News Archive

posted 03/05/02

Climate Extremes and Change: Decision-making in the New York Metropolitan Region
Lunch explores ways of getting the planning message taken on board

by Jennifer Freedman

March 5, 2002--There was standing room only at SIPA last Friday as over a hundred people gathered at a working lunch to discuss the effects of climate change on the New York Metropolitan area.

WABC-TV news called the Columbia Earth Institute luncheon "A kind of environmental summit."

The event was held in honor of the release of the Metro East Coast (MEC) report, Climate Change and a Global City: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. (see

Cynthia Rosenzweig and State Assemblymember Pete Grannis

"Today was about scientists working together with stakeholders to bring climate change into the decision-making process," said Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia, who was co-leader of the MEC study and a host of Friday's lunch.

Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow delivered welcoming remarks, and Associate Vice Provost of the Columbia Earth Institute John Mutter, who is also a member of Governor Pataki's Greenhouse Gas and Climate Change Task Force, pointed out that we can't wait to understand all the variables before starting to do something to respond to climate change.

The MEC report documented climate trends and their potential impacts on many aspects of life in the New York region: coastal development, transportation, wetlands, water supplies, public health, energy demand, and decision-making. After showing how recent climate trends are resulting in more extremes including both droughts and floods, Rosenzweig called for both adaptation and mitigation strategies to address the problem.

Adaptations recommended by the report included such coping strategies as:

  • Protecting transportation infrastructure.

  • Creating buffer zones so that saltwater marshes may retreat as seas rise.

  • Safeguarding sewage-treatment plants from enhanced storm surges.

  • Improving energy efficiency and passive cooling methods to lessen urban island effects.

Pointing out that New Yorkers should be proactive about climate change and needn't wait until a crisis develops to act, Christopher Zeppie of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said "The stone age did not end because the human race ran out of stone."

A number of activities are either underway or planned in the region to address the climate change issue. These include health, storm surge, and informational activities undertaken by Columbia, the authors of the Metro East Coast assessment, and the others. Summaries of these activities can be found on these pages:
Current Activities
Follow-on Activities

Michael Crow offers welcoming remarks

State Assemblymember Pete Grannis, a speaker at the lunch, called for more involvement from the private sector in general, and the insurance industry in particular, in taking on climate change.

Architect Hillary Brown, who produced the 1999 City of New York High Performance Building Guidelines for the mayor's Office of Sustainable Design of which she was founding director, suggested that high performance buildings, designed with sustainable development in mind, can help to mitigate the effects of climate trends through measures as simple as using light colored paving and roofing to reflect the sun's light.

Summarizing the topic at the close of Friday's lunch was Roberta Balstad Miller, Director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a unit of the Columbia Earth Institute. Miller cited a need for multidisciplinary and place-based research as we move forward to address the issue of how the region should react to climate extremes and trends.

Climate Change and a Global City was part of a national study of climate impacts, commissioned by Congress and carried out by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, called the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change for the United States. It was the only part of the national assessment focusing on a primarily urban location, and is one of the only climate studies to date to focus on the important topic of climate's effects on major urban areas. These often, as in the case of New York City, are located along vulnerable coastlines.

"We want New Yorkers to address climate variability and change in ways that will benefit the present as well as the future and that other cities can follow," Rosenzweig says.

Adds co-leader of the MEC Assessment William Solecki of Montclair State University, "The Metropolitan East Coast Assessment was designed to be a template that other cities can follow as well."

Related Links:

Metro East Coast (MEC) Report

Current Regional Responses To Climate Change

Follow-on Activities and Programs

Region Should Plan for Climate Change, Report Says
(Press Release, 02/14/02)

U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change

About The Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit