President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t believe the climate is changing. Alone among world leaders, he has called climate change a “hoax,” perpetrated by the Chinese. Accordingly, he appointed a prominent climate-science denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency; fossil-fuel industry lobbyists are advising him on energy policy.
Here in the real world, of course, the climate is changing. We just experienced the warmest five-year period in recorded history, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Human-induced climate change is increasingly to blame for the extreme weather that wreaks havoc on American cities and towns—from Alaska’s thawing permafrost to the flooded streets of Miami and Norfolk. Even as we work to cool the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there’s an urgent need to adapt to the changes that are now unstoppable.
With Trump at the helm, the prospects for addressing climate change in the United States seem bleak. But in the absence of federal leadership, we may see an explosion of climate action at the local level. In fact, some communities are already stepping up and preparing for a warmer, wilder future.
According to a new study—the first in-depth assessment of climate adaptation in the US—communities are busily preparing for risks by moving people out of harm’s way, reducing the vulnerability of vital systems, and building capacity to deal with disaster. The study, a two-year project conducted by environmental research firm Abt Associates with support from the Kresge Foundation, shows that communities are taking action in red states and blue states, in big coastal cities and small rural towns—even where the phrase “climate change” is rarely uttered in public. All while avoiding the political polarization that has led to gridlock at the national level.
With a new administration predisposed to deny climate change, these local works-in-progress will become even more important to the safety and security of Americans.
Disaster focuses the mind
Fighting climate change requires a wholesale rethinking of how we power our economy, grow our food, and move from place to place. Perhaps that’s why it has taken the international community two decades to produce a non-binding climate agreement. So how have cities and towns managed to move forward on an issue that has been so challenging for nations and the world?