Speaking of megacommunity and the alliance of local authorities in charge of different sectors, a couple of recent studies have highlighted a critical disjoint between transporation and climate forecasting, with special focus on the Gulf Coast where major highways, railroads and ports all stand to be submerged as sea level rises and surges from extreme storms send water inland.

Chris Mooney writes this anal ysis in Science Progress, noting how costly it will be to reduce vulnerability in only this area of the country.

To understand that vulnerability, consider a few facts laid out in the CCSP report: Over the next fifty to 100 years, global warming could inundate a “vast portion” of the Gulf Coast with a sea level rise in the range of 2 to 4 feet. That’s terrifying, because “27 percent of the major roads, 9 percent of the rail lines, and 72 percent of the ports are at or below 122 cm (4 feet) in elevation.” And of course, that’s just the risk posed by sea level rise. But as we all know, this region is also very vulnerable to hurricanes–which, surfing atop higher seas in the future, will prove even more devastating than they’ve been thus far. To once again quote from the CCSP report: “With storm surge at 7 m (23 ft), more than half of the area’s major highways (64 percent of Interstates; 57 percent of arterials), almost half of the rail miles, 29 airports, and virtually all of the ports are subject to flooding.”

Given the importance of transportation to support our very lives, not to mention our economies, the communication between transportation planners and climate forecasters just has to improve beyond the status quo. This is a critical megacommunity alliance, without which most of the rest of regional efforts to collaborate are doomed to failure.

It will be a massive task. We’ll need to ensure that the federal government requires higher standards of resiliency in the future for transportation infrastructure. We’ll have to ensure that states and localities get adequate federal funding to help them keep up with a changing climate; and that the relevant federal agencies, especially the Department of Transportation, get enough money in their own budgets to do the requisite climate-related adaptation work. We’ll need to immediately start rebuilding some of our most vulnerable infrastructure. And all of this activity will have to be coordinated, not willy-nilly.

Do you live where transportation systems are vulnerable to the kinds of extreme weather you’ve experienced? Has any planning been considered to reduce vulnerabilities?

In the forward to the book Megacommunities, Walter Isaacson writes

We are all in desperate need of game-changing ideas. Why? The simple answer is that we face a growing list of complex and challenging issues, and as a society we increasingly find ourselves stuck. Not necessarily for a lack of trying, or for a lack of appreciation of the consequences. We know that these issues—global climate change, preparing for pandemics, responding to natural disasters, global terrorism, water scarcity, aging populations, aging infrastructure, to name but a few—have the potential to become massive challenges in the next few years. And these problems manifest on both global and local levels. Consider how the need to develop new anti-terrorism or anti-pandemic initiatives applies not just globally but city by city, or how new levels of natural disaster—and new drains on government resources—can lead to situations like the one experienced in Biloxi, Mississippi or New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

The authors of this book have applied their varied consulting experience to finding solutions for increasingly complex problems at the local level, where resources from a variety of influential sources can be joined and coordinated. Elements of local government, business and civil society must be in synch – sharing knowledge and responsibilities around commonly recognized challenges – if those challenges are going to be met in a dynamic situation such as climate change.

The book defines a megacommunity as:

  • the space in which complex problems exist, and are addressed
  • an collaborative environment where leaders interact according to their common interests, while maintaining their unique priorities
  • a lens through which we can examine a complex problem in a new way
  • determined by the existence of tri-sector engagement and an overlap in common interest

This is a book I’ll be reading soon, but having heard already about the application of its principles in Dade County, Florida, I wanted to make sure it got on my blog today.