Driving a hybrid, replacing light bulbs with LEDs, buying less, and installing solar are all meaningful ways to stop emitting the carbon dioxide that will cause future climate change.
We have to keep reducing the fossil fuels we burn until we’re not burning any, of course.
But what our cities and towns need to do right now is adapt. (Tweet this) That means taking steps to minimize the risks we already face and prepare for potentially worse threats over the next 50 years. This is especially urgent for communities already suffering severe impacts from climate change – sea level rise, drought, wildfires.
Fortunately, we’ve got the science, and American ingenuity being what it is; dozens of communities have come up with creative, effective ways to adapt to the climate change.
Here are examples of what’s being done in five very different regions across the U.S.
Great Lakes Region– Higher temperatures in the Great Lakes swath of the country are leading to what are called “algal blooms.” A little bit of algae keeps lakes in balance. But as the lakes warm and become more and more polluted by the fertilizers and pesticides that run off and into the lakes after big storms, that little bit of algae turns into a lot, creating a toxic “bloom.”
Toxic algae can kill fish, mammals and wildlife and contaminate drinking water. The more the climate changes, the warmer the lakes will get, and the more storms there will be, meaning the more algae will bloom.
Great Lakes states are working together to fund projects that reduce chemical runoff, like planting buffers along streams to catch pollutants before they get into the lakes.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, protecting cold water fisheries are a priority. Wisconsin is scrambling to safeguard its native brook trout by trying to keep water in some of its rivers cold! They’re doing that by deepening stream channels, creating overhead cover to shield streams from the hot sun, and digging deep pools of cool water to protect the fish.
Washington, D.C. – Here in my hometown, we’re concerned about our wastewater treatment plant getting flooded when severe storms rage, as sea level continues to rise. The District of Columbia’s Blue Pains Wastewater Facility, which serves most of the National Capital Area, is vulnerable because it’s adjacent to the Potomac River, which connects to the Chesapeake Bay, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean. The facility won’t be able to keep the river (or ocean) down, so it will have to keep the river out. That’s why it’s constructing a massive seawall designed to withstand sea level rise as well as the surge from a “500 year” storm that could flood areas along the Potomac, including the plant.
Tampa Bay, Florida – The Sunshine State is on the front lines of climate change impacts. It’s already experiencing measurable sea level rise and significantly higher temperatures, with salt water starting to find its way into the groundwater supplies used for safe drinking water. This is especially serious in Tampa Bay, where two and a half million residents depend on fresh groundwater to meet their drinking and hygiene needs. Tampa Bay has had to ensure it has enough safe drinking water for its residents by building a plant to desalinate sea water, and by tapping freshwater lakes and rivers.
Meanwhile, Miami Beach is spending $400 million to install a complex network of valves and pumps to move intruding seawater out of the city. It’s also raising roads and sidewalks and building seawalls.
Given how fast sea level is rising there, the alternative, says Mayor Philip Levine, is to “live in Atlantis,” the mythical underwater city that may not be so mythical if Levine’s tactics don’t work.
Boston, Massachusetts – If Paul Revere were alive today, he’d still be warning Americans that the threat they faced was arriving by sea. But this time, he’d be talking about sea level rise, not British soldiers, and the enemy couldn’t be defeated with muskets and cannons. What he might also do is join Climate Ready Boston, a group of oceanographers, climatologists, meteorologists, engineers and economists, grappling with how to help the city prepare for the six inches to a foot of sea level rise that’s expected in the next 30 years – as much as ten feet is anticipated by the end of the century. Boston’s big focus now? Planning for ways to protect their transportation systems, their ports, and their airports against flooding. Boston is also looking into innovative ways to keep people cool. The city that’s notoriously chilly in the winter could see an increase in the number of hot days that top 90 or 100 degrees each year, a number that could jump from its average of 11 to as many as 90.
Alaska – You might think Alaska is impervious to climate change impacts because it is so far north, so cold most of the time, and so big. Not the case. Climate change is creating conditions that are leading to more frequent and intense wildfires in Alaska: little or no precipitation, high winds, longer summers, and higher temperatures overall. Alaska officials and citizens groups have responded by developing wildfire management plans that prioritize firefighting to best protect public health, Nature, and critical infrastructure, including homes, office buildings and facilities like schools and hospitals.
Want to learn how your community is preparing for climate change impacts, and maybe get involved in developing solutions? Start by checking out the U.S. EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center.