It wasn’t a year ago when I was blogging at Climatefrog – the precursor to pResilience – about sea level rise and how it might affect Marin County where I live. I found it difficult to detect any risk assessment activities relating to the impacts of SLR on this county with its 55-miles of tidal coastline, and that was bothering me, given the scientific evidence available in September 2007.

Now, just a year later, after scientists have reported accelerating melt-off of Greenland’s glacial ice, I’m gratified to find that our city council, right here in little ol’ Mill Valley, is holding a public forum titled “Preparing for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise,” attended by the mayor, our local county supervisor, a senior county planner, and Mill Valley’s Sustainability Director.

I should add here that since last year, most of the predictions of the rate of sea level rise seem to have moderated from the extremely scary projections of 20 feet or more. Yes, such a rise is still eventually possible – under the worst-case scenario that global temperatures will soar (due to the amplifying feedbacks of methane releases from thawing permafrost and warming ocean bottoms), resulting in much faster melting. But responsible scientists tell us that such a worst case would take centuries to become reality. See this RealClimate post for a sanity check on SLR for the coming century.

The latest report, published in Science magazine based upon research about the Greenland ice cap warns that the melting could very well accelerate through the 21st Century, resulting in sea level rise rate of “almost 1 metre per century.”This is considerably higher than the IPCC report projected (10cm at most by 2100).

Of course, the researchers cautiously admit that they’re limited to making educated guesses about this.

Climate scientists are uncertain how susceptible ice sheets are to global warming, largely because they have never witnessed one disappear, so researchers led by Anders Carlson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to look back to the end of the last ice age for clues.

I suspect that our town forum on the subject will reach the conclusion that yes, we are vulnerable, but that things won’t get really serious for a few decades. I’ll be attending, to see how they address the prospect of stronger storm surges combined with even a slight rise in our high tides putting most of our sea level sewage treatment plans out of commission. Not to mention our main highway and probably several hundred residential housing units built, romantically, at just barely above high tide level.

I continue to hope that ICLEI-Worldwide will lead governments at every level to a higher level of sanity about climate change and I pray that ICLEI-USA will prove to be the local government antidote to stalemate at the federal government level.

The sad truth of it, though, is that most of the money needed to fund the changes we need is bottled up by the impotence of our federal government. Local efforts have a ceiling to what they can afford to accomplish, beyond which they’ll be powerless. Still, there’s so much to do in terms of assessment, preparation, public education and public leadership, that it’s not like the local governments have time to sit around waiting for the money to put them to work.

True to what pResilience is all about, the fast-developing ICLEI-USA site now includes a Learn From Others section where they’re just beginning to post, Model Ordinances, Best Practices and Case Studies along with Success Stories and guidance on local activism. Finally, an adult has arrived in the classroom. This is exactly what needs to happen at the government level and I’m doing my part here to advertise their work, not only to encourage kudos, but to inform more people about their valuable content.

A month ago, ICLEI – in partnership with the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers – held the first ever Municipal Adaptation Workshop where , in ICLEI’s words, it “provided an outstanding opportunity to learn more about regional climate impacts as well as mechanisms for preparing for those impacts.” The workshop included cool useful stuff like:

  • Up-to date forecasted regional climate impacts;
  • Training on conducting a community vulnerability assessment;
  • Break-out sessions on planning for public health, coastal, freshwater, and ecological impacts;
  • Hands-on adaptation action prioritization exercise;
  • Assessment of the financial implications of inaction; and
  • Exclusive peer networking forum on local climate protection best practices.

Sessions were structured such that attendees were able to begin obtaining the knowledge and skills necessary to begin enhancing resiliency to a changing climate in their respective communities.

One of the first localities to begin planning for its peak-oil survival was Willits, a town I’ve driven through many times on the northbound Redwood Highway, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. Willits has a name for its post carbon frame of mind: Willits Economic LocaLization or “WELL” (which is about as big a stretch to fabricate the same acronym as we once used with Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link).

The WELL Vision An enduring local economy that provides health and security for our community.

The Mission of WELL To foster the creation of a local, sustainable economy in the Willits area by partnering with other organizations to watch for opportunities and vulnerabilities, incubate and coordinate projects and facilitate dialogue, action and education within our community.

Willits’ history began as a logging town, but it has transitioned into just as much a center of Mendocino County wine country over the past couple of decades. This weekend it’s hosting the third annual Regional Localization Networking Conference (RLNC).

The theme this year, “Reaching Across the Community” is about talking to those parts of the community that we may not be reaching. We have invited a panel of community leaders from a broad spectrum of our community to share their thoughts on 1) how their organization enhances Community Self Reliance; 2) how they mend fences and relationships within their organization, and 3) how they want outsiders to their organization to seek to influence them.

It’s not only a source for good-for-ya foods, it’s a proven carbon sink, able to sequester about 7,000 pounds of carbon per acre annually. So says Timothy LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute – mother institution of Organic Gardening magazine – in this Businesswire story.

Thus if all 434 million acres of American cropland was converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of eliminating 217 million cars nearly 88 percent of all cars in the country today and more than a third of all the automobiles in the world.

“The way that we farm may be the single biggest and most undervalued way that we can mitigate global warming,” said LaSalle, a native Californian and a former agriculture professor at Cal Poly. He added that he came to Rodale Institute, headquartered on a working organic farm in Pennsylvania, because he believes Rodale’s 60-plus years of leadership in organics can offer solutions to many of the most serious issues of the day from nutrition and famine prevention to global warming.

The idea is simple: Soil is a natural carbon storehouse and farming techniques that depend upon petroleum-based practices disrupt this natural process. The ecological impact of these conventional agricultural practices is made worse by greenhouse emissions from fertilizer production and nutrient losses. The result is that U.S. agriculture, using petroleum-based methods, contributes nearly 10 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

As more small, local and family farms go organic to meet growing demands of “locavores,” they can follow the lead of the Rodale Institute and become part of the solution in another way besides reducing the carbon footprint from long distance shipping of foodstuff. To guide conventional farmers in converting to organic practices, the Institute has just launched a Web site called Farmers Can Be Heroes.

Planning for the local impacts of climate change is hard to do because climate modeling and forecasting has been relevant to planetary and, at best, regional conditions such as latitudinal bands (mid-latitude, tropical, subtropical), and landmass areas such as the American Southwest or the Gulf Coast. Now a coalition of organizations based in North East England has conducted a study that makes the above claim of being “the most detailed and area-specific” of its kind anywhere.

Citing recent periods of record high temperatures and record destructive floods on the main British Isle, the authors of North East Climate Change Adaptation [PDF doc] described their motivation:

In the North East region, we too have suffered impacts from floods, wind, heatwaves and other weather-related incidents. These events are set to increase by the 2050s under scenarios of climate change. In recognition of the threat posed, a number of North East organisations have formed a partnership to take forward a study to better understand the climate changes, to assess the threats and impacts they pose, and to identify how we need to adapt now to best manage these projected changes and impacts.

The ultimate purpose of such a study must be to establish a sense of director for risk assessment and preparative planning, providing the maximum cushion of time for adaptive planning. The knowledge gained reinforces local resilience by reducing the uncertainty that leaves the local populace wondering, “Why bother if we have no idea what the impacts will be?” Thus, the study describes its accomplishments as having:

  • Projected climate changes across the region to the 2050s using state-of-the-art modelling techniques;
  • Assessed the impacts of the projected climate changes on current services, assets,
    communities, business and infrastructure;
  • Identified what needs to be done to adapt to the impacts; and
  • Identified which organisations are best placed to take the lead in taking forward the identified adaptation actions.
  • So what could any other similar-sized area do to achieve the same level of knowledge? First of all, a coalition of organizations makes it possible to assemble information from different centers of expertise. The study team took modeling data from very specific and key locations in within the assessment area. They collated data and information according to different sectors such as transport, public utilities, tourism, businesses and coastal erosion. Then they applied the professional expertise of team members to assess climate impacts on each of those sectors. Taking those assessments, local knowledge was then applied to them in a series of consultation workshops.

    The study provides more detailed scenarios through the year 2050 than were previously available, projecting more winter flooding, more health impacts during warmer summers, more wildfires in parkland, loss of business productivity and continuity, infrastructure damage, increased pressure on emergency services and increased pollution from contaminated land.

    These results drive the study’s authors to insist that both mitigation and adaptation actions be taken in parallel beginning immediately. They provide an Adaption Action Plan to key the next steps.

    I can’t help but think that if every locality were to conduct such a study, the outcome would be more serious local efforts to effect change. Reading the report really brings home the reality of the medium-range future. The impacts are all related and include factors that get lost when all you hear is “more flooding and hotter summers.” Think of the side effects – more polluted ground, more rats, more erosion, more fires.

    With increased likelihood of events such as flooding, heatwaves and wild fires, there is a need for more awareness amongst the general public so that appropriate preventative actions can be taken to avoid, or minimise, the likelihood of impacts.

    Two days ago, the Marin County Board of Supervisors decided on its top five priorities through 2010, and at the top of the list is Launching a local “green” power authority and supporting a greenhouse gas-reduction initiative.

    The power authority, called Marin Clean Energy by its chief proponent, Supervisor Charles McGlashan, is a plan “to create a new green power agency in Marin County. Under MCE, Marin County cities and towns would form a Joint Power Authority which would buy renewable power collectively directly, while PG&E would continue to be responsible for the transmission lines, billing and other duties.

