Climate Adaptation: The State of Practice in U.S. Communities

The Kresge Foundation has released a report “Climate Adaptation: The State of Practice in U.S. Communities” - the result of a two-year process that brought together climate change adaptation leaders from around the country with researchers from Abt Consulting to take a snapshot of adaptation in the U.S.

Through assessing 17 case studies, interviewing 50 thought leaders, and hosting 3 day-long Project Advisory Committee meetings, the research team pulled insights from across the field to try to get a handle on what we are learning from the various ways that adaptation has been tried in different regions in the U.S. 

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Ashland moves towards a science-based climate action plan

Communities around the U.S. already have, or are currently developing, greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to combat climate change. teal chart iconAnd yet these targets and timelines are highly variable from plan to plan, based on politics, attitudes, and planning approach.

The City of Ashland’s Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) Ad-hoc committee, which is made up of community members with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, voted unanimously to adopt science-based greenhouse gas emissions targets.

What are Science-Based Targets?

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Integrating Equity into Climate Change Adaptation

nola flooding post katrinaWe developed our ClimateWise® program in 2008 to help communities develop solutions to climate change that meet the needs of both people and nature. We work with communities to develop solutions across 5 different systems (human, built, economic, natural, and cultural) ensuring through our process that all have a seat at the planning table.

Since that time, we have been thrilled to see the adaptation field embracing many new and innovative strategies to meeting human needs while also protecting and enhancing natural systems. What we have yet to see is the adaptation field taking the same level of action to address the disproportionate impact that climate change has on already disadvantaged people and using action on climate change as a vehicle to improve equity within our communities. In fact, in a review of 800+ individual adaptation strategies in recent city, county, and agency adaptation plans, we found that only 3 created explicit benefits for disadvantaged people.

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Adaptation and Mitigation: Two halves of the whole solution to climate change

mitigation adaptation circleAs names for concepts go, climate change “adaptation” and “mitigation” are terrible choices. When we think of responding to climate change, “adaptation,” while uninspiring, makes some sense. But “mitigation” is a head scratcher – not because it is incorrect (technically to mitigate is to make something less severe, serious, or painful), but because in everyday conversation it brings to mind building a new wetland to “mitigate” the damage done by a housing development.

But for climate change, it means something entirely different. And it is important that we understand the difference between these two strategies and how they are both necessary to create a holistic and effective response to climate change.

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Over 400 ppm for the rest of our lives

"The world is quickening the rate of accumulation of CO2, and has shown no signs of slowing this down. It [surpassing 400ppm] should be a psychological tripwire for everyone.
Dr. Michael Gunson, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

CO2 concentration Mauna Loa Observatory
The global concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide now stands at 404.83 ppm as of a July 10, 2016 reading at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. To put this in perspective, climate scientists have been warning that a safe concentration for the Earth’s natural systems and all of us who depend on them is 350 parts per million, which we passed around 1990.

Many advocacy groups and climate scientists around the world had hoped to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide to less than 400 parts per million through efforts to reduce emissions, and then to work to bring that number down to the scientifically-determined “safe” level of 350. But we have collectively not done enough to keep from catapulting over that 400 ppm line.

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Re-cap of the Ashland Climate Challenge Kickoff

acc stageMarni Koopman

On November 15th, the Geos Institute and Rogue Climate put on the Ashland Climate Challenge Kickoff at the Historic Armory in Ashland, Oregon. This event was the “kickoff” for a year of both planning and action to reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of the event was to engage people in a community-wide planning effort that is just beginning, while also motivating local residents to reduce energy use throughout 2016. It was funded by the City of Ashland, Clif Bar, local foundations, business sponsors, and local donors.

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Climate Change Data Sources

news portland bridge bikerTonya Graham

Major infrastructure projects, such as highway systems, bridges, and ports, are critically important to our health and safety and need to be built with future climate conditions in mind. The following article was first published in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, which created the Envision rating system for large infrastructure projects in conjunction with the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Similar to the LEED rating system for buildings, Envision works to help infrastructure developers create more sustainable projects. We are happy to help ISI provide information about how to incorporate climate change projections into infrastructure projects.

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LAX and The State of Adaptation

Marni Koopman

Lax airport signI recently went on a trip with my daughter to Canada. It was a LONG trip because we live on the west coast of the U.S. and traveled all the way to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. We traveled for over 17 hours each way. We highly recommend the Bay of Fundy! But this story isn’t about that….

We had a 3.5 hour layover in LAX between our first and second flights. I planned that we would leisurely stop and eat, get through customs, and easily make it to the next flight. Instead we walked down long empty hallways with no idea about whether we were going the right way, made numerous wrong turns, got sternly reprimanded because we were “supposed to go through the purple door,” and barely made it to our flight, feeling hungry, rushed, and confused. As I was looking for the purple door, I thought “THIS is exactly what its like right now for communities wanting to plan for climate change.”

