Yesterday I attended a talk given by Lehigh Alum, Dan Zarrilli, who runs the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency in New York City. The mayor appointed Mr. Zarrilli as the head of this novel office, which precipitated as a result of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. He talked about what New York City has learned from Hurricane Sandy and how he is navigating is office to mitigate future problems caused by climate change in both the physical and social sense. To do this, he created a team to 1. stimulate and support the growth of neighborhood “ecosystems” and 2. strengthen the infrastructure systems of the city. He spoke about buying down “future risk”, which, having no idea about insurance policies, confused me at first. Future risk, on the business-as-usual path of global warming, includes the issues caused by a 6ft. rise in sea level by 2100. Other future risks in New York City include a growing population, increasing inequality, and aging infrastructure. To attack these risks, he and his team created four visions. They are for a growing, thriving city, an equitable city, a sustainable city, and a resilient city. On the sustainability front, NYC plans to reduce greenhouse emissions 80% by 2050. However, just a change by NYC isn’t enough to mitigate climate change consequences and will have no effect if every other nation in the world doesn’t also act. The world’s fate will be determined this year at the Road to Paris, where nations will congregate to decide what additional actions to take against climate change, if any at all. If all nations reduce their emissions each by 83% by 2050, then the world temperature will only increase 2 degrees C, which is as much as it can before more major irreversible consequences occur.
I was enlightened after hearing Dan Zarrilli speak. He and his department are being pragmatic with the threats of climate change by taking practical steps to prevent the future damage that could ensue. These steps, as he emphasized, start at the community level. A fellow listener asked him why he sounded so positive, if he was being optimistic about NYC and climate change in the future. Mr. Zarrilli replied that optimism is not necessarily the right word, rather, he knows that NYC is being a leader in taking these steps to make consequences less severe. What excites me the most is the city’s goals to reduce their emissions 80% by 2050. Hopefully other cities in this country will follow its lead.
It’s always stirring and motivating to hear of a Lehigh alumni who is making a positive impact on the world somehow, and you hear about them quite often. Dan Zarrilli’s job is an example of what you could do when you graduate. He once was a normal Civil & Environmental Engineering student like many of us; he was in the orchestra and a fraternity. Now, he’s guiding a city towards climate change solutions to ensure safer lives.