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 Spring 2013

Perspective

Building a Climate-Resilient Nation

For a long time, scientists’ projections about climate change were just pictures of what the future might look like depending on how much heat-trapping carbon dioxide our cars and power plants were emitting into the atmosphere. But now that those projections are becoming reality, the future is here—and it’s not pretty.

Sea levels are rising, heat waves are becoming longer and more intense, and precipitation patterns are becoming more extreme, robbing us of rainfall when we need it and deluging us when it finally comes. Unfortunately, these changes are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

In confronting this reality, we don’t have the luxury to be either reactive (in adapting to the changes already under way) or proactive (by cutting emissions to prevent climate change from getting worse). We have to be both. Some scientists and planners call this combination of adaptation and mitigation “resiliency.” And America must become much more resilient in the coming decades.

The good news is that there are creative strategies for both adaptation and mitigation that are already being put to use across the country. At least 13 states, for example, have developed climate adaptation plans that could better protect residents during extreme weather such as heat waves and floods, and scores of mayors have factored climate change into their plans for new roads, buildings, and waterways so they will be less susceptible to damage from extreme weather. To help replicate these efforts elsewhere, UCS is connecting scientists with city planners and government officials to help shape policies that anticipate climate change impacts such as sea level rise (see “Newsroom,” for an example).

At the same time, we’re pushing for solutions that can accomplish adaptation and mitigation simultaneously: “smart grid” technology, for example, would allow utilities to better maintain or restore electric service after a storm, while enabling residential and business customers to monitor and reduce their electricity consumption. Reducing consumption will be critical for avoiding brownouts and blackouts during increasingly hot summer months, when electricity demand is at its highest.

On several occasions since his reelection, President Obama has called for a national conversation about climate change. We will help drive this conversation and push for creative solutions that ensure everyone, from family farmers to corporate executives, has the information they need to prepare for life in a warmer climate—and to make smart decisions that will preserve a safer climate for future generations.

Kevin Knobloch, president