Melissa Harris-Perry: It's The Takeaway I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. I'm working hard right now to keep the panic out of my voice. News from around the country and the world this week has me alarmed. Take a listen to just some of it.
Male Reporter 1: At least 1300 missing at least 100 killed.
Victim: Count myself lucky if you get out of here alive and compare it to Hurricane Katrina, everybody here has lost everything.
Male Reporter 2: Devastating flooding across Western Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Female Reporter 1: Record-breaking rainfall has caused severe flooding in parts of Central China. More than 200,000 people in Hunan Province have while it's reported a dam could collapse at any time.
Female Reporter 2: Now this fire has burned more than 30,000 acres in Plumas and Butte County is growing twice as big overnight containment now at 15%. As we mentioned evacuation orders are growing.
Male Reporter 3: The Southern smoky scene. There really overtook the tri-state area due to the Western wildfires. More of a concern because of the deteriorating air quality instead of those fine particles remaining aloft, and they can travel thousands of miles. Some of that was mixed down to the surface.
Female Reporter: 3 The smell hits you first, then the site.
Victim: I've never seen anything that brings me to tears out in nature, out of the bay. This is definitely it.
Female Reporter 4: Red Tide continues its grips on the Tampa Bay area.
Male Reporter 4: Next month for the first time in the modern history of the Colorado River, a water shortage is going to be declared Lake Mead. There's a 120-foot high white end encircling the entire lake that demarcates where the water level has dropped in recent years. Climate change change is here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Climate crisis is here, everywhere, right now, and all across the world in our own literal backyards, we are living with the consequences of this crisis every day. Okay, no, stop. This is not about sounding the alarm for the future. This is a more quiet, sober conversation folks. This is about how we adapt to the already changing planet on which we are living and how we try to mitigate the havoc we continue to wreak on our earth. Here to talk more about climate adaptation is Brodie Boland, a partner at McKinsey Sustainability and co-author of the report, “Focused Adaptation: A Strategic Approach to Climate Adaptation in Cities.” Brodie, welcome to the takeaway.
Brodie Boland: Thank you, Melissa, I appreciate it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Also with us is Mayor Svante Myrick of Ithaca, New York. Mayor Myrick was instrumental in the creation of what has been called Ithaca's green, new deal. Mayor Myrick. Thank you for joining us.
Mayor Svante Myrick: Thank you so much for having me, good to talk with you again.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Lovely to talk with you again. Brodie, let's start with the report itself. Help us understand what is climate adaptation?
Brodie Boland: Climate adaptation is about being prepared for all of the things that climate change is going to throw our way. We heard in the intro a number of examples, whether it be extreme heat, floodings, storm surges, rising sea levels, drought, wildfires, all of these things are going to be increasing in both the frequency with which they happen and unfortunately the severity of each of those events. Adaptation is about making sure our cities, our communities are prepared to prevent them where possible and when they do happen to respond to bounce back.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brodie, give me one more beat on why cities and the ways in which cities are particularly both vulnerable to the climate crisis that we are currently already in and why they may hold the best solutions.
Brodie Boland: Yes, cities are vulnerable because often they were built in places that make them vulnerable, right? They're built by the ocean or by rivers because those are former trade routes. Those types of things can expose them to things like increased flooding. Also just layering, a bunch of land with concrete, doesn't do great things for things like heat and flooding. It makes it harder for the water to seep into the ground. It makes it harder for heat to be dissipated.
Sometimes the way we build our cities actually exacerbates some of these risks. I think the upside is you have a whole bunch of people in one place and you can protect a lot of people and a lot of infrastructure more efficiently. I think cities are also in a lot of ways, our greatest hope for adapting because we're able to invest in adapting and that has an immediate benefit to a significant chunk of our population.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Mayor Myrick, let me come to you because you are living this, governing this right now in your city in Ithaca. Talk to me about what you're seeing there in terms of how climate crisis is impacting your city and residents.
Mayor Svante Myrick: Absolutely. This happens to be my 10th year as mayor and each year has been hotter than the last. I was speaking with my park staff about some recent storms that knocks down some majestic 50-year-old Willow trees in Stewart Park. We were mourning the loss of these trees and also the increased frequency of the storms when I mentioned that. That, yes, this is the 10th year in a row that is hotter than the year before.
One of the staff said, "We need to prepare for the likelihood that this is actually going to be the coldest year of the rest of your life." A stunning thing to think about and a concerning one, especially for a city like Ithaca, one of the youngest in the country. Our median age is about 24 years old, which means that the median Ithacan, by 2050, that really important date that's supposedly far in the future for climate change, the median Ithacan is going to be what? Is going to be 51 years old. Is going to be figuring out how to raise their children and grandchildren in climate that's increasingly unpredicted.
