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Seven roads to climate-change readiness

Written by: Alexa Stone

This century’s rise in global average temperatures — about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit — is small, but the human and economic impact is powerful.

Looking ahead, the 50-year cost of unchecked climate change could exceed $175 trillion.

PERILS REPORTED TODAY

The reasons for climate change costs are no less varied than the regions where they occur. These are a few of the events we’ve seen in recent news:

Recent climate change impacts
Climate change impacts are being reported frequently and worldwide. An interactive map of over 500 similar events is at CarbonBrief.org.
Rapidly-intensifying storms
  • Tropical Cyclone Nora became 155-mph Super Typhoon Noru in late September. Its wind speed increased by 100 mph in less than 24 hours.
  • Hurricane Ian packed two days’ worth of rapid intensification into 36 hours, as it went from a tropical storm with 45 mph winds on September 25th to a Category 3 hurricane by September 27th.[1]
500-year floods
  • Because of climate change, rainfall events like those causing flooding in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg are 1.2 and 9 times more likely to occur.[2]
  • In Eastern Kentucky, extremes in heavy rainfall are 20 to 40 percent more likely today than they were before 1900. One such event occurred in late July when five-day totals were estimated to exceed 15″.[3]
Extreme heat
  • For over 70 days this summer, daily high temperatures in 17 regions of China exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 900 million people experienced this. The accompanying drought reduced the water available for hydroelectric power. As a result, limited air conditioning could be provided to relieve the unrelenting heat.[4]
  • July’s 104-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature in the UK set an all-time record. Parts of Spain, Portugal, and France endured similar record temperatures.[5]
Larger and more frequent wildfires
  • Australia’s extreme drought has produced dry tinder for intense bushfires for the past three years. Over 5.8 million hectares have been scarred with catastrophic damage. Smoke plumes from those events have raised the continent’s stratospheric temperatures and damaged the ozone layer, adding to global warming.[6]
  • In 2017, fires in California destroyed communities and dominated headlines. The devastation has continued, and fire season is now almost year-round. In September, six California fires forced evacuations.[7]

RESILIENCY FOR TOMORROW

The roads to resiliency are as unique as the climate change perils faced by each community. An area’s topography, regional climate, and community/commercial/agricultural resource needs should be assessed before choosing any road. The return on investment depends on the degree of risk and how well the mitigation matches it.

1 — Data for urban planning
Flooding can be predicted. Heat islands can be avoided. Given good data, urban planning can limit and often prevent those problems.

If not historically available, wind and temperature measurements can be gathered through inexpensive sensors, then stored as computer data for later analysis. That analysis can identify heat islands to be shaded or transformed into green oases.

Data analysis can reveal the directions and intensity of wind along streets and between buildings. When areas are being platted or redeveloped, that design can strategically include parks and place trees.[8]

City park
2 — Multipurpose public spaces
When storms linger over urban areas, drainage systems can flood streets and damage homes and businesses. Proactively considering rainfall trends and current reservoir volume is a step toward necessary improvement.

Traditional parks and innovative “water squares” can avert the overflow in those areas. During dry seasons, the water squares can serve as amphitheaters, basketball courts, and skateboard parks.

Urban water square

A water square in Rotterdam, Netherlands

3 — Strategic infrastructure
Stormwater management happens before the storm. Well-designed street networks have been proven to divert flood waters. Where appropriate to an area’s elevation and geology, retention ponds or underground reservoirs can hold volumes of water that would otherwise cause devastation.

Warmer ocean waters have increased the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons. Communities can reduce or eliminate wind damage from those storms by burying power and internet lines.

Underground power cable
4 — Communications
Perils that range from inconvenience to mortality can be averted when a population receives a timely warning.

Awareness of heat conditions can be lifesaving for any vulnerable to heat-related illness. Flooded streets and offline wastewater lift stations are hazards to every individual and business.

In drought, water advisories and usage control may be necessary. In years before ubiquitous cell phones, news media handled most public messaging. Today, automated text messaging can reach 82% of the population. Automated voice mail can be sent to a full 97%.[9]

Emergency communications center
5 — Materials
Reflective roofing materials direct sunlight away from buildings. These are excellent choices in the many areas where climate change has shattered temperature records. The materials and light coloring have proven to reduce indoor temperatures by 3.6 – 9° F.

A judicious choice of materials can also reduce flooding. Road standards for low elevations and other flood zones can specify materials that allow rain and snowfall to exit underlying soil and gravel. Options include pervious asphalt or concrete, as well as pavers or brick.

After 800 lives were lost in an Ahmedabad, India heatwave, the city responded with a cool roofs initiative, saving an estimated 1,000 lives per year.

6 — Renewable energy
Renewable energy is frequently seen as a way to avoid further climate change. It can also reduce power outages from storms, fire, and drought.

Renewable is most often produced locally. That makes it less vulnerable to market fluctuations. International conflicts and oil cartel agreements have no impact on the availability of wind and sunlight!

When COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions limited the demand for petroleum, that industry reduced the drilling and refining of its lower-priced commodity. At the same time, renewable electricity generation increased by 3%.[10]

A 2018 hurricane minimally damaged this North Carolina solar farm while fossil-fueled parts of the electricity system failed.

7 — Horticulture
Flood events are being mitigated worldwide by plant-based (a.k.a. ‘green’) roofs, walls, and rights-of-way along roads and railways. Toward that end, Chicago has planted mangrove trees, a landscaping choice seldom seen in northern climates!

Babcock Ranch, Florida, uses native landscaping to help control stormwater along roads within its 17,000 acres.

Trees and other plants have returned value in every U.S. growing zone. Wherever heat has become a greater problem than storms, green growth reduces temperatures and wicks humidity from the air.

Green wall

Like these on Kyushu Island, Japan, green walls keep buildings cooler and drink in the rainwater that could otherwise flood streets.

While storms, floods, drought, and wildfires may not be preventable, their impact can always be minimized. Resiliency protects lives and property, reducing recovery time when harm is done.

ecoPreserve is here to help organizations and communities achieve climate change resiliency. What steps are being considered in your organization or community? A free consultation call is available! Let’s discuss the sustainability needs and potential of your organization or community.

SOURCES:

[1] CNN.com — 100% solar community endured Hurricane Ian
[2] SmithsonianMag.com
[3] Weather.gov
[4] SCMP.com — South China Morning Post
[5] CNN.com — Record-breaking heat wave in Europe
[6] WashingtonPost.com — Australia fires
[7] MercuryNews.com
[8] Inverse.com
[9] PewResearch.org
[10] Ren21.net

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