Partnership brings effects of climate change home for Philadelphians

climate change CUSP sign
Credit: Courtesy Franklin Institute

The issue of climate change often brings to mind dramatic images of melting polar ice caps or shoreline-eroding storms.

But the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership, helmed in Philadelphia by the Franklin Institute, is attempting to raise awareness about how the effects of climate change can be experienced by urban residents who may not own beachfront property or go on Arctic expeditions.

“It might not be so much a part of their day-to-day lives, which is why what we’re trying to do through this program is connect the climate impact to people’s passions,” said Raluca Ellis, environmental scientist at The Franklin Institute and CUSP senior program manager.

CUSP stakeholders, as part of a pilot project this summer, installed signs in the Kensington area listing tangible ways climate change is affecting Philadelphia, along with practical ways in which community members can help.

“The signs are talking about the two major projections we’ve had from our climate scientists, which is an increased number of days over 90 [degrees] and increased heavy downpours and storms,” Ellis said.

“We hope the signs will inform people of these urban climate impacts that are very relative to Philadelphia and hope they will spark interest in people to learn more and to become involved with some of the community partners we’re working with to respond to these impacts.”

That includes SEPTA, which has received global recognition for its pioneering wayside energy storage project.

Also piloted in Kensington, the initiative captures energy from braking trains and reuses it in the grid, generating revenue and saving power at the same time.

“Where the Franklin Institute came into play was we really wanted to start communicating these initiatives to the public and to our customers and to people that benefit from them, but they don’t always know it exists,” SEPTA strategy and sustainability planner Erik Johanson said.

“We wanted to bring a social component to the economic and environmental initiative by educating the surrounding community that, ‘Hey, you have this super innovative project right in your backyard and it’s benefiting the environment and benefiting the economy.’ … We’re a transit agency that provides more than a million rides to the five-county region each day, and we thought it was really important to make sure that the public was aware that this innovation was occurring in their neighborhood so they could take pride in it, but also learn about it.”

Ellis said education and awareness are two of CUSP’s ultimate goals.

“I hope that people realize that climate change is something that is impacting Philadelphia right now and will continue to do so in the future, and that there are ways that we can lessen this impact,” she said.

“There are many organizations within the city that are doing so and it’s quite easy to get involved and join in.”

For more information about community partners or how to get involved, check out the CUSP website.

By the numbers

$5.8M
The Climate and Urban Partnerships Program was financed by a $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

40
Days in Philadelphia each year are projected to have temperatures reaching 90 degrees by 2020, up from 26 days in 2012.

100
Signs bearing climate change facts and tips, like increasing green space or putting out rain barrels, are expected to be installed in the Kensington area by the end of the summer.

4
CUSP is also carrying out programs in four other cities: Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and New York City.


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