What it's meant for us, we're here in the beautiful finger lakes as resilient to places you could actually find with our long deep lakes, our valleys, we're far from the ocean, we're pretty resistant to storms, and yet still we're seeing increased flooding. We're seeing supposedly once every 100-year storms, every two or three years. We're seeing flood insurance go through the roof.
We're seeing a change in our agriculture, something for the last two decades actually was benefiting us. Our wines kept getting better and better, people kept coming to the finger lakes region, comparing it to Napa Valley and saying, "Geez, these wines are catching up. I wonder why? Is it the brilliance of the farmers?" Yes, in part, but also it's been that slowly, our weather and our growing seasons became longer and longer.
That is not going to benefit us forever. That's going to disrupt a lot of people's livelihoods. The resilience as Brodie mentioned, is extremely important for cities.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brodie let's come to your report again, it emphasizes the way that local leaders like Mayor Myrick need to adapt to climate issues like those he was just laying out right now. A lot of it has to do with urban planning, with built environment. Can you talk about what some of those recommendations are?
Mayor Svante Myrick: Yes, absolutely. Each city is going to have to do what makes sense for it. I think the attempt of this report was to provide some of those things that cities can do, or the most cities can do that may have the biggest impact for the biggest bang for the buck. A lot of that comes down to how you plan and how you build cities. It's things like making sure you're building in the right places, making sure you're not building in ways that actually increases the exposure of the city to some of these hazards.
A lot of nature-based solutions have a real significant impact on adaptation while having a bunch of other positive side effects. Things like planting trees on the street level, green roofs, having natural river systems that allow water to be absorbed into the soil and directed through natural winding waterways, coastal-based storm surge protection like mangroves. I think that the great thing about a lot of those types of actions is that not only does it cool the street level allow floods to dissipate, but it also makes these more beautiful, more enjoyable, more livable, and more sustainable and so you're able to hit multiple targets with some of these actions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Mayor, let me come to you on this because I can hear in my head. I can hear my urban planning, professorial dad who raised me saying that all sounds lovely, but cities that are more sustainable and beautiful and all of that, they're also more expensive to live in. Also, you're talking about climate crisis. That's something in the future. What about underserved communities, what impoverished communities, and what racialized communities need right now? How do you as a mayor balance those questions of green and Black, green and brown, and the green that is about poverty and inequality?
Mayor Svante Myrick: Such a good and important question. I think it's important to recognize that what Brodie is describing can and should actually benefit traditionally marginalized populations. Building infill in the center of cities, instead of allowing continued suburban and exurban sprawl is actually an opportunity to rebuild tax base in cities that have been left behind and importantly to increase tax investment in those communities as well.
It's possible that by reversing the last 50 years of American development patterns, you can also begin to reverse the last 50 years of disinvestment in inner cities in America. By building in our cores and stopping the sprawl, you can actually do good things, but it is important to go beyond it and I think the green new deal, our green new deal really stresses the new deal, not just the green part. The new deal was important because it gave American families opportunities at a middle-class lifestyle that was previously unattainable.
We can make adjust transitions, and that's what we set out to do in Ithaca by proclaiming that by 2030, we want to be the first American city to be completely carbon neutral. We want to do that by electrifying all of our buildings and by moving as many of our vehicles as we can to electric and then sourcing that electricity from renewable sources.
To do that as a huge lift, will require quite a lot of capital, but will require thousands and thousands of workers, people that should be paid living wages and above. Look, and I think that there are-- We've got to be more creative with how we finance this because that's just as important.
10 seconds on our stormwater. You mentioned the rain falling on impervious surfaces. Five years ago, we created a new fee that actually charged property owners for the amount of rain that falls on their property and goes uncollected. Believe me when I tell you there are a lot of homeowners that were like, "You're charging me for the rain now?" [laughs]
Brodie Boland: I was like, "That's a tough one, mayor."
Mayor Svante Myrick: I know, but think about it this way, not only does that incentivize people to great catch basins, to use impervious surfaces, to add green roofs to their buildings, but this fee charges the largest property owners. I'm talking not now just about the people with big houses. I'm talking about Walmart, that's using enormous parking lots that are never actually full. I'm talking about the Wegmans and the targets of the world. I'm talking about the Cornell universities of the world.
The folks who have the most money and the most land actually pay way more into this fee, which then gets redistributed back into resilient infrastructure that benefits those who have the least. By using progressive taxation and progressive fees, we can create this resilient infrastructure to benefit the communities that were otherwise left behind.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brodie, literally yesterday, as we're preparing for this conversation, I open the New York Times and see a story about a city in Utah that has had to pull the plug on growth altogether, no more building because of the nature of the drought. What happens when we're looking at heatwaves and drought-like that all across the Western US? It's so bad that they're having to stop any construction, much less engaged in the interesting new, innovative green construction that we're talking about right now.
