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We Need Cities of Resistance: Adaptation to Global Warming’s Cataclysms Is No Longer an Option

| October 12, 2018

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Deniers, anyone? (Coast Guard news)

By Jeff Biggers

The arrival of Hurricane Michael on the heels of the landmark IPCC climate report is a reminder that climate “adaptation” is no longer a viable option.

Adapting to a failed system in an age of climate change, as the devastation from Hurricane Michael attests, is failure, not adaptation.

My own town in Iowa had to cancel celebrations this week for a recently completed $60 million flood mitigation project on our Iowa River, due to even more flooding.  With the red lights of the University of Iowa’s coal-fired power plant burning in the background, the irony of climate failure was not lost on anyone.

Our nation spent more than $300 billion on recovery from climate disasters last year.  The historic barrage of hurricanes in 2017—wiping out Puerto Rico’s and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ infrastructure, grinding the city of Houston to a stop, and placing Miami’s downtown streets under water—served as a brutal and costly reminder that our major cities along the coasts have reached a reckoning with the rising tide.

The old adage that a crisis is never a crisis until it is validated by disaster has become a reality for seventy percent of our cities already dealing with flooding, drought, fire and environmental decay.

Cities, towns and campuses can no longer champion the disingenuous framework of climate adaptation plans based on volunteer efforts to recycle, change light bulbs, eat less meat on Mondays or carpool with coworkers that willingly cross a bridge to the future that everyone now knows is on the verge of collapse.

Calling for a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 to avert further catastrophe, the IPCC climate action recommendations should be a clarion call for every town, cities and campus to halt their business-as-usual models and re-envision urban planning for a new era.

We can no longer continue with the delusional planning that somehow doing “less bad or harm” is sustainable; instead, we must actively break from our dependence on fossil fuels and rebuild our local economies in ways that restore our relationships with nature and regenerate the ecosystems we depend on.

We need to launch a new era of “regenerative cities,” or rather, cities of resistance that restore our ecosystems, reclaim the public commons and give new meaning to renowned theorist Buckminster Fuller’s vision in an age of climate change. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Fuller told us decades ago. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

No one understands this better than the “Just Harvey Recovery” movement, where an alliance of groups in the Gulf region has been calling for a “just transition” for communities and ecosystems on the cusp of being left behind as a sacrifice zone for our country.

No one understands this better than a growing movement of residents in Gary, Indiana, a devastated steel city that has received more requiems of poverty and environmental ruin than any other city in the country.

Earlier this summer, I was inspired by a group of young people who took part in an “Ecopolis” program to envision the rebirth of their community and local economy as a “regenerative city,” based on green enterprise zones and green jobs training, walkable urban planning and efficient housing, decentralized renewable energy, local food production and soil carbon sequestration initiatives.

The program was not just a wished-for vision; it took place in the Progressive Community Church, powered by solar energy, and cornered by four hoop houses for year-round food production and an orchard.

They called for “cities of resistance,” not simply adaption to a coal-fired system that has contaminated their air and soil, but left their future in peril.

“Love song to the scarred lungs of my people,” young poet Krystal Wilson rapped, “because in my city, glocks ain’t got nothing on poison and hostile air.”

commondreamsYoung climate activists in Gary, like those in the Gulf, are giving us a new climate narrative that reclaims scientist Barry Commoner’s long overlooked warning for a post-carbon age. Hailed as the “Paul Revere of Ecology” on the cover of Time Magazine in 1970, author of the classic work, The Closing Circle, Commoner forewarned that a corporate takeover of environmental governmental policy was carrying us “to the brink of ecological disaster not by a singular fault, which some clever scheme can correct, but by the phalanx of powerful economic, political, and social forces that constitute the march of history.” Only the resistance to the current economic and environmental structure could “change the course of history,” he concluded.

That type of resistance took place a day after the IPCC report, when a state judge in Minnesota acquitted three climate activists of using bolt cutters to cut through chains and padlocks at a valve site for two oil pipelines.

