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The “Global” in Front of Climate Change.

We have all heard about global climate change.  We may have an idea of what its effects will be on the planet:  sea level rises, unpredictable weather, and/or water scarcity in some regions.  We have been told that climate change is mainly human-induced but may not be sure to what extent.    The ‘global’ in front of climate change is a somewhat confusing and perhaps, disorienting term that makes the issue hard to comprehend, put into a box, or personalize in a way that we, as individuals, can own and upon which we feel we can affect change.  A pretty important question to ask, then, is how does one affect change in the face of global climate change? That’s the question.

 

The Organizations and Entities Working to Combat Climate Change

Before we answer that question, it might be worthwhile to understand what is being done about climate change at other scales.  We have likely read about countries coming together to agree, internationally, upon setting a limit on increases in the Earth’s global temperature.  In December 2015, those international discussions between nation-states of all sizes and levels of development, culminated in the Paris Climate Accord to keep the global temperature of the Earth below a 2o Celsius increase above pre-Industrial levels.  We know that certain regional regimes (the European Union made up of 28 members) and individual countries such as China and Canada have and are taking steps toward the mitigation of climate change through the implementation of regulations and policies like gas taxes, cap-and-trade schemes and outright prohibitions on the level of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere.  Within the borders of the United States, high-profile states such as California, New Jersey, and Oregon are leading the way in climate change mitigation by implementing a host of strategies and applying technical innovations to meet set targets to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere.

 

Don’t Forget the Work of Municipalities

So too, we have a base realization that at a municipal level (i.e., cities and towns) actions are being implemented to combat climate change, though to varying degrees and abilities.  These municipal initiatives may include mandatory recycling (e.g., glass, paper, plastic), household compost promotion, infrastructure development focused on active (i.e., walking and biking) and public transportation mechanisms, installation of bike share and carpool systems, and the encouragement to purchase and use renewable energy sources (such as wind, solar and biofuels).  In this regard, some of the regulations and actions at the municipal level are indeed, the responsibility of the individual to implement.  But how do we move from a reactive (being told what to do) to a more proactive (taking action personally and individually) role in the mitigation of climate change?  And at the level in which we live and identify: locally?

 

The InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Yes, it’s a Mouthful.

From a global scientific perspective, climate change has been under formal, coordinated study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC for short) for nearly 30 years. Out of IPCC’s first Assessment Report came the call to have the international community of scientists work together to tackle the challenging, complicated and large-scope consequences of climate change.   Through the IPCC’s work of assessing, reviewing and disseminating scientific data through reports on climate change, the organization increasingly has gained near definitive confidence (85%) that the climate change Earth is experiencing is the direct result of anthropogenic (man-made) industrial activities.

 

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report

The IPCC’s fifth and most recent climate change assessment report (published in 2014) is its most comprehensive yet.  It details observed changes and causes to the planet’s climate system, atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere, and sea levels, while offering very detailed summaries of current risks and likely impact areas of future climate change.  Lastly the report offers “pathways” or recommendations for adaption to and mitigation of climate change by every region and country on the globe.  The statements from the Fifth Assessment Report are strong and convincing and offer fairly definitive statements about how climate change has come about, whether it is a legitimate concern, and the risks associated with it.  Below are several summary excerpts from the IPCC’s latest report (bolded font is author’s emphasis):

 

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.  Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

 

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950’s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia” (also known as a 1000 years).

 

“Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth…This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years…”

 

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.  Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

 

“Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems.”

 

“Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, wide-spread and irreversible impacts globally….”

 

“There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2oC relative to pre-industrial levels.  These pathways would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases by the end of the century.”

 

 

How Is Climate Change Going to Affect Us?

One pertinent question to ask on the road to building sustainability measures into our own lives, is how will climate change affect each of us, individually, and the communities in which we live?   The risks associated with climate change will not be uniform across the globe.  Arid and semi-arid regions will have nearly opposite challenges to temperate and Northern regions of the world as it relates to fresh water supply, weather conditions and food yields to feed human populations. There exists no uniform agreement on what outcomes of climate change will come to pass, given the uncertainty that climate change inherently embodies.  However, the IPCC has been able to provide guidance (read:  predictions) based on the scientific evidence it has studied on how climate change will impact regions of the Earth.

