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Researcher: "Wild variation" in how city planners address climate change

city of Detroit skyline
James Marvin Phelps
Detroit skyline.

Our cities are especially vulnerable to climate change. More than 80% of people in the U.S. live in cities, so things like flooding and heat waves can affect a lot of people at once.

But city planners don’t always have a good handle on the risks their cities face.

That’s the finding of a new studyfrom George Washington University.

Sabrina McCormick is the study’s author. She’s an associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“One thing that stood out to me was that we have wild variation in how cities in America are responding to climate change. So we have some cities that are very advanced in their thinking, about what the risks could be, and in their planning to take action, and then we have some cities that have done almost nothing,” she says.

She cites New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago as examples of places that are more advanced in addressing climate change risks. McCormick says Tampa, Raleigh and Tucson are some cities that lag behind.

"The city of Detroit, even a few years ago, was a little bit behind the ball on taking action on climate change, but it’s been doing some pretty excellent catch-up work," she says. "It’s been aided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has funded a multiple phase study of risks of climate change on human health, and begun to take action to address those risks."

In some cities, McCormick found a basic lack of understanding that climate change is happening now, and that it's serious.

“I think that’s actually one of the most important findings of this study. Local decision makers and our interviewees in this study even named one of the most important vulnerabilities to climate change the lack of institutional support and political support to address climate change.”

She says some city planners told her this lack of support meant they couldn’t do much to start addressing climate risks.

You can listen to the interview with Sabrina McCormick above.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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