Category Environment

How coastal communities are adapting to a changing weather

Polar bears in the North Pole, sighted by the USS Honolulu.

Global warming and the global climate crisis continue to make headlines in news outlets: from increasing floods, to droughts and fires. By the end of the century, global temperatures are expected to increase 4C under the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.

21.5 million people were displaced each year between 2008 and 2016 by some form of weather-related incident, including floods, storms, wildfires or extreme temperatures.

There is a correlation between higher temperatures and an increase in the number of natural disasters.

With some locations becoming drier with decreased rainfall patterns, and others more susceptive to being flooded, communities that were previously unaffected by natural disasters are more likely to suffer climate-related shocks in coming years.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, cities like Wilmington, Annapolis, Maryland, Sandy Hook and Atlantic City have seen a 10-fold increase in flood frequency since the 1950s, according to the EPA.

A study on the impact of climate change on European coasts estimated a 30-fold increase in damage from coastal flooding by mid-century and a 700-fold increase by the end of the century on a current path trajectory, with a $1 trillion price tag, without any future flood protection measures.

Malé, the capital of the Republic of Maldives. Photo by Timo Newton-Syms from Helsinki, Finland and Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, UK

Coastal area residents, particularly in developing countries and small nation states, are increasingly more vulnerable to these calamities.

In 2015, India and China respectively had 3.7 and 3.6 million people displaced from disasters. It is expected that over 140 million people will be climate-related migrants by 2050 in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

Indigenous communities are increasingly exposed to sea-level rise in areas like Panama, Louisiana, and low-lying islands in Asia and the Pacific, where 80% of the world’s 370 million indigenous people live, forcing them to move farther and higher inland.

In the Guna Yala region, off the Atlantic coast of Panama, 49 Guna communities have witnessed a 15cm rise of sea level rise in recent years. It is estimated that 28,000 people in the region will need to relocate to the mainland in the coming years, not only due to sea-level rise, but also because of deteriorating coral reefs and a diminished fishing output that these communities rely on.

Rural communities in developing nations are also distressed by changing weather patterns. The Isle of Jean Charles, in Louisiana, once the only home of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, has shrunk from 34 square miles, to less than half a square mile. The Biloxis have been relocating to higher ground for the last couple of decades, with support from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) accompanied by a $48.3 million grant to acquire new land some 12 feet above sea level.

Adapting to sea-level rise

As global temperatures keep rising in coming years, natural disasters will steadily increase. However, the world is better prepared to handle natural disasters. According to the International Disasters Database, the number of global casualties related to natural disasters has been contracting, partly due to better early-warning systems that facilitate faster evacuations.

In 2018, nearly half of all deaths from disasters took place in Indonesia (5,510 casualties), as a result of tsunamis and earthquakes in the region. In response, President Joko Widodo presented a plan to build a massive sea wall around Jakarta’s coast to abate damage from the sea and to help reduce the ocean from further encroaching on the capital’s coast, currently at a rate of 8 inches per year.

Jakarta joins other cities that advocate for sea walls, whether in the form of massive barriers, or vegetated buffer zones and wetlands that reduce damage from flash floods and hurricanes. In the U.S., following Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on 13 states, many cities along the East Coast received federal funding to better prepare for hurricanes. Cities from New York to Miami are investing millions to protect their coastlines. New York is planning to build a vegetated flood-protection zone around lower Manhattan. Norfolk has a $4 billion coastal resilience work plan underway, while Miami is investing close to half a billion dollars to address sea level rise.

In addition to coastal barriers, some cities implement policies like building codes and zoning laws to ensure schools, hospitals and workplaces are located in safe areas and can withstand the passing of hurricanes and floods. In addition, some cities have other financial instruments to help them recover from hurricanes and storms more quickly — including flood insurance, resilience bonds, or municipal and federal budgets allocated for stormwater management programs.

The Maeslantkering is a storm surge barrier that automatically closes when Rotterdam is threatened by floods. Photo: Dronesupport nl. via Flickr.

Coastal communities will adapt to sea-level rise in different ways. Wealthier cities are more likely to adapt and recover from natural disasters more easily than their counterparts in the Global South, due to their increased technical and financial capacity.

Less prosperous coastal communities, despite being the countries with the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions, are more likely to depend on relocating their populations. Over 200,000 households in Bangladesh have already been forced to relocate.

The Paris Agreement stipulated developed countries would provide aid to developing nations to better prepare for climate change, amounting to $100 billion every year in technical and financial assistance — a responsibility mostly being led by the European Union after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, and a commitment that has yet to materialize.

Kiribati’s former president Anote Tong, bought land in Fiji as contingency for evacuating the country’s population and to send a message to the rest of the world that the survival of their country is at risk, including the lives of around 100,000 Kiribati citizens. Without adequate funding and technical capacity, more countries might follow suit, relying on relocating their coastal populations, as a way to adapt to coastal flooding.

US Clean Power Plan halted by Supreme Court

The COP21 meetings in Paris this past December were applauded by some as an historic event that would allow the 195 signing countries to collaborate on a plan to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and  avoid global temperatures from rising 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.[1] That is the estimated threshold that would ensure low-lying nation states like the Marshall Islands don’t disappear due to rising sea levels and hotter temperatures in the coming decades.

