Adapting to Climate Change

Posted February 18th, 2011 by John Callender

I’ve been concerned about climate change for a while now, but my anxiety kicked into high gear after Copenhagen. That was when I realized that global warming was really going to happen, and was going to be really bad.

One thing that helped me out of the resulting funk was this article by Mark Hertsgaard: Why Seattle will stay dry when your city floods. It was adapted from a chapter in Hertsgaard’s new book, Hot: Living through the next fifty years on Earth. I liked the article so much I went out and bought the book. Then I bought three more copies, and have been inflicting them on innocent bystanders ever since. :-)

The book is about a concept I hadn’t heard much about before: climate change adaptation. Most of what I’ve read in the past about climate change concerns mitigation: reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid warming. Mitigation is hugely important, of course, but especially now that climate change has started happening, and appears to be happening more quickly and more severely than many scientists previously projected, we also need to talk about adaptation.

Adaptation is about preparing for the effects of climate change. Unlike mitigation, which is a collective effort that succeeds or fails based on the sum of human actions across the entire globe, adaptation is inherently local. If we start early enough and do the right kinds of adaptation, we can reduce the amount of suffering we and our descendants experience in our local community. Adaptation feels real, and concrete, whereas mitigation can sometimes feel hopelessly abstract. Adaptation feels like actually doing something.

Besides Hertsgaard’s book, I’ve been getting a lot of useful information from the following:

Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments (PDF) is a handbook that grew out of the King County (Washington) climate change adaptation effort. It has a lot of really good, practical advice on developing and implementing a local adaptation strategy.

The California Climate Adaptation Strategy (PDF) is a state report that was published in 2009. It describes the impacts Californians can expect to experience on a statewide level, along with guidelines for adaptation. It’s pretty general, but it’s a start.

The following passage caught my eye:

The most effective adaptation strategies relate to short and long-term decisions. Most of these decisions are the responsibility of local community planning entities. As a result, communities with General Plans and Local Coastal Plans should begin, when possible, to amend their plans to assess climate change impacts, identify areas most vulnerable to these impacts, and develop reasonable and rational risk reduction strategies using the CAS as guidance.

I don’t think Carpinteria is doing enough in this area. I’ve started talking to other Carpinterians about the issue, though. We’ll see where that goes.

Update: As I’m finding more resources, I’m listing them at the Climate Change Adaptation Resources page.

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