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Synergy vs Zero Sum Dynamics Part III-Preparing Buffalo and WNY for the Effects of Climate Change

Authors: Allison Leet and George Besch

How do we use knowledge of the effects of climate change we are likely to experience and collaboration to facilitate Buffalo and Western New York (WNY) in preparing for those effects? We need to learn more about them, and find our way to authentic collaboration and the synergy that will result in thriving, not just surviving.

As a climate adaptation leader in Buffalo, non-profit organization Designing to Live Sustainably (D2LS) is pursuing the Weathering Change in WNY initiative in partnership with the Buffalo State College Department of Geography & Planning to more-than-sufficiently adapt and become better for its current residents and as a Refuge City. As described, in Part II of this series, the large-scale governmental National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) climate models do not display information on a small-enough scale to be useful for regional assessments.  WNY lumps in with 17 other states to make up the NOAA Northeast Climate Region, from D.C. to Maine. A trends analysis completed as part of Weathering Change in WNY indicates that the effects WNY will experience differ substantially from what NOAA projects for its greater Northeast Region, at least as it relates to precipitation and severe weather.

Furthermore, five identified Climate Zones within the WNY region, whose climates differ even more so based on topography, the Niagara Escarpment, City boundary and proximity to the Great Lakes, are identified in the initial study.

The trends analysis was our first step in understanding local differentials in climate-change-related responses. However, additional work is required to further the initiative. The suggested discrepancy with the NOAA Northeast Region clearly identifies the necessity for downscaling existing climate prediction models. The initial Buffalo State College trends analysis conducted by Dr. Stephen Vermette, Professor in Meteorology, was the precursor to a regional and metropolitan climate prediction model. This high-resolution modeling coupled with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping overlays (as depicted here) of, but not limited to, infrastructure, land use, water resources and elevation is crucial to preparing for the effects of climate change.

GIS data science capabilities are the instrumental basis of our proposal for downscaled climate modeling and GIS mapping, because they can show us where and on what to prioritize expenditures, especially on necessary sustainable infrastructure changes, in preparation for direct effects by integrating such data as displayed in the figure. For these results to be the most accurate, it is vital we are using the most down-to-scale climate models available in order to leverage our climatic advantages. Weathering Change in WNY proposes the creation of a WNY regional climate model for use in the GIS analysis.

All systems of governance in WNY will benefit from integrated environmental management best-practice measures discovered, most importantly infrastructure and development choices. NGOs and not-for-profits will be able to apply them in their social, economic and environmental justice planning work. The results of a down-scaled climate model and GIS overlays can enable us in a few ways listed below:

  • People and Demographics e.g. vacant lots and blighted property best suited for new development; those best earmarked for green uses; locations of climate-vulnerable populations (elderly, poor etc.)
  • Physical Infrastructure e.g. where green infrastructure can and should be prioritized in order to reduce stormwater surges; sites best suited for solar arrays and wind turbines; best choices of building materials; electricity micro grids
  • Environment e.g. unbuilt environment that can be preserved to lessen the urban heat island effect, valuable natural resource locations
  • Agriculture i.e. climate modeling will show us shifts in agricultural growing zones best suited for a particular genre of agricultural crops, or natural vegetation. Aiding in preparation for the changing growing season, and future crop choices. Best sites for new agricultural businesses.
  • Economy i.e. identification of locations for new businesses that are best suited to their genre and give the best opportunity for success.
  • Public Health e.g. facilities, remediation and waste disposal sites that are most vulnerable to severe weather and prioritize their upgrade. Locations of susceptible populations to extreme heat
  • Organized Government services ex. Locations to prioritize for emergency services in case of disaster, in-depth analysis tool for further strategic planning.

The technology for down-scaling existing climate prediction models have been tested and proven by Hadley, a London-based company specializing in climate modeling. In 2012 Toronto completed high resolution modeling for its Metropolitan area to better prepare for the effects of climate change. This Toronto study was prompted by a heavy rain storm event that cost the city $600 million. In a more recent example, AT&T began a collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory to downscale climate model datasets, having determined that cumulative damages to US infrastructure in 2017 totaled $306 billion (full article link).