 

It’s Getting Hot in Here:  warming temperatures across the globe

The scientific community is confident that across the globe there will be an increase or uptick in warm-temperature related events, which will be more prevalent (or common) than cold-temperature events.  This is due to the fact that across the globe, temperatures are rising annually as well as seasonally.  It is an agreed upon fact that over the last 20 years, 15 of those were the hottest years on record.  Think about that.  From 1880 (when global temperatures began to be tracked) to 2017, the 15 hottest years[1] on record  as measured and confirmed by four leading climate centers[2] are the following:

 

1st:  2016[3]

2nd:  2017

3rd:  2015

4th:  2014

5th:  2010

6th:  2013

7th:  2005

9th:  1998 & 2009 (tied)

10th:  2012

13th:  2003, 2006 & 2007 (three-way tie)

14th:  2002

15th:  2004 & 2011 (tied)

 

It’s worth pointing out that the last four consecutive years (2014 – 2017) have been recorded as the hottest years on record.  Nine of the last 10 years have made the record books as the hottest globally.

 

The Making of a Trend!

There’s a saying in industry that one bullet of fact does not a trend make but take two or more data points and a trend starts to emerge.  Do we see a trend?  Yes, and it is undeniable.  The globe is getting hotter, more frequently and progressively with each passing year.  It is looking like each successive year, as seen in both 2016 and 2017, is breaking all kinds of temperature records from the prior. Globally, the planet’s average temperature has risen approximately 1.3oF (0.7oC) over the last 100 years. Expressed another way:  for each passing decade, the planet’s global temperature has risen 0.13oC.  Remember, at the Paris Climate Accord in December 2015, signed by 195 countries, the agreed goal was to keep global average temperature increases below 2oC from pre-industrial levels, preferably, under 1.5oC increase.

 

At the end of 2016, global temperatures were measured to be 1.2oC (2.2oF) above pre-industrial levels according to the World Meteorological Organization.  2016 gave us a 0.2oC increase in temperature globally over the year prior.  If that trend continues, we will reach the 2oC red-line threshold on global temperature in four years or by the end of 2020!

 

Embracing a Sanguine View

With the acceptance of climate change comes the reality that on the whole – globally as well as within many regions where great numbers of people reside – we should expect more warm-temperature events that will burden both our infrastructure and our physical coping mechanisms for managing heat.  Households without air-conditioning will be affected the most by warming temperatures.  So too, will the individuals who make a living working outdoors in physically-demanding jobs.  These populations will be at risk for heat stroke, dehydration and death because of the limitations in the ability to effectively regulate their body temperatures and manage exposure to sustained heat levels.

 

What else can we expect with climate change?

 

Is Blue Your Favorite Color?  The Great Glacier Melting

The direct result of an increasingly warmer globe is the melting of Earth’s glaciers and ice-sheets found in our planet’s poles.  Glaciers can be found in many Northern parts of the globe but the ones scientists are monitoring closely are the ‘ancient’ ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland.  As more and more greenhouse gasses (GHG) are emitted and accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet, the more we see these massive ice-sheets melting, shrinking, and breaking apart as floating ice cubes in the vast ocean.  It is estimated that as soon as 2020, the ice-fields of the Arctic, affectionately known as the “great white cap” at the top of the world could be ice-free (and blue, think: water) during the warm months of the year. Why this matters is that the Artic is considered to be the region that most effectively regulates and stabilizes the Earth’s global climate system.  This great “air conditioning system” for the Earth has the awesome capacity to mitigate positive feedback loops[4] at a global scale.  With the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice for months at a time, global climate effects will intensify and have a negative cascading effect that will be out of human ability to control.

 

The Bad Aspect of a Positive Feedback Loop

What is the positive feedback loop that is intensifying and exacerbating our ability to control climate change and rising global temperatures?  It starts with the Albedo Effect or the amount of solar radiation that is reflected off the Earth’s surface and back into the atmosphere. Darker surfaces absorb more sunlight than lighter ones.  We know this to be true, if one has ever hop-scotched over a paved parking lot to the safe haven of a grassy patch barefoot.  The human preference on a very hot day would be to jump from white paved line to the next to make it to the grass.  The white lines were always cooler to the bottom of the foot than the black pavement of the parking lot.  The same is true for white mass versus a dark blue ocean.  The Arctic sea ice, during peak summer months, reflects nearly 50 percent of the sun’s radiation back into space.   As the ice sheets melt and less solar radiation is reflected; more solar heat is absorbed, warming both the oceans and the surface of Earth.

