By Ross Patrick Robinson
America’s coastal cities are in for a serious pounding over the course of the next 100 years, thanks to the ravages of climate change. Catastrophic flooding events along the east coast are projected to at least double by 2030, according to a 2014 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Across 76 pages and in more than 200 footnotes, the MIT-based group suggests that the mid-Atlantic region will be particularly hard hit: by 2030, Washington, D.C., will see more than 150 tidal floods annually. By 2045, the nation’s capital will face one per day, or nearly 400 floods every year. Increases in monsoon, hurricane, and storm strengths will also have a substantial impact on the viability and safety of the country’s coastal cities, as demonstrated in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, which caused more than $50 billion dollars in economic losses and numerous deaths in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Mean sea level is scheduled for a drastic increase, rising between 0.4 and 1.2 meters by 2100 if current rates of carbon emissions continue. Over the next 200 years, New York could lose the East Village, West Village, Williamsburg, and Long Island City to the sea, while Boston may be forced to become a city of canals.
On the west coast, unprecedented decreases in rainfall and increases in temperature are already presenting significant economic challenges, with University of California researchers reporting that the Golden State’s 2015 drought cost its economy $1.8 billion dollars and more than 10,000 jobs. Moreover, a research team composed of scientists from NASA, Columbia, and Cornell recently published a study warning of unprecedented “megadrought” conditions affecting the American southwest within as few as 35 years, exponentially worsening California’s present water problems and leading to voracious, uncontrollable wildfires on scales previously unimaginable. Between 1984 and 2011, the total area consumed by wildfires in the United States increased at a rate of approximately 90,000 acres per year—or a plot the size of the city of Las Vegas—costing hundreds of millions of dollars to combat annually, and that cost is expected to compound over time. Massive displacements due to fire are already taking place—one California fire last year resulted in the evacuation of more than 23,000 residents and a governor-declared state of emergency.
Comparatively, Chicago, the “Third Coast,” is arguably far better situated to deal with climate change than its peer cities on either side of the country. Its geographic location will spare it some of the more dramatic impacts of climate change—including land loss to rising tides—while its cultural, economic, historical, and architectural significance will provide it a platform for future growth. As climate change forces cities such as New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and San Francisco into crisis, Chicago may reveal itself as the most resilient American legacy city.
The principal climate-related challenge Chicago itself faces is heat. Environmental Protection Agency researchers predict that the midwest as a whole will experience significant increases in temperature throughout the 21st century, with Chicago experiencing summer temperatures akin to those of present-day Atlanta before 2100. Projected decreases in summer and fall precipitation will render this heat particularly problematic. Fortunately, Chicago needn’t be as concerned about drought and dwindling water supplies compared to other major cities due to its sizable neighbor, Lake Michigan. David Archer, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago, says Lake Michigan is enormously useful in a hotter and drier world, going so far as to call the Great Lakes region “the Saudi Arabia of freshwater” owing to the vast quantities we have of the wet stuff.
“We’re much better off than NYC, which has real sea level [rise] and hurricane problems,” Archer says. “LA is definitely in a precarious water situation, along with much of the rest of the southwest. Chicago is the place to be, it seems.”
Continue reading at the Chicago Reader…