In This City Life

The effects of climate change will affect life everywhere on the planet, and indeed they will not ignore human populations. Where and how humans choose to live will have profound impacts on how detrimental climate change is to their lives, and the systems that they rely on. As of 2008, the world became half urban, and that will certainly influence how climate change affects our lives and wellbeing.

Our infrastructure and our systems need to be capable of dealing with the ramifications of climate change in cities, otherwise the capacity for dramatic human tragedies will be profound. With such a concentration of human populations, a disaster’s effect will be more concentrate and have far greater impact. Consider the recent floodings in Pakistan. With more non-porous surfaces, and lack of greenspaces, cities cannot absorb storm waters as they otherwise would, and as drainage infrastructure breaks down, even continental cities can be thoroughly inundated.

With increased temperatures, the already pressing concern of air pollution in cities becomes all the more real, as the creation of smog becomes exacerbated. For all people living in cities this is a serious concern, but especially the young and elderly will be affected, as rates of respiratory tract infection increases and asthma become more common. Moreover, the concerns of heat waves are very real, especially considering the urban heat island effect. With so many dark surfaces, from concrete to asphalt and vertical walls absorbing and re-radiating solar radiation, cities become considerably warmer than the countryside around them. As climate change warms the global average temperature, these already frequent events can become the norm, and without seriously addressing this issue, our cities will soon become pressure cookers.

Cities also cannot migrate like the human populations that inhabit them, and many of the global centers of today will eventually become modern day equivalents to Atlantis if nothing is done to mitigate climate change. Many of the world’s largest cities are coastal, and for many there is little, other than the continuous construction of levees, that can be done to adapt to sea level rise. Coastal cities will also suffer much of the effects of harsher weather patterns which they may not be prepared for, in the form of storms and hurricane force winds.

Moreover, it’s important to understand cities as very reliant on the hinterland around them, which includes important resources such as food and water. Consider the situation of the water supply of cities. As climate change disrupts formerly stable precipitation patterns, and as it drives the glacial retreat of the glaciers which supply many rivers, many cities could face water shortages of greater proportions then they’ve ever faced before. We already live in a thirsty world, but demographically are moving to centers where it may be even harder to find the wet stuff.

We need to seriously consider cities as potential centers of innovating and mitigating in the fight against climate change. At the same time, we must understand that they will face many impacts due to climate change, and that these must be addressed and adapted to if the human populations that live within them can still live securely. Many come to cities in search of opportunities for a better life, and we should strive to help fulfill that promise.

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