Large waves on Lake Michigan, caused by high water and wind, crash into the Saint Joseph Lighthouse and pier last week in Saint Joseph, Michigan. Associated Press

From beach barriers to school 'oases,' how cities prepare to withstand climate change

Signs of climate change are all around us. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and extreme heat and other weather-related events are happening more frequently. A rising chorus of experts say getting ready for climate change catastrophes should include updating the infrastructure that helps keep cities and towns running across the globe. And we should be doing it right now.

"We can't design based on the past anymore," says Constantine Samaras, who teaches civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He points out that engineers and policymakers should focus on refurbishing infrastructure -- buildings, highways, airports, dams, waste facilities and power grids -- so that it's able to withstand new demands posed by the shifting climate. That means anticipating what people will need as well as new environmental stresses that climate change might heap on the existing system.

Take, for example, the prediction that sea global sea levels might rise as much as 6½ feet over the next century. With 90% of the world's urban areas located along bodies of water, steps need to be taken immediately to protect low-lying areas against flooding and raise or relocate coastal roadways, bridges and levees.

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