National as well as international experts and publications have concurred with the bases of forming Designing to Live Sustainably in 2009, and the subsequent findings of the Weathering Change in WNY study, that Buffalo has a climatic future that could make it one of the best places to live in a world experiencing more frequent and severe effects from global warming.

Buffalo has a climatic future that could make it one of the best places to live in a world experiencing more frequent and severe effects from global warming.

However, the primary focus of the articles generated from outside of WNY are on the City of Buffalo. They point to the advantages Buffalo has because of Lakes Erie and Ontario, both for their water and for their ameliorative effect on our climate.  It has, unfortunately, always been true that cities fail to adequately recognize, acknowledge and honor the natural resources that surround them. The importance of the other natural resources that surround Buffalo and are significant to our future are barely mentioned, if at all. They have always been important. But, as those more frequent and severe effects of climate change impact elsewhere affect the supply chain in general, including food, the more important it will be that we have preserved those resources, including the highly rated arable land we still have.

Our Weathering Change in WNY initiative is for the 8 counties in the region.

That is why our Weathering Change in WNY initiative is for the 8 counties in the region, and why we plan for stakeholder’s meetings that reach out and are accessible to the cities, villages, towns, residents and landowners in the region who will be affected by climate change and be interested in preparing for it. We want to know what they are experiencing and what it is they expect will be important for them to know.

The next in this series on Synergy vs Zero Sum Dynamics will be an examination of how Buffalo and the WNY region can make significant inroads into shortening our supply chain.  The delivery of goods and services will be affected more-and-more seriously and frequently as the effects of climate change impact elsewhere.

Also see Part 1 and Part 2

Be sure to read How a City Becomes a Refuge From Climate Change (featuring Buffalo) at CityLab


Bio for Allison Leet: A born and raised Buffalonian, Allison Leet is the current Vice Chairwoman for Designing to Live Sustainably, and employed as Assistant to the Director of the SUNY UB College of Arts and Sciences Sustainable Urban Environments Initiative. She possesses a variety of degrees, two Bachelors, Earth Systems Science and International Trade, and one Master’s in Geographic Information Science, as well as community engagement experience. This diverse background provides D2ls with a set of tools that bridge science, policy and community. She has been instrumental in developing Designing to Live Sustainably and the Weathering Change in WNY Initiative, D2ls’ YIMBY Festival (BuffaloYIMBY.org), and establishing peer connections in the local environmental community. Allison represented D2ls at the August 2019 OUTSTEP Conference, was previously selected to participate in a Science and Policy intersection workshop held in D.C. and has worked with International Joint Commissioners on Great Lakes water issues. She acted as liaison for collaboration with UB School of Management students during the development of Designing to Live Sustainably, and to the WNYSBR Climate Change and Supply Chain Management educational seminar. Her primary work focuses on landscape modeling in GIS for decision-making regarding environmental and societal challenges in the face of climate change.

Written by George Besch

George Besch

George Besch holds degrees in Ecology and Natural Resources Planning, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala, was a Fulbright Scholar to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Denmark, and the Acting Head of the Department of Appropriate Technology and Human Ecology at Western Washington University. His work includes a Statewide Plan for Illinois, Regional plans in PA, CO, and NM, and site plans or feasibility studies in the UK, France, Austria, India, and Australia. These projects included climatological aspects and lead to his noting that WNY has not only comparative advantages in its natural resources, but in its being exceptionally well-positioned as the effects of climate change impact elsewhere more frequently and severely, prompting him to return to WNY and start Designing to Live Sustainably. After initially publishing and speaking of these advantages, including the expectation of climate migrants, a collaboration with Stephen Vermette at BSC’s Department of Geography and Planning began the process of documenting WNY climate’s differentiation as a precursor to more elaborate downscale modeling.

View All Articles by George Besch
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