Waterways of a Changing Climate

The Franklin Institute crowd at an event

Audience Questions Answered

How can we as individuals get involved in the community to help Philadelphia adapt and combat climate change?
Learning about the climate impacts expected in our region is a key component in being able to prepare our communities to live well in a hotter, wetter Philadelphia. Resources such as the National Climate Assessment and the Office of Sustainability’s Growing Stronger report can help with that. There are many organizations in Philadelphia that are helping with climate change preparedness efforts such as planting trees (TreePhilly), installing green infrastructure (Philadelphia Water Department and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), and weatherizing homes for energy efficiency (Energy Coordinating Agency). For a list of local organizations working on climate change issues, check out The Franklin Institute’s CUSP project. The city’s new Greenworks report also includes sections on what you can do to make Philadelphia more sustainable and prepared for climate change.

When we talk about local adaptation how do we invite low and moderate income communities to participate? How do we make adjustments accessible to those disadvantaged communities who are often the most affected?
This is a very important question as the groups most vulnerable to climate change often have the least capacity to adapt. In order to be successful, adaptation planning needs to include members of the community who are most affected. It is a common misconception that low income communities do not care about climate change, as they have many other worries to think about. However, we have seen through community education work with these groups that they are often more knowledgeable and more concerned than the general American public, perhaps because they are less sheltered from the impacts of climate change. In order to effectively engage these communities in planning, we need to listen to their concerns, educate about the climate change impacts that are most relevant to their concerns, and give the community the tools and resources necessary to become more resilient.  Stressing the co-benefits of climate adaptation, such as how greening efforts have also been shown to reduce crime and improve mental well-being, can help engage disadvantaged communities.

Have you seen elementary and middle schools around the country begin to teach children about climate change?
Yes! Climate change is a core idea found throughout the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) at the middle and high school level. Many states in the country have already adopted the standards. Certain states have not due to political and ideological reasons. To learn more about climate change education in schools, visit the National Center for Science Education's website.

In Philadelphia, the School District of Philadelphia has recently released its GreenFutures sustainability plan, where climate change is a main component of the Education for Sustainability curriculum.

At The Franklin Institute, we offer hands-on workshops on climate change with a focus on designing solutions to climate change in Philadelphia.

What role do you think veganism/a plant based diet can play in climate mitigation?
A plant-based diet can play an important role in climate mitigation (reducing or preventing emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause climate change). The single-most important factor is beef, which is highly energy intensive, and uses large quantities of land and water resources.

Learn more about the connection between food choices and climate change

Can you kindly recommend good reference reading (book or article) explaining the most important evidence for human-generated climate change AND for the predominant arguments against that evidence.  In the spirit of enhancing communication person-to-person and across the political divide.
Dr. David Titley says first it's very important to determine whether the person you are conversing with really has a question about climate science, or if science is in fact just a 'proxy argument' because that person does not like or agree with the solutions to climate risk she/he has heard to date.  Usually the real issue is not at all about science, but actually about values and beliefs (individual liberties vs. government regulations, near-term economic implications, taxation, wealth transfers, roles of the marketplace, value of a shared service, etc.).  However, in the case it's actually about science, the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) 'What We Know' is very good.  If you need more detail and granularity about the science, the National Academy of Science (US) and Royal Society (UK) jointly published a "Climate Change: Evidence and Causes" report that is very comprehensive for any non-climate-scientist.  Finding common values and shared experiences is a very good starting point for those who may be skeptical about the need for climate action.  90% of the time you'll find that when someone says it's about the science - it's really not about the science.

It's very hard to find any credible (peer-reviewed) literature that denies anthropogenic climate change - a little like looking for science books that claim there is no gravitational force.  There are still debates on exactly how sensitive climate will be for any given increase in greenhouse gases.  There are vigorous debates on what the timing and magnitude to local and regional impacts will be.  There is much active research with competing theories to better understand what, if any, impacts the melting of Arctic sea-ice will have on mid-latitude weather (like Pennsylvania).  Finally, there is very heated debate as to whether humans should engage in 'Climate Intervention', often called 'Geoengineering'.  The NAS put out a very comprehensive report on Climate Intervention in early 2015.

How can the national security administration handle the risks of climate change to security amidst a Trump administration that denies the existence of climate change and does not see climate change as a threat?
Dr. Titley’s guess (and it's only a guess) is that this administration will either downplay or ignore the risks of climate change to National Security.  We really don't know what they will do once in office.  Since the election, there has been ample conflicting statements to support almost any point of view - on almost any subject.  Dr. Titley hopes senior administration officials would listen to non-partisan, senior retired Flag Officers such as the CNA Military Advisory Board or the US National Intelligence Council's most recent report on climate & security. But ultimately the administration will focus on what they want to focus on.  The risk is we will be less prepared, and will, jeopardize mission success, needlessly endanger troops' lives, or (best case) waste money by not preparing adequately for this known risk.

