The year 2010 was challenging for Planet Earth. While the East
Coast sweltered in record-setting high heat and humidity, the U.S.
Congress abandoned its attempt to pass global warming legislation.
Meanwhile, Moscow experienced a heat wave that drove residents to
vodka parties and swimming to cool off, with fatal results for
some. California experienced a year with no summer, causing late
harvests and damage to crops that the rest of the nation depends on
for food. Finally, during the holidays, the U.S. East Coast
experienced a blizzard from Maine to the Carolinas that haulted
transportation systems, even the venerable New York City subway.
A political debate rages over the science of climate change, but
local governments have to cope with the realities of heat waves and
blizzards, and changes in sea levels and fresh water supply.
Observed impact of these events rather than scientific theory may
offer a less controversial basis for climate change public policy
Impact from changes in sea levels on islands has already been
observed, especially along shorelines and barrier reef islands. The
impact of climate change is expected to exacerbate the threat from
many natural hazards, such as hurricane wind speeds, wildfire
frequency, storm surge levels, and the occurrence of flooding.
Changes in land use, such as a growing coastal population, have
raised the stakes for environmental-related events, while climate
changeor climate variabilityhas altered the frequency and severity
of such hazardous events.
When confronting climate change, decisions on public investments
must be made using rational criteria. The Transportation Research
Boards Decision Framework to Address Impacts of Climate Change
offers guidance to local governments on infrastructure investment
decisions. Similarly, the California Institute for Local Government
provides the Best Practices Framework, which lists 10 areas for
potential climate change adaptation and mitigation actions (see
The International City Managers Association (ICMA) has crafted the
publication Balancing Ethics and Climate Change to guide decisions
on local investments. The guidelines emphasize the importance of
determining who benefits and who paysdiscussing ways to lessen the
burden on those least able to pay and avoid mortgaging the next
The guiding principles are distributive justice, intergenerational
considerations, precautionary principle, human rights, and do no
harm. ICMA recommends taking prudent action today that will have no
net harm if climate change does not progress, and will have a
beneficial effect if climate change does progress.
San Joses Green Vision
San Jose, California, the 10th largest U.S. city and the capital of
Silicon Valley, began its response to climate change with the 2008
adoption of Mayor Chuck Reeds Green Vision. This multipronged
approach to climate change includes both mitigation and adaptation.
A former agricultural center, San Jose has seen its economy switch
to the high tech industry, changing orchards to industrial and
commercial centers. The result has been an increase in impervious
surfaces and a loss of carbon-capture capacity.
LED Street Lights
One Green Vision program is the installation of LED (light-emitting
diode) street lights. Conversion of traffic signals to LEDs
occurred several years ago, demonstrating energy savings and
lessening labor costs for replacements. The LED streetlight
conversion now underway will not only cut electricity costs, but
also decrease the light signature that affects the observatory at
Mount Hamilton, provide white light that enhances the ability to
identify colors of cars and perpetrators clothing at crime scenes,
and save on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With cities confronting
shrinking resources, LED streetlight conversion is a community
benefit on many levels.
Another Green Vision program is tree planting on available lots.
San Jose has a long-standing partnership with Our City Forest to
maintain and improve existing trees. Budget cutbacks several years
ago eliminated tree planting and maintenance by the city, however.
Through Green Vision, San Joses goal is to plant 100,000 trees on
median and parking strips, other publicly owned areas, and spots
where the city has easements. Tree planting will restore
carbon-sequestration capacity that the city lost when orchards were
converted to a built environment, and the shade is expected to
lessen the need for air conditioning during the warmer months.
ICMA and the California Institute for Local Government note the
importance of stakeholder involvement in climate change mitigation
programs. AmeriCorps volunteers made a tree inventory to create the
basis for the new tree-planting program. San Jose has extended
tree-planting program implementation to private property locations
and other community members. Individuals can participate in the
tree-planting program by registering their privately planted trees
online with My City Forest to help track achievement of the 100,000
Another focus of San Joses efforts is Green Building certification
for its facilities. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design
(LEED) is an internationally recognized green building
certification and rating system. The new city hall was awarded the
LEED-platinum rating. Building retrofits for fire stations and the
construction of the new police substation included green building
strategies, including energy efficiency and building materials
Electrical generating and transmission are among the sectors most
vulnerable to natural hazard events associated with climate change.
On the one hand, aging infrastructure elements, such as
transformers, are damaged by high heat. Additionally, demand for
electricity rises during high heat events, resulting in managed
brown outs, or unmanaged blackouts, as air conditioning demands
stress the aging electrical grid.
