 2050), the specific threats that climate crisis poses for cities merit just the sort of specific attention that AR5 gives them:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

I live in New York City, so, of course, such urban particularities are of personal interest to me. Thankfully, New York is not particularly menaced by landslides or water scarcity (though the vulnerability of our water infrastructure could, at some point, put us into the position of being surrounded by water without having any uncontaminated water to drink), but all of the other threats outlined above by the IPCC apply here. To quote from the City’s own Environment & Health Data Portal: “Over the past century in New York City, average temperatures have increased by 0.25°F per decade, precipitation by 0.72 inches per decade, and sea levels by 1.2 inches per decade. By the 2020s, a projected 25-30 days above 90°F are expected in a typical summer, resulting in more frequent and intense heat waves.” These figures, in turn, were culled from the 2009 report “Climate Risk Information” from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and things have only grown worse in the ensuing decade, nor would I say that New York is doing a particularly worse job than its peer cities globally in (not) meeting the growing challenge of climate crisis.

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