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The Sh!# is Hitting the Fan

3 Actions to Take...How to Try to Avoid Being in Front of the Fan

There I was, doing one of the informal interviews that I like to do at a brewpub in the community where I am working. This time I was in Indianapolis, by chance I sat down next to and started speaking with Jack, the CEO of a small construction company who was sharing how great business was. He was pushing out the timeline to take on new projects because his team was maxed out. The ‘seasons’ of his type of construction are transforming and changing when outdoor work can occur, making it more difficult to schedule, or to even find workers who haven’t temporarily moved away to what they thought was a warmer climate.

“But look”, he leans over to emphasize his point, “This climate change thing, the s...h...i...t (he spells out) is really starting to hit the fan.” Jack explained that extreme weather and its physical impacts on the built environment finally convinced him that we should be paying attention to climate change.

Maybe with luck, 2019 was the final ‘show me’ opportunity that convinced a critical mass of people that climate change and the need to adapt to its impact is real. If not from the many examples in 2019, starting off 2020 with the very visible Australian wildfires and dust bowl images should provide reinforcement that it is time to take action.

Earlier this month the McKinsey Global Institute issued a new research report that profiles some frightening impacts that are possible in the next three decades. Fast Company wrote about this and noted “We’re already seeing serious climate impacts now, of course, including catastrophic fires, droughts, heatwaves, and flooding. And in a decade, those extreme events are likely to be both more frequent and more intense.”

As leaders in the community and economic development sphere with a focus on resilience, our team has spent the last few years evolving our own thinking on the shocks that may occur and stresses that communities already face as we consider how to prepare for climate impacts.

So here are three actions steps you should take to help prepare your community for what’s ahead:

Be Aware

The scientific and professional communities have been thinking a lot about how to best quantify and predict climate impacts. There are dozens of tools and models that a community can use to assess its existing issues and risk profile. In the coming months, we will publish our list of favorites (send me a note if you want to know sooner). While these tools are great for looking at the potential range of effects, they are best used to foster inclusive conversations within communities about meaningful mitigation strategies.

Be Open

‘What if…’ should be the question starter of the year. With data and modeling in hand, a community can start to ask itself some critical questions.

  • What if we have a 3-year drought - what will the impact be in our region, to our business community, to our quality of place amenities?

  • What if we focus on filling our labor shortage with climate refugees - but where will they come from and are we ready to host?

  • What if we have four one-hundred-year rainstorms in a month, where are we at risk?

Sadly, many of the risks that are associated with climate impacts will hurt residents who are already in a weakened financial and environmental condition. Such as NPR and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland’s investigation of how poor communities are often hotter due to the lack of green cover and the way that infrastructure has been built. We need to double down on efforts for inclusive development as this next wave of negative impacts rushes into our communities.

Be Adaptive

We have the tools and motivation to make things happen in our communities. What we need is a game plan to decide where our focus should be today, tomorrow, and beyond. While climate change is making an impact everywhere, you can readily feel that the most adaptable communities will fare much better; how we adapt will create winners and losers.

Winners are the ones who will work together to create the civic infrastructure to plan, act, review, plan more, and repeat. This civic infrastructure will build trust amongst its leaders and within the community-at-large. Trust that answers to the questions of ‘what if…’ will yield collaborative and equitable solutions to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.

Are you seeing the impacts of climate change in your community? We are interested in hearing about the large and small impacts (both positive and negative) that communities are experiencing. Let us know.


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