The path to fortifying America against natural disasters and extreme weather is rooted in the country’s cities, must be actively encouraged and supported by mayors and community leaders, and consists of three main focus areas, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., for the Resilient Communities for America Campaign (RC4A). The RC4A was launched in June with the passage of 10 measures to support resiliency, sustainability, brownfield and in-fill development, and economic recovery.
“The talk of resiliency is real. It’s not just theory,” Johnson said at the luncheon, which was held as part of the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) National Leadership Speaker Series. He noted that in the last two years, the country has had more than 14 separate $1-billion disasters, and the disasters over that time frame have cost the U.S. $200 billion in damages, a sum that does not include any potential loss of life calculations. Four out of five Americans live in federally declared disaster areas and the number of people affected by climate-related disasters is expected to jump by 20 percent, he added. “[Resiliency issues are] affecting our cities day in and day out. They’re not going to go away.”
In leading the RC4A campaign, which is supported by the USGBC, ICLEI-USA, the National League of Cities, and the World Wildlife Fund, Johnson identified three elements that cities must address:
- Preparedness, prevention, and planning.
“Cities across the country need to do a better job of evaluating local vulnerabilities,” Johnson said, calling for smarter communities, buildings, and infrastructure. “Resiliency means doing everything we can in advance. By doing something, we help strengthen our cities. As a result, we will recover faster from major events and the loss of life and property will be minimized.” There is also a tremendous economic benefit, Johnson added, noting that “for everyone $1 that is spent on disaster preparedness, we save $4.
- Go green.
“We must go green,” Johnson said, citing specific Sacramento initiatives including retrofitting existing buildings to be more efficient, lowering air-conditioning loads during the hottest parts of the day, installing solar panels to create more secure forms of energy, and expanding transit services to make communities more walkable. The city is also expanding its local food production and the collection of food waste for conversion to fuel.
- Invest in infrastructure.
Citing a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers that graded the collective infrastructure of the United States at a D+, Johnson focused most of all on the need to invest in infrastructure. The U.S., he said, is facing an infrastructure investment gap of $1.1 trillion by 2020, and the country is only investing only 2.4 percent of its GDP into this arena, compared to Europe’s investment of 5 percent GDP in its infrastructure and China’s 9 percent. As an example of proactive, city-based solutions, he highlighted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which is a nonprofit agency that aims to finance deferred projects. “We must repair, modernize, and build infrastructure for the 21st century to avoid transportation delays, blackouts, and water main breaks,” Johnson said.
Johnson concluded with a call to action. “Now is the time to take powerful proactive steps to save our communities, to adapt to the extreme weather, and to solve our energy challenges,” he said. “Let’s transform adversity into an economic opportunity.”
Since the RC4A launch in June, more than 80 mayors and community leaders have signed on to the campaign. For more information, visit resilientamerica.org.