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Ashland Climate Challenge

The Kickoff

The Ashland Climate Challenge has officially been “Kicked Off”! On November 15th 2016, over 300 people streamed into the Historic Armory to learn about the Ashland Climate Challenge and the community-wide Climate and Energy Action planning process that is now underway. Ashland is on the road to a clean energy future.

acc scottThe Kickoff was opened by a talented group of young musicians – the Daniel Chávez Quartet. Mayor John Stromberg welcomed the crowd. Next, we heard from Dr. Scott Denning, Atmospheric Scientist with Colorado State University. Dr. Denning described how climate change is simple, serious, and solvable. It is simple because we have had a basic understanding of the heat storage properties of CO2 and other greenhouse gases since before light bulbs were even invented. It is serious because our climate defines where we live, how our homes are built, and what foods we can grow. As climate change accelerates, our basic systems will have a hard time keeping pace. And the good news is that climate change is solvable – experts have estimated that it would cost 1% of global GDP to change our energy systems away from fossil fuels. We’ve made changes of that magnitude before, and with great pay back in local economic growth, higher quality of life, better health, and other benefits. In fact, one of the most notable investments of that magnitude was when much of the world invested in indoor plumbing. And boy was it worth it.

Dr. Denning’s talk was followed with powerful and mesmerizing poetry and music from OSF performers Kimberly Scott, Carolina Morones, Miriam Laube, Mildred Ruiz Sapp and Steven Sapp of UNIVERSES, and Claudia Alick of Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Performances were interspersed with panel discussions and presentations about the City’s support for a community-wide Climate and Energy Action plan and the recently appointed Ad-hoc Committee tasked with guiding that process. We also heard from other cities and SOU about how they are tackling climate change. Speakers included Bryan Sohl, Roxane Beigel-Coryell, Adam Hanks, and Matt McRae.

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Key Components of Whole Community Adaptation

There is a transition afoot – a movement to build more resilient communities. Different groups use different terms, such as sustainable, equitable, and thriving, but the premise is the same – we can boost the capacity of our communities to withstand and thrive in the face of a multitude of stressors, including climate change. Resilience is the ability to anticipate risk, reduce the impact, and bounce back after disruption.

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On NASCAR and Adaptation

Tonya Graham

NASCAR practiceI happened to be in Charlotte, North Carolina, a couple months ago at the National Association of Counties’ annual conference. The conference was held in the convention center, which also happens to be the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame – something I was not aware of until providence deposited me on the doorstep of the convention center.

Every day I would make my way from my hotel to the convention center, walk through the doors, and be presented with the choice of whether to go to the conference or take a NASCAR tour. Walking past portraits of famous drivers with adaptation on my mind, I began to see NASCAR as a cultural anchor in terms of adaptation.

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Introducing…The Ashland Climate Challenge

mt ashland kids

In 2008, the Geos Institute and The Resource Innovation Group (TRIG) joined forces to hold our first pilot project bringing climate science to local communities. The project was focused on the Rogue Basin of southwest Oregon – our own backyard. We experimented with bringing downscaled climate models to non-scientists in hopes of providing the information that was needed for communities to make sound decisions for the future.

We facilitated workshops for natural resource managers, community decision-makers, and experts in health, emergency management, business, and a variety of other fields. These early workshops were vital in the development of our ClimateWise program, which works to protect natural systems and vulnerable populations while creating Whole Community resilience.

Fast forward seven years and we are starting to see and feel many of the on-the-ground impacts that were projected in our 2008 report. Specifically, we have begun to experience economic impacts from smokey summers and snowless winters.

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Whole Community Adaptation: Testing the Concept

As climate change continues to unfold, we are seeing it touch and alter every part of our communities. As decision makers respond, they need to be aware of how others are impacted and how they are also responding. Without cross-sector coordination, our experience tells us that actions in one sector are likely to exacerbate climate change impacts to other sectors, simply shifting the risk instead of increasing overall resilience.

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Talking About Climate Change

ClimateAccess the preparation frameClimate change is an awkward subject to talk about. In some circles, bringing up the topic can lead to an acute case of silence (cue crickets). But we need to be talking about it in all circles and especially in decision-making capacities. One of the leading organizations on climate change communication is Climate Access.

We recently listened in on a Climate Access webinar on how to talk about climate change during extreme cold and snow events. They suggested communicating the links between climate change and changes in the jet stream or polar vortex destabilization to show how larger storms are one of the many outcomes of accelerating climate change.

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Hot Enough Yet?

austin lake travis boatThe Future of Extreme Weather in Central Texas

Austin and Killeen, Texas have experienced many temperature and precipitation extremes in the last decade. As climate change accelerates, residents can expect more days of extreme heat, fewer overnight freezes, and more frequent periods of drought than there have been historically.

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