A treasure trove for rural and commercial-scale solar projects

Read the full story from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

It takes grace and dexterity to manage the policy and technical challenges of adopting renewable energy while also addressing disaster preparedness—bringing diverse stakeholders to the table at the same time. Eight teams in the second round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN) tackled those challenges and more, providing a blueprint for other communities pursuing projects focused on solar-plus-storage, the resilience benefits of solar, and the value of solar in electric distribution systems.

Trees were a California city’s salvation. Now they’re a grave threat.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Sacramento has long prided itself on its extensive urban canopy, which is one of the densest of any city in the Golden State. The city is estimated to have about 1 million trees, some of which were planted as early as the 1850s. More than 1,000 trees have come down in Sacramento since a major storm tore through Northern California on New Year’s Eve. Residents have reported more than 2,000 tree-related incidents in January, according to the city.

Weakened by years of drought, many of the city’s grander trees succumbed to the extreme weather, damaging homes, flattening cars and pulling down power lines as they fell. Two homeless people died after trees fell on their tents. Some trees were ripped out of the soil, roots and all.

How to build a better bike-share program

Read the full story at Grist.

When corporate owners ditched New Orleans’s bike share, the community stepped up to rebuild it with a focus on equity.

How New York City’s trees and shrubs help clear its air

Read the full story in the New York Times.

New York is surprisingly verdant for a city inseparable from its glass-and-steel towers. And its greenery may affect the city’s carbon footprint much more than previously known, according to new research by Dr. Reinmann, a forest ecologist at City University of New York, and his colleagues.

The tree canopies, shrubs and lawns cover nearly 35 percent of the city, according to the study. During its growing season in the spring and summer, the greenery takes up enough carbon to absorb as much as 40 percent of the human-caused carbon emissions in the New York City area.

California’s flooding reveals we’re still building cities for the climate of the past

Read the full story from NPR.

Heavy storms have flooded roads and intersections across California and forced thousands to evacuate over the last few weeks. Much of the water isn’t coming from overflowing rivers. Instead, rainfall is simply overwhelming the infrastructure designed to drain the water and keep people safe from flooding.

To top it off, the storms come on the heels of a severe drought. Reservoirs started out with such low water levels that many are only now approaching average levels—and some are still below average.

The state is increasingly a land of extremes.

New infrastructure must accommodate a “new normal” of intense rainfall and long droughts, which has many rethinking the decades-old data and rules used to build existing infrastructure.

Climate change trauma has real impacts on cognition and the brain, wildfire survivors study shows

The 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed 20,000 buildings in and around Paradise, Calif. Marcus Yam /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

by Jyoti Mishra, University of California, San Diego

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Psychological trauma from extreme weather and climate events, such as wildfires, can have long-term impacts on survivors’ brains and cognitive functioning, especially how they process distractions, my team’s new research shows.

Climate change is increasingly affecting people around the world, including through extreme heat, storm damage and life-threatening events like wildfires. In previous research, colleagues and I showed that in the aftermath of the 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression were highly prevalent in the affected communities more than six months after the disaster.

We also found a graded effect: People whose homes or families were directly affected by fire showed greater mental health harm than those where who were indirectly effected, meaning people who witnessed the event in their community but did not have a personal loss.

In the new study, published Jan. 18, 2023, our team at the Neural Engineering and Translation Labs, or NEATLabs, at the University of California San Diego, wanted to understand whether the symptoms of climate change-related trauma translate to changes in cognitive functioning – the mental processes involved in memory, learning, thinking and reasoning.

We evaluated subjects’ cognitive functioning across a range of abilities, including attention; response inhibition – the ability to not respond impulsively; working memory – the ability to maintain information in mind for short periods of time; and interference processing – the ability to ignore distractions. We also measured their brain function while they performed cognitive tasks, using brain wave recordings obtained from electroencephalography, or EEG.

A man at  a keyboard with a cap that has nodes on it.
A wireless EEG cap records brain activity as a person responds to cognitive tests. The image on the right shows significant differences in electrical brain activity recorded on the scalp between people directly exposed to wildfires and a control group, with greater activity in left frontal cortex (red) for the group directly exposed. Grennan et al., 2022, PLOS Climate, CC BY

The study included three groups of individuals: people who were directly exposed to the fire, people who were indirectly exposed, and a control group with no exposure. The groups were well matched for age and gender.

We found that both groups of people exposed to the fire, either directly or indirectly, dealt with distractions less accurately than the control group.

We also found differences in the brain processes underlying these cognitive differences. People who were exposed to the wildfire had greater frontal lobe activity while dealing with distractions. The frontal lobe is the center for the brain’s higher-level functions. Frontal brain activity can be a marker for cognitive effort, suggesting that people exposed to the fires may be having more difficulty processing distractions and compensating by exerting more effort.

Why it matters

With climate change fueling more disasters, it is incredibly important to understand its impacts on human health, including mental health. Resilient mental health is what allows us to recover from traumatic experiences. How humans experience and mentally deal with climate catastrophes sets the stage for our future lives.

There are strategies people can use to help reduce the stress. Psychosocial research suggests that practicing mindfulness and developing healthy lifestyles, with regular exercise and enough sleep, can protect mental well-being in these scenarios, along with developing strong social bonds.

What’s next?

There is much work to be done to understand if the effects we found are replicable in large sample studies. In this work, we focused on a total of 75 study participants. Scientists also need to understand how these effects evolve as climate disasters like wildfires occur more often.

We are also pursuing research with community partners to implement interventions that can help alleviate some the impacts we observed on brain and cognitive functioning. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – each community must find the resiliency solutions that work best in their environmental context. As scientists, we can help them understand the causes and point them to solutions that are most effective in improving human health.

Jyoti Mishra, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As heatwaves and floods hit cities worldwide, these places are pioneering solutions

Erik Anderson/AAP

by Thami Croeser, RMIT University

Climate change is going just as badly for cities as we have been warned it would. Extreme weather is increasingly common and severe globally. Australian cities have endured a number of recent disastrous events.

It’ll get worse, too. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) factsheet outlining impacts on human settlements is a very sobering read. It also pithily sums up the situation cities face:

Concentrated risk and concentrated opportunity for action.

Implicit in this wording is a hopeful truth: adapting to climate change is a daunting task, but the “how” is not a mystery. The opportunity is right in front of us, in our streets, buildings and parklands. Around the world we are seeing effective retrofitting of cities to adapt to more extreme weather.

Here are a few inspiring exemplars.

Keeping the city cool

Planting trees to create shade is an obvious response to hot weather. However, in many cities it’s still a struggle just to stop the losses of trees. Future hot, dry climates will add to the challenge of urban greening.

Medellin in Colombia is one city making inspiring progress on this front. With an urban greening budget of US$16.3 million, it has created a network of 30 “green corridors” through the city. These have reduced urban heat island effects by 2℃ three years into the program. As these densely vegetated corridors mature, they are expected to eventually deliver 4-5℃ of cooling.

One of Medellin’s 30 green corridors with dense tree and understorey plantings runs along La Playa Avenue. Shutterstock

Vienna, Austria, has had an urban heat island strategy in place since 2018. It includes planting 4,500 trees each year and subsidies for street-facing green walls.

The city has developed a series of “cool streets” – traffic-calmed spaces with light-coloured road surfaces, “fog showers” that activate on hot days, water features, shade trees and drinking fountains. Eighteen cool streets were delivered as pop-ups, with another four in place permanently to provide refuges on hot days. Vienna also has an extensive network of public swimming pools where residents can cool off.

Park with trees and fountains
Esterhazy park was redesigned in 2020 as Vienna’s first ‘cooling park’, with mist sprays lowering the temperature on hot days. Carla Lo/City of Vienna

Limiting flood damage

Urban green space can also be valuable for intercepting and absorbing stormwater to prevent flooding.

A spectacular example is Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore. It was the site of a concrete drainage canal that was transformed into a 3.2km winding stream in 2012.

Bishan Park has become one of Singapore’s most popular parks since a utilitarian concrete channel was transformed into a naturalised river landscape.

The 62-hectare park along the gently sloping banks of the stream serves a densely developed residential area. In wet conditions, the stream swells up to 100 metres wide. As stormwater gently flows downstream, it drains away into the landscape.

Since the park was created, visitor numbers have doubled to 6 million a year. Biodiversity has increased 30%.

A very urban version of this approach is the “floodable square”. A good example is Rotterdam’s Watersquare Benthemplein, a sunken public plaza and basketball court that becomes a major stormwater basin when it rains.

Stairs surround a sunken city plaza being used by people to play with a basketball
Benthemplein has a series of pools that fill after heavy rain, connected by channels that control stormwater flows through the city. Michiel Brouwer/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

While this approach is a win-win on large development sites, it can be tricky to retrofit built-up areas. Fortunately, there are many more compact approaches that can deliver large benefits when delivered at scale.

New York City, for example, has spent over US$1 billion on smaller, distributed solutions in flood-prone streets. These measures include “raingardens” that drain water from streets, and infiltration basins that divert and store stormwater.

Women walks past a kerbside raingarden
Raingardens like this one in Brooklyn, New York, divert water from hard surfaces, so it sinks into the soil instead of overloading drains. Chris Hamsby/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Green roofs that capture rainwater also help reduce flood risk in built-up areas. Again, Rotterdam’s approach is interesting; while reducing stormwater flows is a focus, the city’s rooftop greening program focuses on multifunctionality by integrating solar panels, social spaces and rooftop farming. The retrofitted “Dakakker” (rooftop farm) has advanced stormwater storage, vegetable beds, beehives, a few chickens and a popular café.

rooftop farm with cafe on top of office block
Rotterdam’s ‘Dakakker’ inspired a large rooftop greening program. Shutterstock

Of course, a green roof program usually requires private building owners to get on board. Rotterdam subsidises owners who deliver rooftop greening that intercepts significant amounts of stormwater. In 2021, Rotterdam had 46 hectares of green roofs, equating to around 0.5 square metres per resident.

The Swiss city of Basel leads the world with 5.7m² of green roofs per person (as of 2019). Basel has had incentives as well as laws requiring green roofs since the late 1990s; this highlights the value of putting regulations in place early.

The principle seems to work for bigger cities too: Tokyo has mandated green roofs since 2000, and has around 250ha of them.

rooftop gardens on multistorey city buildings
Tokyo has about 250 hectares of green roofs. Rachid H/Flickr, CC BY-NC

What does this mean for Australia?

Our cities remain woefully unprepared for extreme weather. But many of the above approaches are starting to crop up in Australia. The challenge is to move from a handful of trials to a large-scale, systematic roll out of infrastructure to adapt our cities to climate change.

The experience of the cities profiled above points to a few crucial ingredients.

First, cities must be willing to invest heavily, both in new green spaces and in subsidies to encourage greening by private property owners.

Second, reallocation of existing grey space, like roads and canals, must be pursued fearlessly and systematically. Paris’s elected mayor since 2014, Anne Hidalgo, is a spectacular example of the political courage required for large-scale greening.

The mayor of Paris has announced plans to turn the Champs-Élysées into an ‘extraordinary garden’.

Third, the law can play a real role in guiding development, through measures such as mandating greening on buildings. This can be achieved through fairly simple tools like Toyko’s green roof requirement, or more sophisticated area-based instruments that require a portion of a development to have green walls and/or roofs. Cities like Seattle and Brisbane are using these tools, which are also being mooted in Melbourne.

Recent disasters have made clear the urgent need to step up urban climate adaptation. The costs of not acting decisively to protect ourselves and our cities will be considerable, but the playbook is ready for us.

Thami Croeser, Research Officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nature-based Solutions Funding Database

National Wildlife Federation’s interactive database for communities interested in pursuing federal funding and/or technical assistance for nature-based solutions. Use the filters to search for nature-based solutions funding and technical assistance resources that fit your needs.

Enhancing Community Resilience through Social Capital and Connectedness Stronger Together!

Download the report.

Disasters caused by natural hazards and other large-scale emergencies are devastating communities in the United States. These events harm individuals, families, communities, and the entire country, including its economy and the federal budget. This report identifies applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and opportunities within the natural hazard mitigation and resilience fields with the goal of reducing the immense human and financial toll of disasters.

Motivating Local Climate Adaptation and Strengthening Resilience Making Local Data Trusted, Useful, and Used

Download the report.

Local communities are already experiencing dire effects caused by climate change that are expected to increase in frequency, intensity, duration, and type. Public concern about climate-related challenges is increasing, available information and resources on climate risks are expanding, and cities across the country and the globe are developing approaches to and experience with measures for mitigating climate impacts. Building and sustaining local capacities for climate resilience requires both resilient physical and social infrastructure systems and inclusive, resilient communities.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Motivating Local Climate Adaptation and Strengthening Resilience provides guidance for active and ongoing efforts to move science and data into action and to enable and empower applied research that will strengthen capacities for hazard mitigation and resilience in communities, across the nation, and around the world.