How to Prepare for Climate Change in Your Community Strategy
Hurricane Dorian reminded us that weather events have been especially bad this summer. In mid-July, the Midwest and East Coast of the United States were hit with a debilitating heatwave. The National Weather Service put out excessive heat warnings and urged people to stay hydrated and cool to the best of their ability. Just before that, we saw Hurricane Barry threaten the Gulf Coast with intense rain throughout the Southeast and East Coast, making this the fifth year in a row a storm has reached the intensity of being named before peak hurricane season (between August and October). These are just a couple of examples of extreme climate events this summer!
So why, as an economic and community development firm, do we think you should care about these extreme weather events and climate change? Because extreme weather affects the function and future of a local economy.
Overall, the U.S. has sustained 246 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. The total cost of these 246 events exceeds $1.6 trillion. When these events happen, they cause disruptions in the community and the local economy.
Impacts can range from lost productivity to sector-specific impacts to small business closures. For example, the EPA projects lost productivity of more than 1.8 billion labor hours lost due to extreme heat by 2100, costing more than $170 billion in wages in the U.S. alone. On a local level, extreme weather can result in small business closures. A recent study by Rhode Island’s Climate Change office found that 40% of small businesses never reopen after a disaster. In addition, 25% of businesses that do reopen, fail.
So how can you prepare for these effects on your industry and economy?
Here are a few ideas for how to incorporate resilience into planning efforts.
Lean on Experts
As you begin your planning process, there are tools to help you do a deep-dive on your specific risks and vulnerabilities, such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit or the STAR Community Rating System.
What is your business community doing to prepare for those risks and vulnerabilities? Convene them to begin to gauge their awareness of the issues and understand existing efforts. Use scenario planning to help them determine what else is needed to mitigate risks.
Build Community Networks
Social connections and awareness are vital in making sure a community will withstand future shocks and stressors. Find opportunities to build community capacity within your planning process.
Climate Mitigation Efforts
Because climate change is a human-caused phenomenon, any efforts to prepare for its effects should be matched by efforts to stop it at the source. While efforts to reduce emissions or capture carbon are not often the purview of community and economic development stakeholders, the more we support those efforts, the greater the chance is that we lessen the impacts on our businesses and communities.