 

This gaining positive feedback loop helps to warm the surface air allowing historically frozen and ice-covered land to thaw, warm and brown (i.e., become snow-free).  The Albedo effect extends from the ice-less waters to the snow-free land, further absorbing solar radiation and warming the planet.  The combined ice/snow Albedo effect grows as the atmosphere temperature of the Arctic ocean and land rises, and adds more water vapor into the atmosphere.  This is true because warmer air holds more moisture.  Increases in atmospheric water vapor continue to escalate rises in global surface temperatures, accelerating climate change and the dreaded cautionary growth toward a rise of 2oC or more in global average temperatures.

 

Glacier retreat and the loss of Arctic ice sheets means the warming of both atmospheric and oceanic temperatures, the trapping of a greater amount of GHG’s including the release of the more detrimental Methane[5] from deep sea floor and permafrost tundra, and the increase in sea levels, especially concerning to low-lying coastal regions and island dwellers.

 

Water, Water Everywhere:  To float or sink in the rising seas

Coastal flooding is something we hear and read about in the news a lot these days.  It is another climate change concern that we may understand more specifically and directly, if we are one of the 750 million individuals that live near a coast. The United Nations estimates approximately 10 percent of the world’s global population lives within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of a coast.  And around many of these coastal centers, the density of people is high and getting more compact.  Think: Hong Kong, London, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, New York City, San Francisco, and Cape Town (S. Africa) not to mention the scores of smaller, more isolated but highly populated islands that dot the planet’s oceans.

 

Less Effective Carbon Sinks

What is making our ocean’s rise?  The short answer is the warming of the planet.  The long answer is that the natural balance of the earth and its ability to reflect solar radiation back into space to maintain a steady global temperature (with regional and continental fluctuations) has been heavily compromised with the introduction and continued increase of anthropogenic (man-made) GHGs.  These GHGs, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) are overwhelming the planet’s system of temperature control.  Oceans are pretty reliable carbon sinks of excessive CO2 in the atmosphere.  Since the Industrial Revolution, the oceans are estimated to have rendered neutral around 50 percent of all CO2 released into the atmosphere by human-endeavor. The problem is the ocean is becoming a less-effective carbon sink for the planet, which translates into more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere to heat up the planet.  Recent studies conducted on the CO2 absorption levels of the world’s water bodies noted that the oceans have become less effective in the last 20 years of absorbing the increasing CO2 industrial emissions, by nearly 10 percent.

 

Warmth equals Expansion

With warmer air comes warmer water.  When water warms, it expands (think about a melting ice cube).  The same analogy goes for ocean water.  Warmer oceans become “bigger” and fuller with water.  So too, the melt from glaciers and ice-sheets flow into the oceans.  This increase in water to the oceans cause the sea level to rise even further.   As the earth warms, waters rise.  As glaciers, ice caps, permafrost tundras melt and disappear, their waters flow into the world oceans, making the sea level rise to a greater extent.  This process is accelerating today.  Since the beginning of the 20th Century, sea levels have risen globally 20 centimeters (about eight inches). Over the last 20 year time span, sea levels have risen more than 5 centimeters (2 inches).

 

Floods and Water Inundation

The problem with rising sea levels is the greater potential for coastal flooding, more frequently, which can have devastating consequences on human populations.  Whole cities are crippled and unable to offer the basic services such as heat and air-conditioning, clean water, electricity, adequate food supply and fuel for transportation.  City and town infrastructure can be decimated from flooding with the cost of rebuilding reaching into the millions if not billions.  Unnatural loss of life will be a fact of life.  Livelihoods can vanish in a flood’s aftermath.  Agricultural lands and crops can be destroyed and unable to be harvested.  And the level of uncontrolled pollution and contamination due to sewage, waste-water overflows and exposure to chemicals in debris is hard to quantify in terms of long-term health problems in these flood-prone populations.  These are serious, long-lasting concerns for any urban center to combat and to overcome.  Think about if flooding becomes a constant threat, several times a year over the foreseeable future.

The Worries of Island Residents

If one is an inhabitant on a low-lying island, such as the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, sea level rises can threaten your very existence.  And in fact, many of the planet’s most beautiful and remote islands will disappear over the next 50-75 years.  The sea level need only rise just three feet (91.4 cm) to completely submerge the Maldives islands, making them uninhabitable. The inhabitants of these threatened islands will ultimately have to go somewhere, and somewhere soon.  Migrations small and large will become the norm in response to sea level rises that displace people and communities to land masses with higher ground.