Can you discuss both climate multipliers in conflict & a nuclear winter after a nuclear weapon exchange?
A good reference for climate multipliers in conflict is the above-mentioned National Intelligence Council report released this past September. Dr. Titley also wrote a short article outlining the issues.

Not to state the obvious, but a nuclear exchange would be devastating for millions of people and the ecosystems on many levels.  Even a so-called 'limited' nuclear exchange (e.g., between India and Pakistan) could put enough dust into the Stratosphere (twice the height where modern commercial jets fly) to cool the earth within weeks or months to temperatures not seen in centuries.  Such large temperature changes would likely be accompanied by significantly less rain and snowfall.  These impacts would last for several years.  A major nuclear exchange could cool the Earth to temperatures not seen since the last ice age.  It's not clear the global temperatures would stay cool enough to trigger an actual ice age, but global crop failure would likely exacerbate the misery for whomever was not killed by the blasts or radiation.  Of all the dangers of our modern world (including climate change), only nuclear warfare could end life as we know it in one afternoon.

If there are predictions of 6ft SLR for year 2100 and you add another 3ft of tidal fluctuation, how will this daily (or twice daily technically) be considered in comparison to extreme weather events? Is there a different understanding of risk behind these and therefore a different attitude to adaptation?
As sea levels rise, water levels that today are rare, become common.  For example, in parts of the U.S. at present, a six-foot storm surge that occurs at the same time as high tide, might be something with only a 1% chance of happening per year. It would require both a fairly large storm making landfall at just the 'right' spot, and occurring at high tide.  If we fast-forward say to 2100 (when some infrastructure such as bridges, water tunnels, and buildings will still be within their design lifetimes) and imagine six feet of sea level rise has occurred, that same level of high water would be experienced in the absence of storms, twice per day. From an adaptation perspective, the area that floods twice per day probably will be untenable for development and habitable design as we currently understand it.  These areas will also see salt water intrusion into ground water, and changes in ecosystems.  Further inland (in areas with relative flat topography), in areas where today virtually no one is thinking about rising seas, you will start to see more frequent flooding as the century goes on, since storms are not going to disappear.  It will be those areas, that have flooded rarely if at all in the past, that begin to have to start preparing for (initially occasional but eventually more common) intrusions of water, for example by accommodating occasional flooding in existing buildings, only allowing critical new long-lived infrastructure to be built even further inland, and constructing engineered barriers around things that cannot accommodate occasional salt water.

If all greenhouse gas producing activities were halted today, how do we mitigate the existing effects of climate change?
Even if we completely stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, temperatures would fall only very slowly, and other indicators of a changing climate, such as sea level, would be expected to continue to rise.  It is also important to note that the most optimistic projections from a greenhouse gas emissions reduction perspective target reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, not cessation of emissions.

No matter how quickly we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a need for adaptation to climate changes that are underway and expected.  Adaptation to higher temperatures include planting of trees for added shade, providing cooling for those people who are most vulnerable (such as cooling centers, or even home air-conditioners) and communication and emergency management activities (such as issuing warnings about heat waves and actively making sure that the most vulnerable people are safe).  Adaptations to higher seas include 1) big engineering solutions like storm surge barriers and sea walls, 2) green infrastructure such as marshes and oyster beds that help hold back some waters from the coast, and 3) policy changes that discourage people from living and working in flood prone areas, and help ensure that buildings in these regions are designed and operated in a way that can withstand occasional flooding.

What is the state of adaptation planning in the densely populated suburban greater Philly area?
DVRPC is leading a community of climate adaptation practitioners in greater Philadelphia. Learn More About DVRPC

Does Philadelphia have any plans to expand the electric vehicle charging infrastructure to promote electric vehicle ownership in the city?
The City is working with partners including PECO, DVRPC, and state agencies to understand our role in promoting alternative fuel vehicle adoption.  At this point, the private sector appears to be meeting charging infrastructure needs, but we are committed to continue monitoring the market.

Philly has made bike trails on the Schuylkill and is planning development along the Delaware River. Is climate change considered in the planning?
City staff participate on the boards of both the Schuylkill River Development Corporation and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and provide their knowledge of climate change as part of their service to those organizations.