Cities At Risk

Cities are at risk as global warming escalates for two major reasons: sea-level rise and the urban heat island effect. Both are serious environmental challenges. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), global warming can have a profound effect on many components in cities: It can affect tunnels, communications lines, power plants, buildings, sewers, water systems, and every possible physical structure in the region. Because most Americans now live in urban and suburban areas (and by 2050, most of the world will), it is critical that cities find out what impacts could potentially occur and make plans now to deal with any future disasters in order to minimize the risks and possible damage.

Paul Kirshen, a research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University who has been involved with the EPA on a study focusing on the effects of global warming on cities, comments on the social impacts to society: "People may react differently in a warmer city, exacerbating some of those physical impacts. For instance, the warmer the weather, the more water and energy people use. So the infrastructure may get it in two different ways—the physical impacts, and the social and economic impacts."

Mindy Lubber of the EPA in the New England region says, "If we don't address these issues, the price we pay may be huge. Disruptions to infrastructure can be costly, as we in the Boston area learned during the flood of 1996. Extreme weather caused $70 million in property dam age and disrupted transportation for thousands of people. The costs of modifying and repairing our infrastructure can be exorbitant."

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