Climate Change

Published on September 7th, 2012 | by Don Lieber

While Romney Mocks Sea-Level Rise, City Planners across the Country Take Action

At the Republican national convention last week, Mitt Romney mocked efforts to address climate change, specifically deriding President Obama for seeking to address rising ocean levels.  Here’s what he said:

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…(pause to allow for laughter) and to heal the planet.  My promise … is to help you and your family.”

Romney sought to draw an emotive distinction between ‘healing the planet’ and ‘helping families’.

Outside the GOP convention center, however, city planners make no such distinction and are already taking action to address the very same sea-level rise and other climate-change-related risks which Romney derides.

Urban planners across the United States are incorporating rising sea levels in planning and construction of infrastructure, public works, social services and building construction.


The new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed with sea level rise in mind. (Image credit: ImageShack user ledjes)

  • In Boston, the recent construction of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown took into account sea-level rise: the hospital was built 12 feet higher than sea level, patient rooms are on the higher floors, and mechanical and electrical systems are housed on the roof instead of in the basement like traditional buildings.
  • In New York City, planners are institutionalizing climate change within their routine municipal planning and operations.

    An enhanced tree pit in Brooklyn absorbs runoff and filters pollutants. (Image credit: NYC DEP)

    The New York City Council recently passed legislation making the city’s two climate change panels, the New York City Panel on Climate Change and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, permanent. In addition, the city has taken steps to reduce vulnerability to climate impacts by implementing green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff and by flood-proofing vulnerable structures.

Local governments across the nation are taking the issue seriously.

Portland, Maine, has experienced so much severe flooding since 2010 that it is initiating a state-wide review and initial plans for sea-level rise adaptations.

  • The City Council of Portland, Maine, is preparing a “Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan,” while the Natural Resources Council of Maine says, “widespread action” is needed to avoid the worst scenarios of rising sea-levels.
  • In Maryland, the state Department of Natural Resources has established a project entitled “Coastal Land Conservation in Maryland: Targeting Tools and Techniques for Sea Level Rise Adaptation and Response.”  The purpose is to help Maryland proactively adapt to sea level rise and increased storm events associated with climate change. State planners, unlike Mr. Romney, understand the importance of climate-change induced sea-level rise: over the past 100 years, Maryland has seen a foot of relative sea-level rise, causing the disappearance of 13 Bay islands.
  • The California State Land Commission issued a report titled “Sea Level Rise Preparedness,” which stated: “Sea level rise is an issue that has far reaching consequences for California. Sea level rise threatens coastal communities and infrastructure… nearly half a million people, thousands of miles of roads and railways, major ports, airports, power plants and wastewater treat-ment plants are at risk….”
  • Multiple county municipalities across Florida are initiating plans to address rising sea-levels.

The list of local, city, and state action to address rising sea levels is in fact too long for the scope of this article.   The author of this article invites readers, however, to google “sea-level rise planning” and review the available literature, including this excellent overview by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Mr. Romney, in his 10-second convention-speech soundbite, dismissed ‘the rising oceans’ as unimportant — even silly. Contrast that with the official website of the City of Boston, which states: “The climate will continue to change…. some changes, such as sea-level rise… pose major risks to Boston, its infrastructure, its tax base, and its residents.  For these reasons, Boston has a responsibility to prepare for climate change, even as we work to lessen its impacts.

It’s a striking contrast: planners across the country — with an actual sense of responsibility to families — beginning to take meaningful steps to address rising sea-levels while Mitt Romney, whether for political expediency or ignorance, simply mocks the issue.


The main source for this article came from a recent blog by NRDC Water Policy Analyst Ben Chou.

Other sources:

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on human rights, war and disarmament, and environmental issues. His work has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, DeSmog Blog, and many others. He also plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey" and scrubs surgeries.

  • If only now I could get work as an actual planner after sacrificing my time in grad school and internships.  It would be awesome to live my dream and address climate change for once.   

  • If only now I could get work as an actual planner after sacrificing my time in grad school and internships.  It would be awesome to live my dream and address climate change for once.   

  • R R

    While many cities are making plans, few of them are sufficient alone. Without an international climate treaty and a national price on carbon, most efforts will be sadly lacking.

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