understand risks, prepare for change
Cope with ongoing climate change and bounce back from a climate disaster like a flood, wildfire, or heatwave. Understand the increased risks in your area and prepare for them.
What disasters are becoming more likely where you live? In the western U.S., forest fires are becoming more common (PNAS). On the coasts, sea level rise is causing increased flooding. In many areas, heatwaves and downpours will become more intense.
The EPA provides regional impact analyses for climate change. Your city or county probably has emergency preparedness information online as well.
The EPA regional impact analyses are available via a 2017 snapshot of the EPA website. The snapshot was taken before parts of the regular EPA website on climate change were removed by the current administration. Links on the snapshot pages may not work as expected.
If you live in an area that might be more prone to flooding, wildfires, or storm surges due to climate change, consider some common-sense measures for weathering an extreme event. For example, homeowners in forested areas of the western U.S. can "firescape" around their home by removing nearby tree branches and dried leaves and pine needles. The Department of Homeland Security, the Red Cross and many other sites offer advice on how to prepare an emergency kit. Know how to connect with your local office of emergency management if disaster strikes.
Some of your best resources in an emergency are the people closest to you. Getting to know them can really help when times get tough. Host a block party to pull the neighborhood together. Participate in community efforts--even if they aren’t directly related to resilience, they help build strong neighborhoods with capacity to take changes in stride. A strong community that includes all its residents tends to be much more resilient.
Here in Boulder County we have BoCo Strong, created after our 2013 floods to build a culture of resilience throughout Boulder County; and Resilient Together, a joint platform for the City of Boulder and Boulder County residents. Chances are there’s a similar resiliency group in your area. Or check out the Center for Resilient Cities to see a model for creating resilient communities from where you are now.
When superstorm Sandy hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, a lot of electrical and telecommunications equipment was flooded on the lowest floors. Key equipment was knocked out of service, often for days or weeks. By simply locating this equipment on higher floors, buildings are becoming much more resilient to flooding events. See inset story "A Tale of Two Central Offices" in a New York City report on telecommunications (PDF file)
Ask your city or county officials what they are doing to make your area more resilient to climate change. Participate where you can. Positive examples abound:
100 Resilient Cities
An organization helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. They were established by the Rockefeller Foundation.
C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
Connecting 80+ large cities taking action to reduce climate risks while increasing the health, wellbeing and economic opportunities of urban citizens.
Center for Resilient Cities
This center has an effective model for growing resilience in neighborhoods. Ask your local officials to join the party.
Climate resilience is the ability to cope with ongoing climate change as well as to bounce back from a major climate disaster like a flood, wildfire, or heatwave. More cities and corporations are taking climate resiliency into account in their decision making. But more work remains to be done.
A program teaching people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encouraging neighbors to work together and take action to prevent losses.
Civic Ecology: Adaptation and Transformation from the Ground Up
By Marianne E. Krasny and Keith G. Tidball
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015, 293 pp).
Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change
By Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, and Heather Boyer
(Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009, 166 pp).
On Saturday, July 9, 2016, I was sitting in the kitchen shelling fava beans when my husband pulled into the driveway and ran into the house. “There’s a smoke, and it’s in a bad place,” he said.
When we moved to the small town of Nederland, CO, in the mountains west of Boulder, we recognized that wildfire would be a constant worry. Fortunately, my husband had been a wildland firefighter for over a decade and was familiar with fire behavior and risk. We immediately set to reducing fuels on our ¾ acre property – raking thick layers of pine needles from under our decks, removing trees within a set perimeter of the house, and sawing limbs so that there would not be any ladder fuels for a ground fire to climb into the canopy.
We also worked with Wildfire Partners, a Boulder County initiative that provides expertise and funding to help support wildfire mitigation efforts on residential properties. They performed an audit of our home and gave us recommendations to further reduce the risk of losing it in a wildfire. We caulked gaps in the siding, installed wire mesh over vent openings, and eventually replaced a wood deck with fire-resistant materials. We also prepared for the worst, keeping important files in marked boxes to take with us in the event of an evacuation and establishing a family evacuation plan.
On that Saturday afternoon, the fire we had been preparing for arrived. Within 15 minutes, ash was raining on our heads as we loaded up our three dogs, my hard drive with my then-in-progress PhD dissertation, and our previously packed boxes. As we drove down our evacuation route and waited out the next few days, we did feel confident that we did what we could to protect our property and hoped the firefighters would stay safe as they worked to contain the fire. Through a combination of fuels mitigation treatments on surrounding US Forest Service land, neighborhood efforts, and individual homeowner actions, we were able to return home a week later.
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