But another type of resistance is also taking place in our cities—as regenerative cities become cities of resistance.  Take St. Louis, headquarters of the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, and dependent on coal-fired plants for 75 percent of its electricity; the St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously voted last fall to adopt a goal of obtaining 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035.

This is the first step toward a regenerative city.

By building on Commoner’s landmark “four laws of ecology,” urban theorist and author Herbert Giradet has spent years developing “regenerative cities” as a natural sequence in planning in an age of climate change. “The urban metabolism currently operates as an inefficient and wasteful linear input-output system,” Girardet posited in his groundbreaking work in cities in Europe, Australia, and around the globe. “It needs to be transformed into a resource-efficient circular system instead. The only way to overcome notions of ever-greater scarcity is for cities to continually regenerate the living systems on which they rely for their sustenance.”

Following this regenerative approach, the Australian city of Adelaide reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent from 2007 to 2013, and is on track to become the first carbon neutral city in the world. The city galvanized a boom in green jobs, developed walkable neighborhoods powered by solar energy, converted urban waste to compost and revamped local food markets. The city also planted three million trees to absorb carbon.

In an age of climate change, such a vision is not only an essential framework for a new climate resistance.

It may be our only option—for adaptation.

Jeff Biggers is the author of numerous books, including his latest: Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition?  His previous works include: State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American DreamThe United States of AppalachiaReckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland; and the forthcoming Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition. Follow him on twitter:@JeffRBiggers

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19 Responses for “We Need Cities of Resistance: Adaptation to Global Warming’s Cataclysms Is No Longer an Option”

  1. Allen sheffield says:

    It’s to late to stop or slow down climate change. It’s time to prepare for it.

  2. Moi’s Mom says:

    So how do we accomplish this? I think solar energy is a no brainer as is windmill power. If we could get Grant’s to fund this in Flagler county we could help reduce our carbon foot print.

  3. Duncan says:

    I only hope our children take heed and address GW and do what my generation and those before were too lazy and ignorant to contemplate.

  4. Sherry says:

    In my opinion. . . “It is Never Too Late”! What is the alternative? Do our children and grandchildren NOT deserve the best environment and climate we can possibly give them?

    Not only have our current and past generations been “too lazy and too ignorant” to do anything about “Climate Change”. . . it’s much, much more sinister than that. Many of our politicians have intentionally blocked attempts to mitigate/slow down the massive damage we do to the environment of the planet every minute of every day. Many politicians take huge “BRIBES” . . . in the form of campaign contributions. . . from the likes “BIG OIL” and “BIG ENERGY” to slow down the development and implementation of “Green Energy” like solar and wind. All the while calling “scientific data” on the subject a hoax.

    “Follow the money” and you will find the corrupt motivation for selling the health of our planet to line the pockets of Billionaires!

  5. Born and Raised Here says:

    Most of the the businesses and homes, such as mind were built prior to all the huricane regulations, in the panhandle and were unable to substain the high winds and storm surge. We held been having a unusally warm summers and warm waters for the pass few summers, which is a good attractor for huricanes,

  6. marlee says:

    Two year later, hurricane Mathew’s damage is still visible.

    In my neighborhood there are 3 houses still boarded and untouched since the hurricane and acres of dead trees left standing after the salty ocean surge.

    It will take years for the Panhandle to recover.

  7. FlaglerRedo says:

    Does anyone here believe these storms just started happening in the past 40 years? I’d love to have an electric car, but not willing to pay 40k for one. If someone could make a decent one for 6k, I’d buy it. Until then, I’ll be burning gas.