In the western United States, hydropower has been a staple
electrical generation system, but the early snow melt and lower
levels of precipitation in some areas have lessened the number of
megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity generation in dry years. One of
Californias many climate change-related initiatives is investment
in the development of solar power generation at the point of
In 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive
Order S-13-2008, which mandated state agency action on climate
change to both mitigate climate change (limit the GHG emissions
believed to be the cause) and adapt to the climate changes already
observed, such as a seven-inch rise in sea level and rising average
California Solar Initiative (CSI)
Electricity generation has been identified by the California Air
Resources Board as the second largest source of GHG emissions in
the state, following transportation. The California Solar
Initiative (CSI) was intended to mitigate climate change by
lessening the GHG emissions associated with energy production.
One aspect of CSI was the Million Solar Roofs program, begun in
2006 and sponsored by the governor. CSI created an incentive
program for individuals and businesses to adopt solar technology,
especially installing solar panels on their roofs for
point-of-consumption power generation. Creating power at the point
of consumption not only eliminates GHG emissions from the power
production cycle, but also prevents the needs for new transmission
infrastructure investment. Following the ICMA ethics concepts, the
solar program was extended through special incentives to low-income
single family and multi-family homes.
Solar Power Generation
The goal of CSI is 1940 MWhs of solar power generation at the point
of consumption. About two-thirds of this capacity has already been
created by residential and commercial generation projects in areas
of the state served by investor-owned utilities. Each MWh of
electricity generation avoided saves about 0.32 metric tons (MT) of
CO2 emissions. In 2008 that represented 1.8 million metric tons of
Participants have included colleges that placed solar roofs on
parking spaces and on the roofs of parking garages and state
buildings that installed photovoltaic systems. The UPS building in
San Francisco operates solely on its solar roof system during
daylight hours, its highest period of consumption.
Fuel Cell Technology
Fuel cell technology is one green technology that the state is also
encouraging for point-of-consumption energy generation. One firm in
Sunnyvale, California, produces Bloom Boxes, which use a solid
oxide fuel cell to create power. The fuel can be bio gas or even
solar power. Google, eBay, and Yahoo have adopted Bloom box
technologies to power their facilities around the clock.
Alternative Transportation Strategies
The California Department of Transportation has been tasked with
managing transportations impact on climate change. Planners have
long said that new roads create their own customers, opening up
formerly rural areas to longer commutes that will require more
fossil fuels to power vehicles or electric trains for commuters.
Caltrans has been working with the transportation planning
organizations in the state to develop strategic growth and
congestion management plans to lessen GHG emissions. In partnership
with the U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development and
the Air Resource Board, housing needs assessments will be developed
that include strategies for infill development and transit-oriented
development that will lessen the demand for single user car
commutes. The state also is greening its own fleet by purchasing
replacement vehicles that run on alternative fuel or hybrid
Water policy is also affected by climate change. Western states
rely on snow pack and snow melt to create surface water flow in
rivers and streams, as well as to recharge aquifers. Drawn down
ground water causes the ground level to subside and may lead to
sink holes. For example, the San Jose neighborhood of Alviso has
sunk to six feet below sea level as a result of pumping underground
water for agricultural irrigation in other parts of the Silicon
Loss of surface water can impact the electrical power supply in
areas with hydroelectric power. Early snow melt can lead to spring
flooding and summer drought, which requires the construction of
reservoirs to ensure water provision.
In California water conservation has been practiced for many years.
Now with the realization that water processing and use incurs GHG
emissions, projects that reward water use reduction and water
recycling are widespread. The state is focusing on agricultural
water conservation and smart irrigation systems for public lands.
Denvers Climate Action Plan
As has been noted, regions and sectors of the United States are
developing plans for coping with climate change that may offer
guidance for communities that are just beginning to develop
mitigation, resilience, and adaptation plans. Denver, Colorado,
developed its Climate Action Plan in 2007, which addresses 10 areas
for participation by the city government and individual residents,
with goals set for 2012. While focused on greenhouse gas
reductions, other strategies include
- reuse of fly ash in paving energy conservation and the use of
renewable energy sources
- support for multimodal transportation
- waste reduction by commercial and residential generators,
including recycling green waste.
Energy efficiency standards are included for commercial buildings,
new homes, and remodeled homes, including a preference for
renewable energy sources.
