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June 23, 2014

U.S. mayors to fight climate change

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HOUSTON —

“You have shown them what leadership on this issue can bring,” McCarthy said.

For coastal cities such as Galveston, Houston and New York City, as well as more arid regions of the country, such as Phoenix and Sacramento, California, there is no time for debate — climate change’s effects are real.

Galveston’s seawall didn’t stand up to Hurricane Ike in 2008, partly because of the sea level rise that allowed the storm’s surge to reach inner areas. Officials began to rethink protections, leading Galveston and nearby coastal communities to collaborate with The Nature Conservancy to restore oyster reefs and wetland habitats that could better help protect communities.

New York learned similar lessons after Superstorm Sandy. Quickly after, it became clear some man-made solutions — such as seawalls or underwater fencing — are expensive and not always effective. The city also asked the Nature Conservancy to study how built defenses could be combined with “natural infrastructure” to buffer a city that’s becoming more vulnerable.

Howard Beach, a low-lying, flat area of Queens, was pounded by Sandy. The Nature Conservancy’s report concluded that significant, cost-efficient defenses could be achieved by re-vegetating shorelines and restoring mussel beds and wetlands in combination with more traditional solutions, such as sea walls.

Heat and debilitating drought is worsening in some parts of Arizona and California. Sacramento is using trees for part of the solution, and the city has outlined a detailed “climate plan” for the coming decades.

Bill Finch, the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and co-chair of the conference’s climate task force, said some mayors in mid- and large-sized cities have had a climate plan for about seven years. Party politics are irrelevant, he said, pointing out that his co-chair on the committee is Carmel, Indiana, Republican James Brainard.

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