Last year, in preparation to the COP meetings, the US announced in April its proposed emissions reduction plan: to lower greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.[2] This target would imply improving energy efficiency in areas like electricity generation, transportation, and energy use in housing and commercial buildings. Four months later, in August, President Obama announced the final version of the Clean Power Plan, a document that outlined a path to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.[3]

Earlier this year, on February 9, the US Supreme Court halted Obama’s plan to regulate power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, as outlined in his Clean Power Plan, responding to a challenge placed by twenty seven states, some companies and lobby groups,[4] including major oil producer Texas, and coal-dependent West Virginia, where over 95% of its electricity comes from coal[5,6]. This judicial process could delay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan as late as 2017.

What does delaying the Clean Power Plan amount to? 

It equals the reduction of anywhere between 652 and 870 million tons of carbon dioxide. That amounts to the annual emissions of up to 166 million cars.[7]  It also equals nearly half of the US commitments in greenhouse gas emissions reductions declared for COP21.

Countries that joined COP21 in Paris now have until April 21, 2017 to sign the agreement, and have even more time to ratify the agreement, meaning they have to pass the necessary laws in order to fully commit to COP21 targets. Although COP21 can go forward without the US, halting the reduction of greenhouse gases from electricity production, puts in jeopardy the Obama administration’s legacy on climate change and delays the feasibility of preventing global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees, as outlined in the COP21 negotiations.

CPP-ing

 

[1] Adoption of the Paris Agreement. United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Dec. 12, 2015. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] US Climate Commitment Should Spur Other Countries to Act.  and http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/04/us-climate-commitment-should-spur-other-countries-act

[3] Climate Change and President Obama’s Action Plan. https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change

[4] US Supreme Court puts Obama climate regulations on hold. Jeff Tollefson. Feb. 10, 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/us-supreme-court-puts-obama-climate-regulations-on-hold-1.19346

[5] U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Lawrence Hurley and Valerie Volcovici. Feb. 9, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-supreme-court-blocks-obama-s-clean-power-plan/

[6] West Virginia. State Profile and Energy Estimates. http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WV

[7] Estimates based on EPA’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory (http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2016-Chapter-Executive-Summary.pdf), and EPA’s Clean Power Plan factsheet (http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-numbers).

 

Book: Spanish edition of Do Good [Design], by David Berman

Haz el bien diseñando, the Spanish edition of Do Good Design, by David Berman, explores the ethical implications of communication design and the role designers play as accomplices in mass media production. The author has decades promoting social responsibility among design professionals and has been influential in the adoption of web accessibility legislation and ethical rules of conduct for design associations in his native Canada and internationally. In the first part of the book, Berman invites designers to question whether the things they design prompts people to do good things or whether they help craft visual lies and biased messages that incite irresponsible consumption.

In his book, Berman argues that by designing marketing campaigns, ads and packaging, designers play a crucial role in influencing people’s decisions. He presents several examples of posters, ads, found street signage, packaging and billboards from his trips across different continents. These examples act as short visual literacy lessons that shed insights on major brands’ messaging tactics: How children incidentally recognize the cartoon character behind Camel, the famous cigarette brand, more easily than Mickey Mouse; how sex and the female body are used to sell water, magazines, phones, servers and even political campaigns; how Coke is the world’s second most recognized word after OK, among many others.

“We live in a time where it’s easier to leave a more influential legacy popularizing our ideas than spreading our genetic material” — David Berman

The book presents a plethora of examples that demonstrate how communication design can have a big impact. One of the more famous case studies is the design of the US presidential election ballots in 2004 that affected the election results that put President Bush in power. Or how the design of tabulated sheets, designed by Herman Hollerith to compensate for his cognitive deficit, led to the invention of computing and the founding of IBM. Designing for the extremes, or for people with all cognitive or physical levels of dexterity and visual cognition is a strategy that creates better products that function for everyone, explains Berman.

Toward the book’s final pages, several tips and practical advice for designers to “do good” at a strategic level: To consider cultural, social, environmental and financial sustainability at the beginning of each project; to commit to the design profession and join professional associations,  implying these organizations require a minimum ethical commitment from its members, just like doctors and lawyers abide to certain rules of conduct; to donate 10% of our time to worthwhile causes on a volunteer basis.

This well-researched and visually compelling presentation is a thought-provoking call to action for all designers, not only communication designers. The book’s marginalia includes brief case studies of design professionals who are already “doing good” in their own work. Rather than providing answers, the book invites designers to create their own solutions based on their local context.

Sustainable economic development assessment (SEDA)

Since 1934, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the single metric used to evaluate countries’ progress. This year, the Boston Consulting Group created a new progress evaluation system called Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA). Based on 50,000 different types of data points publicly available in areas like health, environmental protection, and freedom of expression, and grouped in ten different categories, SEDA measures people’s well-being, not only their country’s economic output.

 

 

SEDA

In their third SEDA edition 140 countries were compared. Poland showed a stronger sustainable growth than China. The European country performed well in employment, governability, civic society and the environment. Its Asian counterpart, showed a strong economic growth. However, it has one of the lowest scores in environmental protection.
Out of the top ten highest ranking countries, with the exception of Singapore, all are European countries. These top countries have been capable of turning economic gain into tangible benefits for their population. Countries like Mexico and the US fell behind other countries in their capacity to create progress for their citizens.