Take-home lesson #2: Minimizing vulnerability to climate risks means both iterative, long-term planning and emergency management, depending on the likelihood and intensity of the impact.
Some climate change impacts are gradual and will affect areas we can pinpoint with moderate certainty—sea-level rise, for instance, is generally projected over long time horizons and vulnerable places along the coast are usually identifiable. Other impacts are sudden, extreme, and often unexpected—hurricane intensity, for example, is expected to increase, and we know those storms will occur somewhere at some time, but exactly where and when is incredibly challenging to forecast beyond a few days. When doing an adaptation project in a particular place, the risk—both the likelihood and the intensity of the climate impact—affects the perceived urgency of efforts to prepare, the scope of the options available, and the potential to be successful.
In Keene, New Hampshire, Duncan Watson looks out the window with trepidation as rain pounds the glass of his office at the Public Works Department; in 2005, a flood in his hometown killed seven people. And across the country in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forest fuels specialist Bill Armstrong fears he’s losing a race against the clock to thin and prescriptively burn the tree-crowded national forest before a prolonged drought sets the stage for another mega-fire.
What do these two men have in common? They’re on opposite sides of the same coin, dealing with the consequences of what Watson calls a “caffeinated climate” in which change is not so much about the slowly rising thermostat, but about more pronounced extremes, from very wet to very dry.
Our hike up to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park winds through alpine meadows, along the edge of ice-cut cliffs, up a waterfall staircase, and around a stubborn ram. The views are breathtaking in the most literal sense of that word. The three lakes filling the valley below us are an impossible blue. As the trail cuts back and forth, we catch glimpses of Grinnell’s steel white face. And then finally, we’re there, standing at the edge of a giant ice bath as two young boys skip rocks across the mirroring water.
Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard atop a rock in front of Grinnell Glacier, which is retreating (melting) quickly.