THE CITY AND THE COMING CLIMATE: CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE PLACES WE LIVE, by Brian Stone, Jr.
Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dr Brian Stone, Jr. provides new information about the disastrous heat island effects created by urban centers and prescribes various policy frameworks to help correct this increasingly urgent situation.
The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live, by Brian Stone, Jr., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 187 pp.
In his incredibly important book, Professor Brian Stone and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology show in no uncertain terms that CO2 emissions are not the only cause of climate change. Thus, reducing CO2 emissions won’t address the heat waves and frightening heat island threats that kill more people than any other climate-related risk each year. The “loss of trees and other vegetative cover combined with the emission of waste heat from industries, vehicles and buildings” is causing dangerous heat island effects in cities all over the world. Climate science has tended to ignore the fact that cities are getting hotter than the countryside that surrounds them. And adaptation strategies that don’t reduce the causes of urban heat islands are beside the point.
In an easily accessible but scientifically scrupulous way, Stone explains why climate skeptics no longer have any basis for doubting that human actions are the cause of current worldwide temperatures increases. And, he provides persuasive modeling evidence to show that temperature increases in cities represent a serious health hazard.
Stone argues for (1) broadening the definition of climate change to encompass land-surface drivers; (2) a regional scale approach to monitoring and explaining temperature changes; (3) a commitment to forest protection and reforestation, particularly in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia; and (4) adaptive mitigation (e.g. ways of reducing climate change impacts that help cities achieve other objectives at the same time).
In my view, Stone doesn’t get the international relations behind climate change treaty-making right; and, because he doesn’t put climate change treaty-making in the broader context of other global negotiations (e.g. perpetual North-South disagreements, the difficulties of getting any country to relinquish any of it sovereignty, enforcement problems with all international law, the principle of differentiated responsibility that was the key to getting developing countries to sign the original 1992 Framework Convention, etc.), his proposed reforms are less than compelling. Nevertheless, after reading this book it is impossible to think about climate change as a problem we can pass on to future generations. Cities need to do something now. Moreover, we don’t need international mandates to force us to implement land-based mitigation. The health and welfare of current residents depends on cities restoring vegetation and reducing (and capturing) the thermal radiation created by urban development.