Brodie Boland: That sounds like quite an extreme example indeed. I think there's a lot of opportunities for at least most cities to take these adaptations steps in ways as the mayor mentioned that have multiple spillover benefits, that improve livability, that increase economic developments, that address some of the equity issues that you raised. A lot of these hazards actually affect those with less economic resources, the most. Doing things, taking steps that prevent flooding and extreme heat can actually address some of those inequities. I hope that most of our cities are able to continue to at least grow and develop in ways that improve livability as well as adaptation.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering, Brodie, if the tax base of cities is sufficient to do this? You just heard Mayor Myrick talk a bit about creative ways to address, for example, the property taxes and local taxation, but is it necessary for the federal government to invest in cities where most Americans live in order to make these changes really possible?
Brodie Boland: Yes. First of all, I think many of these actions and the ones that were raised in the work that we did are not the most expensive actions which is why they're beneficial. Things like planting trees, Greening roofs, enabling just natural systems to deal with some of these risks are actually not as expensive as having to build a seawall or relocate huge tracks of land. I think that's one is trying to do it in a way that's as cost-effective as possible.
I think there are going to be roles for multiple levels of government to play here. In countries all over the world, you're going to have cities take actions that are within their purview based on the resources they have. You're going to have help from in places like the US, the federal government in places in other places of the world, whether it be their national governments, development banks, and so on. I think this is a bit of an all-hands-on-deck scenario and we're going to need all levels of government and all parts of our institutional landscape to help address the issue.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Mayor Myrick, that language of all hands on deck, I have to say, as the team was making a decision about having an all climate change and climate crisis show today, like this little part of me got really nervous because I remember from back in the battle days when I was on cable news, nothing made people turn off TV more swiftly than telling them that you were going to talk about climate change. I wonder how you get the necessary collaborative enthusiasm and support from the citizen, from local residents, from people who hear words like impervious surfaces and are like, "I'm out, I'm done. I can't do this." How do we get people excited? This work?
Mayor Svante Myrick: That's such a good question. I actually think keeping the focus local really helps because people don't want to talk about climate change, but they do want to talk about the creek next to their house, and they don't want to worry, as we've learned, about polar bears so much as they worry about whether their basement's going to flood and whether their crops are going to come in.
That's why I actually think it's not a coincidence that mayors and cities have led on this issue, that it was the Paris Accords. Not called the France Accords. Mayors have, especially around climate change, but on a lot of issues, we have almost too much responsibility and too little power while the federal government has too much power and far too little responsibility.
I think if we were to make Congress, if we were to hold Congress as accountable as we hold our local elected officials, if we were to tell them, "We expect you to take care of the creek next to our house," we would see far better action because importantly, and I think Melissa, this gets to the heart of your question, how do we actually make this change? How do we stop taking ourselves deeper into this hole and invest in the resiliency that Brodie is calling for?
You need a more progressive taxation. Then local governments are able to pull off because we have just fewer tools. We're not able to tax income in the same way or wealth in the same way that the federal government could. We've got to start holding our Congressmen, and women, and senators responsible for what's happening in our local jurisdictions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Mayor, do you think that the age-- I've been pondering to your point about Ithaca being a median age, young city. I'm wondering, do you think young people and young leaders are just going to do better on this topic?
Mayor Svante Myrick: I do. I think for us growing up, it was not a debate. It was not controversial. I debated quite often growing up in a very conservative school district. Every social and economic issue, you could imagine under the sun, but even the president of the local Republicans in my high school knew that climate change was just the fact. That this was the science and this was a reality.
I think the younger generation is a bit more clear-eyed about the problem and a bit more committed to-- Let me put it this way, we understand that we're in a hole. We understand that this is already happening. It's not hypothetical, but we also understand that the first thing you do when you're in a hole is you stop digging. I believe that the next generation of leaders, so I've seen from Mayor Brandon Scott in Baltimore to Ilhan Omar out in Minneapolis, is attacking these issues with fierce urgency that does give me hope.
Speaker 2: Mayor Svante Myrick is the mayor of Ithaca, New York, and worth noting was the youngest person ever elected mayor when he was elected a full 10 years ago. Brodie Boland is a partner at McKinsey Sustainability and one of the authors of the report you should go read right now,
“Focused Adaptation: A Strategic Approach to Climate Adaptation in Cities.” Thank you both for being here.
Mayor Svante Myrick: Thank you.
Brodie Boland: Thank you so much.
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