Existing homeowners are encouraged to plant trees and monitor their
energy use. City development plans include enhanced densities,
pedestrian and bicycle-friendly areas, and mass transit
development. Alternative fueled vehicles and car-share programs
also are incorporated, along with encouragement for telecommuting
and car pools.
Pew Center Urges Further Adaptation
In 2009 the Pew Center for Global Climate Change issued a working
paper that outlines actions that states and local governments are
taking to adapt to climate change while they work on mitigation
measures. Pew defined mitigation as reduction in greenhouse gas
emissions, and adaptation as coping with the results of climate
Although 32 states were identified as working to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions, only 10 were developing adaptation plans. The
Transportation Research Board report on transportations impact on
climate change also encouraged adaptation to reduce vulnerability.
New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., have published
plans and programs on climate change initiatives. San Diego and
Dallas have plans focused on energy strategies. San Jose has a
Green Vision website that addresses its comprehensive climate
change plan, from emission reductions to planting trees and from
green composting to LED street lights. Alaska, California, Florida,
Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia,
and Washington all have state-level comprehensive climate
Chinas growing population of successful consumers is pushing levels
of air pollutionand the generation of greenhouse gassesabove
previous levels throughout the most populous areas. In Hot, Flat
and Crowded, author Thomas Friedman notes that as new nations
develop American economies, the rate of demand for fossil fuels
will rise and greenhouse gas emissions will increase, but at a rate
slower than the American experience because of more fuel-efficient
Australias 2010 drought was blamed on global warming. In an effort
at adaptation, desalinization plants were constructed to enhance
the supply of fresh water for irrigation for domestic use.
Unfortunately, the power for the desalinization plants is
coal-fired electricity, further contributing to green house gas
Political support is needed at the state and local government
levels for pre-disaster adaptation efforts to cope with the
observed changes in natural resources and systems. Some of these
mitigation efforts already are underway as part of the federally
mandated community mitigation plans developed under Disaster
Mitigation Act of 2000.
Existing strategies may include alternative flood protection
approaches, such as avoidance, elevation, and flood-proofing, as
well as structural protection against flood events and flood
protection of low lying areas. Protection of fresh water sources
from salt water incursion and development of new materials for
roadways that are less prone to heat damage may prevent some future
climate change impacts.
Construction methods that recognize the benefits of insulation,
building orientation, and location for mitigating the demands for
heating and cooling are also useful, including strategies used
before air conditioning like attic fans and location-specific
building orientation. For example, in the hot climate of
California, the original settlers used a northeast-southwest
building orientation for whole communitiesnotably Los Angelesto
mitigate interior heat build-up. In New York, which experiences
colder temperatures, architects advocate locating the most-used
living areas on the south side of a home to benefit from solar
Natural Cycle or Carbon: The Challenge Is the Same
Communities must evaluate the threat posed by climate change and
determine the level of adaptation that is possible and
cost-effective. Community stakeholders developing a climate
adaptation plan need to include residents, emergency responders,
local infrastructure agencies, scientists, and other levels of
government. Adaptation to climate change affects public health,
local government, transportation, and many other aspects of the
While debating the cause of climate change can be divisive and
politically volatile, a review of observed climate-related events
within the community and a strategy for lessening future loss of
life and infrastructure provide a firm basis for adaptation
planning, funding, and implementation. The observed effects of
climate change must be dealt with, regardless of their cause,
whether part of a natural cycle or due to greenhouse gas emissions.
Frances L. Edwards, PhD, is the deputy director for National
Transportation Security Center of Excellence at the Mineta
Transportation Institute, San Jose State University in California,
and director of the master of public administration program.
Contact her at email@example.com.
- Humphrey, Nancy. (May-June 2008). Potential Impacts of Climate
Change on U.S. Transportation. TR News.
- Institute for Local Government. (May 2008). California Climate
Action Network: Best Practices Framework.
- Walsh, Mary. (April 2010). Balancing Ethics and Climate Change:
A Framework for Decision Making. PM Magazine, vol. 92, no. 3. ICMA.
Figure 1 Climate Leadership Opportunity Areas
- Energy Efficiency and Conservation
- Water and Wastewater Systems
- Green Building
- Waste Reduction and Recycling
- Climate-Friendly Purchasing
- Renewable Energy and Low-Carbon Fuels
- Efficient Transportation
- Land use and Community Design
- Storing and Offsetting Carbon Emissions
- Promoting Community and Individual Action
Source: Institute for Local Government, Best Practices Framework,
Version 5.0, May 9, 2008