  8. Joseph says:

    What climate change? Pretty sure last year in Florida and in 2015 I managed to scrape an impressive amount of frost off just my car window to make a decent sized snow ball. Or how about he snow that came over the state lines from Georgia into Florida. It’s Florida, it’s hot, humid and we are surrounded by water hurricanes and natural disasters have been happening here for a very long time because we live on the perfect recipe for a hurricane. Arizona is hot and I don’t hear of any natural disasters there because they are not humid or surrounded by water. Living in Florida is just basically like asking Mother Nature to to send you a hurricane at some point. It’s sad when they hit with all the destruction and loss of jobs, memories and places to live. But it’s just one of those things that has happened for a long time and will continue. Can’t chsnge the past, so learn and adjust to the future

  9. Stretchem says:

    It can all be traced back to 2010’s Citizen’s United. The modern era of US politics and money, and of course big oil and gas controlling the decision makers.

    I believe decades from now, pending the US as we know it still exists, Citizen’s United will be referred to in elementary schools as one of the worst decisions ever made by the SCOTUS.

  10. mark101 says:

    Cities of Resistance when it comes to Hurricane, requires money, whose going to pay for this improvement in resistance, homeowners not going to happen, the govet , not going to happen. And I really can’t see homeowners replacing truss straps, windows, doors,high rated shingles or tiles etc..

  11. 101 says:

    Trump doesn’t believe in climate change and no one seems to be able to change his mind. We are destroying our own planet and we need to wake up to reality and start listening to what the researchers are telling us.

  12. Russell Treadway says:

    I am curious, assuming the day comes when “adaptation ” is well advanced, and rains and floods and droughts and tornados and hurricanes come and destroy what man has built – who/what will you blame? Do you really think mother nature didn’t have her way long before the industries/modern age?

    Anyone advocating people run around and shut off pipelines of any type has no respect for life for these are very ignorant dangerous and reckless behaviors. Shutting off active lines (fluid or gas) may cause sudden overpressure causing them to potentially rupture, burst, explode and leak their contents into the environment the “activists” claim to be protecting. The recent series of gas explosions in California and Massachusetts are examples of uncontrolled pressure. A better choice would be to hold a sign, call a congessman, make a reasonable balanced persuasive argument to your fellow citizen (a novel idea these days it seems).


  13. Agkistrodon says:

    All your solar panels and windmills are produced using petro-chems. Perhaps before YOU try to solve a problem, first look to the planets history, study it, you may see a pattern. You should really more worry about a pole-shift than destruction of humans via global warming…..

  14. Sherry says:

    Although the “all knowing” FOX cult cares nothing for “Scientific Facts”. . . maybe, just maybe, some data from NASA can sneak its way past what ever Rush and Hannity are spewing these days:

  15. Stretchem says:

    And, oh yeah, we’ll also look back on the astounding complacency, selfishness and utter ignorance of this baby boomer generation. The genre that destroyed the country.

  16. Sherry says:

    Stretchem. . . as a frustrated, horrified “Baby Boomer” myself, I am saying to you. . . “YOU” are absolutely “Right On”!

    SCOTUS- HORRIFIC decisions include “Citizens United” which made “bribery” of politicians LEGAL, and also the GORE election decision which made corruption at the ballot box LEGAL. GORE was RIGHT to believe the scientists on Climate Change. As President, consider the possibility, that Gore could have made a difference all those year ago.

    Instead, our generation chose to “Worship The Money”. . . and quite possibly destroy the future of the planet.

  17. Agkistrodon says:

    Your Hero Gore has a carbon footprint of 30+ families. He is a Hypocrite.

  18. Sherry says:

    Noting the absolutely “HORRIFIC” impact of trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord:

    trump’s carbon footprint just for his private planes was the same as “500” Americans!

    Then there are all of trump’s unoccupied houses and golf courses:

    I’ll take Gore any time!

  19. gmath55 says:

    Agkistrodon you are absolutely correct! Al Gore’s Climate Change Hypocrisy Is As Big As His Energy-Sucking Mansion.

    Trump doesn’t even believe in climate change. “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made.”

    A new analysis by the National Center for Public Policy Research found that Gore’s Tennessee home “guzzles more electricity in one year than the average American family uses in 21 years.” So, Gore isn’t practicing what he is preaching! And, making lots of money promoting Global Warning. He is laughing all the way to the bank, nothing better than sucking money out of Lefties.

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