 

Island Residents are not Alone in their Water Problems

But you don’t have to be a resident of a remote island to understand the threat and disruption of flooding within an urban environment. Just witness the most recent flooding of the Seine river in Paris, France and in the north-west suburbs of the city this past January 2018.  It was the second time in two years that the Seine river topped its banks, swelling to 19.2 feet (5.9 meters) over its normal level of 6.5 feet (2 meters).  Although this flood was slightly less severe (in terms of flooding height level) than the one experienced in 2017, the flooding in the city’s northern suburbs was greater with more than 1,000 people evacuated from their homes and at least 86 people landing in the hospital.  Within the city itself, the flood took an enormous toll on productivity.  Commuting subway stations were shuttered, river boat traffic for both recreation and commercial purposes were halted, not to mention the well-traversed road alongside the Seine was completely buried in mucky brown water.  River flooding takes weeks to fully subside.  And the residual issues from flooding infrastructure, buildings and homes can be expensive and fraught with issues of contamination clean-up.  What should be expected:  these types of flooding events will continue.  As Florence Habets, a senior researcher at France’s national center for scientific research states “Because of climate change, we can expect floods in the Seine basin to be at least as frequent as they are right now.”

 

The Corrosiveness of Carbon:  a primer on ocean acidification

As our oceans work to absorb the ever increasing CO2 emissions from man’s continued use of fossil fuel energy, that CO2 is dramatically acidifying our seas, and there are repercussions.  Acidification is the change in (reduction in) pH of salt water bodies.  It is mainly due to the increased absorption of CO2 better known as carbon.  Ocean acidification starves waters of the necessary oxygen and calcium carbonate minerals required for marine organisms to grow and survive. We know about ocean acidification from the reports of the “death of the Great Barrier Reef” on Australia’s Northeastern coast as well as the prevalence of algae blooms that chock the life out of water bodies as well as releasing toxins harmful to marine organisms and humans.  Since the Industrial Revolution, the pH of ocean waters has fallen by 0.1 pH units, which equates to a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity.

 

It is the Rolling Effects that are Unnerving

Ocean acidification affects us by directly disrupting an important food source for human populations, especially coastal communities that derive their livelihoods and necessary dietary intake of protein from oceans: fish and shellfish.  In fact, much of the world’s humanity relies on fish for its main source of protein.  We should all be concerned about the marine organisms most effected by acidification:  shellfish.  And the logical fact that marine organisms rely on a delicate food chain balance that if disrupted, no one fish species will come away unscathed.

 

That Weatherman is Wrong

Climate change with its warmer atmosphere most assuredly will bring greater patterns of unpredictable weather conditions to all regions across the globe.  Currently dry and Southern climates will get even hotter for longer periods of time and in months and seasons where historically, weather is generally milder.  Traditionally cooler, more Northern climates will experience warmer-temperature events, more humidity and wetter weather conditions.  What we can count on is warm climates getting hotter and dyer, on average, and colder climates gaining in warmth, wetness and humidity.

 

Unpredictable Weather Conditions

We are experiencing this phenomenon now, across the globe and in the United States: that the traditional seasons of Summer, Fall, Winter and Summer are no longer “predictable”.  And it is true. Virginia in the last several years has experienced many days if not full weeks of 70o F weather in the dead of Winter.  In Wisconsin, the winters don’t see any snow falling or rivers freezing over. The Texas heat of Summer has begun to invade the state starting as early as February, gaining into the mid-80’s Fahrenheit where two decades past (circa 1997) Winter months hovered in the mid-50’s Fahrenheit.  The Pacific Northwest has consistently experienced warmer and rainier Winter months for the last decade or more.  Weather feels strange these days.  And it most definitely is.  Some welcome the warmer temperatures making it perhaps, easier on the bones and joints.  Others feel an eerie sense of dread wondering whether months and seasons will ever be back to “normal” again.

 

The Ice that Won’t Come in Holland

These changes in weather over years and decades is occurring across the globe.  In The Netherlands, the country has been waiting 19 years and counting for their canals to fully freeze over in the Winter enough for them to hold their beloved 125-mile ice-skating event, the Elfstedentocht.  In the other extreme, Greece and the Greek Islands are becoming more ‘tropical’ by the year.  With both its seas and land temperatures rising, the nation’s year-around weather is turning more wet and humid with “October summers” looking to become a normalcy for the region.  As we move eastward toward the middle east, countries such as U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and Oman are experiencing increasingly inhumanly hot days, increased air pollution in no small part from a greater number of dust storms whipped up by more humid weather conditions, and threats to their marine life with the warming of its oceans and the acidification of waters that snuff out life for various marine organisms.

