Climate Change and Adaptation: Is it real? What to do?

Climate Change and Adaptation: Is it real? What to do?

By Lara Hansen and Jennie Hoffman, EcoAdapt

Yes, Houston, there is a problem. Climate change is happening and it is affecting the world around us. For those of us who live and work in this world it means that resources we rely on or are charged with managing or protecting are not going to behave as we’ve come to expect them to.

This means we need to broaden our perspective enough to recognize what’s changing and to consider how to respond to and prepare for it in order to achieve our desired outcomes—for conservation, resource management or development. Ignoring climate change in your decision-making does not prevent it from adversely affecting you. Rather it increases your vulnerability and will likely result in missed opportunities to avoid calamity and improve outcomes.

What’s this climate adaptation stuff?

There’s a lot of hype about climate change adaptation these days, but just what is it? Historically if you lived in a hazard zone, say earthquakes, hurricanes or anything else, you would incorporate that hazard into what you do and how you do it. Today the sad truth is that we all live in a climate change hazard zone, and adaptation is how we build that hazard into our lives and work. It is how we minimize our vulnerability to climate change, for example by installing rain gardens to help with increased volumes of stormwater, or preparing for drought through increased water conservation practices.

The more we limit the rate and extent of climate change, the less we will need to adapt. And the more we prepare for and adapt to climate change the better we can manage the impacts. Unfortunately with climate change already afoot, we need to start implementing adaptation strategies today.

What to do?

While solving the problem of climate change on a global scale may be a big task, meeting the challenges of climate change at the scale of your own work is something you can do. Do you regulate pollutants? Run a fishing business? Make land-use or land acquisition decisions? Great— you can build climate change into the decisions you make, just as you build other risks and realities into them already.

There are lots of people starting to tackle the reality of climate change in their conservation and resource management work. Some people are doing this because they have long-term vision and anticipate that acting now will be better (success- and cost-wise) than acting later. Others are doing this because the reality of climate change is staring them in the face. For example, if you are restoring habitat for fish populations in rivers where flooding may increase due to climate change it would be prudent for you consider these changes when developing your plan of action. Learning how other people are taking on these challenges can not only motivate you to act but you can glean the details, find the information you’ve been looking for or learn how to make decisions even when you can’t get what you want.

There is a lot of climate data already out there. Unfortunately it’s often hard to find, hard to access, hard to understand or hard to determine how to use.

The Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE, www.cake ex.org) is meant to help you navigate the world of adaptation, find the resources you need to take action and introduce you to others in the community so you can share ideas and build even better options. CAKE has case studies, a virtual library, lists of websites, a blog and much more. It is a great way to get your feet wet to explore the increasingly important world of climate adaptation.

Lara Hansen and Jennie Hoffman are with EcoAdapt, a nonprofit organization working to develop the field of adaptation and help everyone meet the challenges of climate change. Drs. Hansen and Hoffman are authors of Climate Savvy: Adaptation Conservation and Resource Management to a Changing World, to be released by Island Press in September 2010. They have been helping to innovate and implement adaptation actions for more than a decade. You can learn from their experience and enter the exciting world of climate change adaptation at www.ecoadapt.org andwww.cakex.org.

What will Climate Change Mean for the Great Lakes?

The impacts of the Earth’s warming is already being observed in the Great Lakes. Below are the likely impacts that climate change will have on the Great Lakes, people, and wildlife.

  • Daily high temperatures will increase 5.4 to 10.8 degrees, with wintertime temperatures increasing even more than summer
  • Increased evaporation, less ice cover, lower water levels and increases in lake-effect snow
  • More intense storm events will contribute more pollutants to our waterways from runoff
  • Biological dead zones will increase, threatening fish and other aquatic life

Climate change adds an extra amount of stress to an already stressed-ecosystem. Projects at the community level are more important than ever, such as:

  • Keep out invasive species and enhance natural habitat
  • Protect more wetlands
  • Clean-up toxic sediments to avoid them being exposed
  • Correct combined sewer systems
  • Improve protections to protect the Great Lakes water supply

(The source of information about the potential impacts from climate change in the Great Lakes is from Great Lakes Restoration & the Threats of Global Warming, Dempsey, Elder, and Scavia, 2008).

Freshwater Future Offers new Climate Program

One trend that isn’t likely to go out of fashion is the changing climate. To help citizens and community groups incorporate climate change in their decision making and project development, Freshwater Future is launching the Great Lakes Community Climate Program. Through this program, we aim to provide tools, training, and support necessary for grassroots and watershed groups to look through the climate lens to strengthen their projects focused on protecting and restoring wetlands, lakes and rivers. Funding for the program is provided by the Kresge Foundation.

This fall we will offer our first climate adaptation grants. Project activities might include specific on-the-ground costs to develop shaded river corridors, protect and restore important wetland areas, limit or remove impervious surfaces, promote local decision-making that supports climate based actions and decisions, and separating sewer and storm water systems. For more information about our Great Lakes Community Climate Program contact us at 231-348-8200.

 

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.