Edward J. Blakely and Armando Carbonell, editors
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
113 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138;
2012. 288 pages. Paperback: $35.

Both the United States and Australia face daunting risks from the effects of climate change.

In the former, the climate change war is being waged primarily at the local and state government levels. In the latter, the national government has joined the battle. This book of dispatches from the various fronts provides an invaluable account of how the campaigns are going.

Case studies tell the stories. The U.S. cases are New York City, New Orleans, Los Angeles–San Diego, San Francisco, and the southeastern Atlantic Coast states. The Australian cases are Melbourne, Sidney, Perth, and southeast Queensland.

In the U.S. Congress, political ideology has gridlocked national climate policy, leaving states and local governments without national cover. By contrast, the Australian parliament has passed a carbon tax on the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, effective this 2012.

Each case study was written by recognized experts in sustainability who are also authorities on the planning and governance of their respective municipal regions. The result is a fascinating set of in­sider’s descriptions and critiques of what is happening on the ground, along with sober recommendations for what should change to meet the challenges.

Coeditor Edward Blakely, honorary professor of urban policy at the University of Sydney, is widely known for his work on the recovery of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Coeditor Armando Carbonell, chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, has led the institute’s work with the planning directors of the 30 largest U.S. cities. The coeditors have chosen their case studies to illustrate the full range of problems and solutions.

California leads all U.S. states in climate initiatives. Its legislature has enacted statewide bills to reduce GHG emissions 25 percent below forecast levels by 2020 and to require regions to develop growth strategies that align transportation funding with housing needs.

By executive order, California’s state agencies must identify and prepare for climate impacts. The resulting Climate Adaptation Strategy recommends that state agencies undergo managed retreat from sea level rise, not building new facilities where they will require flood protection during their design life.

California’s city regions face catastrophic effects from climate change. The effects are compounded by the elements of nature. For example, the impact of sea-level rise is increased by land subsidence and coastal erosion. Water shortages are exacerbated by drought. Mudslides are brought on by earthquakes, severe rainstorms, flooding, and wildfires triggered by climatic events.

At the same time that California’s governments must cut their GHG emissions, they must adapt to anticipated climate change impacts, which will occur even if required emission mitigation targets are met.

For example, the Los Angeles–San Diego region must address a complex mix of diminished water supply, water conservation, water reclamation, planning and governance, and natural hazard mitigation. To do this, Ken Topping, author of the southern California case, recommends creating a new superregional resource management agency with taxing, investment, and regulatory powers.

He acknowledges that it will take a new level of political will to carry off such a sweeping institutional innovation, but insists that the scope of the problem demands an equally large response.

The southeastern Atlantic Coast states case represents the other extreme of regional response. With the exception of Florida, only minor concern is evident.

Despite serious vulnerability to sea-level rise and extreme weather, as well as the region’s high GHG emissions and significant human exposure to natural disasters, most state and local governments are responding half-heartedly with advisory committees and study groups.

The Southeast is the only coastal area in the United States that has not implemented a regional initiative addressing climate change; many southeastern Atlantic localities even refuse to admit that there is a problem.

Climate change is an abstract concept; visualizing its effects is difficult. A major contribution of this book lies in its explicit maps of sea-level rise in the nine coastal regions. Dark blue overlays indicate low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to future sea-level rise.

Looking at the resulting maps does not allow viewers to keep their heads in the sand. New Orleans has vast areas of dark blue, of course, but so do the inland area of San Francisco east toward Stockton and the rim of the Atlantic coast from Miami to New York, as well as the Australian city regions.

Beautifully illustrated and knowledgeably written, this book offers a crash course on current policy options regarding climate change. It is a must read for all public and private decision makers and citizens who care about mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change in coastal regions.—D.R.G.