 

Too Much Water but Not Enough in India

On the continent of India, the current effects of climate change are noticeable and quite extreme.  Days are hotter.  Annual monsoon rainfall has been decreasing since the 1950s yet, when rain falls, it comes in heavy downpours that cause massive flooding.  Evidence suggests that with India becoming increasingly arid with fewer rain events, droughts in in the southern region are more commonplace.  These competing issues are making water availability scarcer for human consumption and agricultural use.

 

Great Deluges for the Great Republic of China

For China, because of its great size and diversity of landmass, its susceptibility to the effects of climate change in similar fashion to that of the United States, perhaps to a great extreme.  Take the country’s Himalayan mountains in the northwestern region of the country.  The glacier melt with the rising air temperatures is at a rate of 0.3oC every ten years, “drastically faster” than the global average temperature rise each decade.   With glacier melt comes downstream glacier lakes and the Yangtze River flooding and potential for uncontrolled mudslides in highly urbanized areas in their path.  You have significant issue with rising sea levels and their catastrophic impact on major Chinese “mega-cities” with mind-popping population densities such as low-lying Shanghai (23 million), Hong Kong (7.4 million) and Taiwan (23.4 million) as well as other massively populated, quickly urbanizing centers of Guangzhou (12 million) and Tainjin (11 million).  The scale of unprecedented flooding due to more frequent typhoon hits and their attendant storm surges knocking out electricity, water sewage management, and transportation services as well as food services and water availability is cause for great pause for these cities.

 

Sweltering Australia

As we move across the globe to other continents and countries, the effects of climate change are similar yet vary in intensity, frequency, and location.  The continent of Australia is expected to feel the harshest extremes of climate change among all the countries on the planet by the end of this century.  Citizens of Australia can expect:

 

  • sweltering and prolonged heat waves in Melbourne and Sydney,
  • sea level rises between 45 – 82cm (between 17.5 – 32 inches) affecting the highly populated port cities of Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Brisbane,
  • extreme rainfall events (yet overall rainfall to decrease),
  • extreme droughts to uptick by five to 20 percent,
  • the number of wildfires to increase, and
  • rapid and profound biodiversity loss on land and in the ocean, as the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef currently portends.

 

These outcomes are not wild-eyed predictions from an unknown prognosticator.  These are well-studied, analytically-detailed, numerously shared scientific consensus-based conclusions with a high-level of confidence and agreement that what is expected to happen, will happen.

 

Did a Butterfly Flap its Wings?  Chaotic and extreme weather

Extremes in weather events (i.e., severe droughts and storm floods) will become the norm across the globe.  So too, chaotic weather defined as not normal for a season or month as well as unpredictability will define our “new normal” weather patterns.  Surface water availability will decline.  Communities will experience profound water scarcity.  Poorer countries and regions such as sub-Sahara Africa will be forced to drink foul and contaminated water that will increase rates of disease and death.  The agricultural dependence on water for crop management and growth will come under pressure.  Crop yields will suffer and food sustainability in certain regions of the world will go into crisis mode.  Groundwater systems will be more heavily tapped for human consumption and recreation, plant irrigation and community sanitation.  These underground water systems will be at risk for contamination, depletion, and collapse.

 

(Spoiler alert:  depressing news ahead!  Read on if you are strong of heart, open of mind, and passionate of cause.)

 

Extreme, Unpredictable Weather Isn’t so Much Fun

Water droughts make human living conditions untenable.  Livelihood, health, and well-being come into jeopardy.  Disease and death thrive in severely parched conditions that are unrelenting.  Extremely violent storms, floods and mudslides bring their own prolonged misery.  Water systems are easily contaminated.  So are crop fields wasted from heavy inundation of standing water.  Disease is spread through human exposure to contaminated water.  Whole towns and cities can be rendered destroyed as the built environment of man – houses, buildings, bridges and roads – succumb to the shear force and will of nature.   The recent Hurricane Irma (Category 5) destroyed or damaged an estimated 70 percent of all buildings on St. Martin Island (total land area of 96 km2 (37 m2) and 77,000 total French and Dutch inhabitants) leaving approximately 50 dead and more than 200 people missing as of mid-September 2017.  France’s public insurance agency has estimated that the cost to repair and rebuild infrastructure on the French portion of the small island will total $1.4 billion (€1.2 billion).

