If you’ve been reading here or on my previous blog, Climate Frog, you know Im a big fan of Ron Sims, the climate-focused County Executive of King County, Washington. He was a speaker on April 12 at a forum on climate change and cities sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Sims recognizes the urgency of adaptation in advance of climate change impacts, and has pushed forward initiatives in his county – which includes Seattle – that would anticipate the most likely local impacts and defend lives and property from them. The California Planning and Development Report included the following in its summary of Executive Sims’ remarks at the forum:
If we’re going to be serious about adapting to climate change — and Sims contends we must be — then we have to change our land use patterns, he said. With its almost total reliance on single-occupancy vehicles, suburban sprawl is not acceptable. Rather, density, mixed-uses and transit are key because they require less energy consumption for daily life and conserve natural areas needed for soaking up carbon and managing resources. Fortunately, the smart growth approach also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than suburbia does.
“As a nation, we have not planned for global warming,” Sims said. “There isn’t a national policy at all on adaptation. … We are devoid of one at our peril.”
There may be no elected official in the country more passionate about the need to adapt to climate change than Sims, who is in his third term as the leader of King County. During his presentation, Sims said that both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change are crucial.
The King County climate plan adopted in 2007 contains a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. One way of cutting emissions is greatly increasing public transit, which has historically been lacking in the Seattle area. Transit is a priority for Sims.
The other side of the coin — adaptation to climate change — is one that many people are missing, Sims contends. But Sims, whose county lies between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains, has made adaptation a cornerstone policy. So when scientists predicted that the typical snow level will rise by 1,000 feet in elevation, that torrential rainstorms will hit the region, and that sea level will rise, Sims and other officials went to work rebuilding levees to withstand far bigger floods than the region has seen previously.
Sims summarized the King County adaptation strategy as preserve the forest, improve the transit system, and better manage water resources.