You’ve heard a lot about the scary impacts of climate change – and with the recent release of the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, it’s clear that in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, communities all over the world need to begin adapting (preparing, building resilience, insert whichever phrase you like best there) to the irreversible climate changes we’re already starting to see.
So what does ‘adapting’ to climate change actually look like?
If you’ve wondered that too, you can take a (short version) of the Great American Adaptation Road Trip with us and find out. Watch the video recording of a lecture we recently gave at the New England Aquarium. We take you to Boston Harbor, Long Island, the Louisiana Bayou, the forests of New Mexico, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, the corn fields of Nebraska and Iowa, and, finally, to our hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Comment, pose questions, get in touch. We want to keep talking about this.
With the road trip part of the Adaptation Stories project now complete, I’m walking along narrow brick lined streets through the Historic District of my new hometown: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This quaint Atlantic Seacoast community was the third settled U.S. city, so the homes in the South End neighborhood are historic gems. Some played host to George Washington in the 1700s, while others housed factory workers in a more industrial era.
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.
Baltimore is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” Kristin Baja, the new Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planner for the city, is working on learning the names of all 225 of them. She’s eight months into job and doing pretty well so far—as we drive around the city, she’s rattling off names: Patterson Park, the Middle East, Four By Four (which is actually a four block by four block square), Oliver, Ellwood Park. Easier than memorizing neighborhoods, though, is figuring out what areas of the city are in need of more tree canopy. These are the areas with no respite of shade during extreme heat events.