As the Seas Rise, Cities 'Dither'

The world’s coastal cities now face an impossible situation as a result of climate change. While the impacts and catastrophes become inevitable, why do cities like San Francisco dither rather than act?

Gabriel Metcalf makes an impassioned plea for more action on global climate change: “The international community has set a goal of limiting global warming to fewer than 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the current consensus of the upper limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. Achieving it would require the total cessation of emissions once we have spirited 800 gigatons of carbon out of the ground and into the air. By 2011, we were already two-thirds of the way to this threshold, and global emissions rates continue to increase.”

Metcalf also says it's possible to measure how successful humans have been in preventing the worst possible outcomes by how much fossil fuel we avoid using: “To keep warming below 4 degrees Fahrenheit, the International Energy Agency has found that we need to leave two-thirds of all known remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas in the ground, unburned.”

“There is a name for the new geological epoch we have entered: the Anthropocene, the era in which humans have caused profound changes to the outer layer of the earth,” writes Metcalf, who rather suggests a name for the era coined by author Kim Stanley: “The Dither.” The article then goes on to highlight some of the investments required in infrastructure to adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change.

Of particular relevance to the planning and development process, Metcalf calls out the hypocrisy of those with environmentalist politics who nonetheless obstruct urban development: “[While] the Bay Area needs to channel all of its growth into walkable, transit-served locations, we still endlessly debate the merits of every individual building no matter how close to transit it is. If you believe that there is time urgency to cutting the American contribution to global climate change, the current system of endless process over action constitutes a moral failure.”

Full Story: The Great Dithering

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