 

Hurricane Harvey is No Longer an Anomaly

Take another extreme weather event that punished a much larger urbanized community, that of Hurricane Harvey (Category 4) on Houston, Texas (U.S.A.) with an urban population of 2.3 million (July 2016) encompassing 1009 km2 (627 m2) in late August 2017.  Hurricane Harvey subjected Houston to four feet of storm surge flooding from the Gulf of Mexico and days of relentless rain that drowned roads, automobiles and houses and ultimately overflowed rivers, chemical plants and municipal sewage systems.  Total infrastructure damage from this Category 4 ‘100-year flood’, a third in three years that has hit Houston, have been estimated to be as high as $190 billion, with 80 percent of the people “victimized” by Hurricane Harvey not owning flood insurance, leaving them to their own devices to pay for and clean-up their lives after the hurricane’s devastation.  From Hurricane Harvey alone, there have been 60 confirmed deaths to date.

 

With climate change, these ‘natural’ events are more the norm than the anomaly.  As mentioned above, Texas has experienced a ‘100-year flood’, considered an extreme weather event with a one percent chance of happening in any one year in the same location, three years in a row:  2015, 2016, and 2017.  Chaotic, unpredictable, extreme weather events across the globe on every continent will hit the newsrooms and catch the best of people and communities off-guard.  From events arising from climate change, there will be tremendous and costly infrastructure damage, economic productivity declines, human disease and even death.  In the best case scenario, individuals, families, and communities will struggle to slowly rebuild their lives, livelihoods, wealth, and health concomitantly with financial uncertainty, economic depression, and increasingly without a robust government support system that can handle financially and human-resources wise, the demands that continual climate change impacts will have on human communities.

 

When to Make the Decision to Rebuild or Migrate?

As unthinkable as this notion once was in communities across the United States, some residents of Houston, who own homes and live in neighborhoods prone to constant flooding (i.e., Meyerland), have grown weary of the expensive rebuilding of infrastructure that quickly renders it inoperable by a forceful storm, and ponder whether moving and rebuilding in a different, less disaster prone area is a better long-term proposition. Urban designers and advocates of Smart Growth practices espouse the value of urban growth boundaries, the mitigation of urban (human) sprawl, compact building and living infrastructure design, and among others, the preservation of valuable “greenfields” or undeveloped land that plays an important part in supporting clean water, air and agricultural fecundity.  This is a rational mindset.

 

Coming Back to the Personal

In order to reduce the negative impact climate change has on our life, livelihoods and well-being, we must adapt to a “new normal” in the way we conduct ourselves.  In order to do so, we must think about how we live, how we consume, and our beliefs about technology, and I am not talking about the value of personal entertainment devices.  Technology in service of improving upon design, making a process more efficient, and harnessing valuable energy sources for worthwhile use is the type of technology we must consider.   Getting back to that initial question of this post:  how do we – individuals all – go about making a dent in the relentless march of climate change, that is most definitely wreaking havoc across many regions and communities as well as on individual lives, across the globe?  The answer lies with recognizing the problem, internalizing our role in being able to be an agent of change for the better, developing a plan of action, and then starting the very real hard work of making changes in our daily lives that incorporate sustainable behaviors, processes and technologies to decrease our own personal carbon emissions that contribute to rising global temperatures.  It is as simple as that.  But in the words of one anonymous sage, “It can be difficult to keep things simple.”

 

If you like what you hear and what you’ve read, sign-up here to receive my periodic e-letters on climate change, personal and corporate sustainability.  Your comments are always welcome.

Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.

 

[1] In fact, the 15 hottest years encompasses more than 15 actual years because some years tied with another in relative hotness.

[2] Those four leading climate research centers include: the Hadley Centre UK Meterological Office, the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.

[3] Confirmed by the American Meteorological Society and the Hadley Centre UK Meteorological Office.

[4] A positive feedback loop is a source “of growth, explosion, erosion, and collapse in” a system.  It is ‘self-reinforcing’.  A system (such as the Earth’s global climatic system) “with an unchecked positive loop ultimately will destroy itself.”  Meadows, Donella H. (1999, December).  Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.  Sustainability Institute. 

[5] Is a potent greenhouse gas that dissipates from the atmosphere faster than CO2 (within a decade versus a century or more) but traps heat in the atmosphere far more effectively than CO2 (23 times more efficiently per molecule of carbon dioxide).

 

 

 

 

 

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