In this video, Professor Larry Susskind discusses the challenges associated with planning for climate change, and how we need to adapt to the world’s changing climate.
Larry explains why he considers climate adaptation to be more pertinent than climate mitigation and highlights the need to make adaptations before we can convince society to support climate mitigation strategies.
[00:00:01:02] My name is Larry Susskind. I've been on the MIT faculty since 1970. During that time, I've worked on a wide range of resource management, land use, environmental protection, and development questions in many parts of the world. My work really, I think, reflects the migration or the transformation of what's happening with what was once called urban and regional planning as a professional field, where people made plans.
[00:00:35:25] So the planner's job was to make a plan. And you brought your expertise. You analyze the situation. You looked at what was done at other places, and you would make a plan. And the plan would be the stated set of objectives and the specific allocation of resources to achieve those objectives. Planning became the process of managing the conversation, informed by scientific and technical considerations, of making some set of judgments about which policies should be given priority.
[00:01:16:09] I'm working on climate adaptation. It's a specialized area within planning. Particularly, coastal communities trying to plan or to organize or to cope with the risks associated with climate change. You've got to learn something about climate change. You have to learn something about the kinds of ecosystem and human system interaction likely to be affected by sudden shifts in the way in which storms evolve, the way in which sea level might change, the way in which intensity of storms might alter.
[00:01:58:10] And all of that affects how communities make choices about allocating resources, but now in the face of a different set of risks, which posed different gains and losses potentially to different groups. The students who come here will get a master's or a PhD in planning, but it means something different depending on which subarea of the department they're working on. And most of them will go take a job that won't have planning in the title. They might be the senior climate change person for the Port Authority of the city of New York.
[00:02:45:17] All of this management of large streams of data will allow people to make much smarter places, and make places that are more responsive to the problems that are happening. And students today think absolutely nothing of wading into these large amounts of data, including digital data of many, many different kinds.
[00:03:10:01] Simultaneously, we have to give courses, not just on geographic information systems, but on social media as tools for public engagement, on methods of mining large data sets in real time, in ways of getting streams of new visual data about real time changes in places, so that people can make real time adjustments in those built environments or in those natural environments.
[00:03:39:02] I'm convinced that because there's such inexpensive sensors for everything now, we can monitor all air quality, water quality, every kind of environmental quality in real time at a very low cost. We can have streams of data, and now somebody has to invent the way of having machines read the data and say, send somebody to that spot over there. There's a problem there.
[00:04:07:19] The number one thing I would suggest is very controversial. So let me just acknowledge that the idea I'm going to put forward about negotiating with regard to climate change will not at first blush, be comfortable, or make sense to people who are working very, very hard on climate change. And from my standpoint, I don't think we should be putting so much energy into mitigation.
[00:04:34:08] I think we should put a much more emphasis now into adaptation. What I mean by that is people running around making enormous amount of effort to reduce CO2 emissions, they don't have as widespread popular support as they need to cause the changes in behavior necessary to truly reduce CO2 emission.
[00:04:59:12] And it's been steady. It's not getting that uptake amongst people. But if you go to people and you say, we could have 15 days over 95 degrees this summer in a row. An awful lot of people are going to suffer in the city who don't have air conditioning, or a lot of people are going to suffer who are fragile because they're going to be dehydrated, which is going to create higher instances of renal failure.
[00:05:34:22] And they're all going to try to go to the hospital at the same time. And the hospital doesn't have dialysis, or other units adequate, to what 10 or 15 days of over 95 degrees would do in major cities. How should you prepare? We're going to have more intense storms. We're going to have more flooding. If you're in a coastal area or riverine area, you will have more flooding.
[00:05:57:09] That flooding will cause still water to sit as the flood recedes. That will create a vector-borne disease. What are you going to do ahead of time to reduce the risks to the population of the health effects of climate change? Because it's too late, when it happens, to figure out how do we redeploy the first responders. Where should the food provisions be in place when food can't be delivered?
[00:06:28:16] Shouldn't we have hardened our electrical system so that when the storm hit and the water treatment plant went out, and then the water system went out, and the electricity went out, and it's now seven days, and everybody is trying to clear out and nobody can get out. It's too late. That's climate adaptation planning. How do you adapt? How do you plan ahead to adapt to those risks?
[00:06:53:25] I know people are saying, but that doesn't get at the source of the problem. The source of the problem is CO2 emission or methane or other kinds of emissions, and we really have to work to reduce that. But we've already seen that you can't grab public support for that activity the way you can around telling people right now. I don't care if you don't believe that climate change is primarily human-caused.
[00:07:20:16] We know there will be more drought and more hot days and more floods and more intense storms. And if you don't do something about them, your property now-- not in 20 years, not in 50 years-- your property now will lose value. Your life will be at stake. Your children's life will be at stake.
[00:07:40:12] And there's small things you can do that makes sense for a whole lot of reasons. Do those now. Now, if you can get people working on that and they say, well, that costs a lot of money to harden that electrical system-- that's right. We're going to have to pay that all the time-- that's right. What can we do to not have to pay that all the time? Get at the source of the problem. Like what? Reduce CO2 emissions, and then in 50 or 70 years, the problem will get less.
[00:08:11:03] But as soon as you say 50 or 70 years, you lose people. So I'm for getting everybody to switch their attention to climate adaptation now, as a way of building a visceral commitment to mitigation and CO2 reduction. So it's a different sequence. People have said, let's solve the CO2 emission problem, and then we can work on adaptation.
[00:08:40:10] I think politically and behaviorally, first we should work on getting people immediately to take steps to help themselves now. Whatever the cause of climate change, we know we don't have enough water in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's already started. There are things you can do to cope with that-- that's called adaptation planning.
MIT Science Impact Collaborative (scienceimpact.mit.edu)