    As described on the county government Web site,

    Marin Clean Energy would reduce Marin’s greenhouse gas emissions by initially providing twice as much renewable power as we receive now. MCE would also increase price stability over the long term by decreasing our reliance on imported fossil fuels to generate our power. MCE will also fuel small, locally based green businesses. In addition, MCE would enable local decision-making over what kinds of power Marin utilizes.

    Cities and towns in Marin County will hold study sessions over the course of this year and citizens will be able to “opt out” of switching over from PG&E service. Of course, PG&E has launched a vigorous mail compaign to contest the local power authority and the local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal, is questioning the lack of a public referendum on the measure:

    This is akin to the government deciding your Internet provider. Or who holds your mortgage or insures your car. The law uses “opt-out” for a simple reason: If customers have to decide which power source they want, there’s a good chance too few users will switch for the power authority to be viable. The law should be changed to allow “opt-in” – to force consumers to make their own choice.

    It is too late to change state law for the Marin Clean Energy process to use opt-in.

    But it is not too late for the county to put an advisory measure on the ballot – in November when there likely will be record turnout – to find out how voters view the power plan. Each supervisor and council member would know how much support there is in their town or district for the plan. Otherwise, those council members and supervisors will be asked to make a significant and long-term personal financial decision for everyone they represent. If the county refuses to take this step, each city should consider its own advisory vote.

    In 1998 in the UK, ruralnet|online was founded to use the Internet as a medium for providing information and support to rural towns. Now, 10 years later, its founders embarked on a new co-design project to make use of Web 2.0 technologies.

    The purpose of ruralnet has evolved and its new site is called the Community Carbon Network. Its function is very similar to that of Presilience, but it’s based on a thriving organization of individuals and local communities, where Presilience is currently based on one person’s curiosity and intention to help. From CCN:

    Here you will discover other like-minded people taking action to tackle climate change. The network consists of other communities who want to learn more about how to develop and maintain their projects – and share what they know and have learnt in the process.

    The network will pull together relevant information from across the worldwide web and deliver it to communities in a way that is timely and easy to access.

    Importantly, the network consists of REAL people who want to collaborate with other REAL people; the best information and advice comes from those who have ‘been there and done that’.

    It must be something in the water, but Washington state keeps coming up as a pioneer in governmental leadership and creative use of the Web for local planning. This time it’s the city of Oak Harbor showing the way. As reported in the nearby Whidbey News-Times, local planners are letting citizens in on their thinking and inviting comment:

    Oak Harbor City Planners Rob Voigt and Cac Kamak have voluntarily expanded their job duties to create an inviting cyber-environment where residents can engage in open and candid discourse on local issues.

    Using the Internet as a conduit for information, the two city employees developed options for augmenting public outreach and education. Through blogging, they have created an outlet with multifarious benefits for citizens. Residents can sound off on a variety of proposed amendments or city projects while being inadvertently educated through in-depth and sometimes tangential exposition.

    “This way you address more issues,” Voigt said. “The overriding common themes are facilitating public engagement, communication through multimedia and ‘action research’ where participants guide the process.”

    Blogging is essentially a chronological, electronic journal that allows users to post opinions, suggestions or simple thoughts at their leisure.

    “It’s like a virtual, on-demand city hall,” Kamak said. “People can chime in at anytime and have their issues addressed.”

    The sites eventually take on a life of their own as postings grow like branches on a tree, each contribution guiding the discussion in different directions.

    Here’s the blog on subdivision planning (set up on Blogger’s blogspot platform). The Oak Harbor city Web site also includes a survey for citizen feedback on making the site more useful and participative.

    This is the direction I hope to see more local governments taking as the issues of local adaptation are recognized. Though Presilience assumes that most local governments will continue to be overloaded with pressing obligations and stretched budgets, and that grassroots efforts will bear more of the responsibility for leading adaptive action, wise use of the Web can help government get in synch with citizen priorities and make better use of citizen feedback in the planning process.

    LifeHack is about getting stuff done most efficiently and effectively across all aspects of your life. In this article, the focus is on living the green life – again, as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s a stripped-down, realistic approach that doesn’t provide you with the wiggle room to continue consuming as usual just because the consumables are labelled “green” or “environmental” or “organic.”

    The hacks are broken down into 6 Principles of Green Living:

    • Simplicity
    • Fairness
    • Community
    • Sustainability
    • Planning
    • Transparency

    Here, for example, is how LifeHack describes the green approach to community:

    Too much of our world market is out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Since we don’t see the lives of the Bolivian granny who makes our chic shopping bags, or the Indonesian teenager who makes our shoes, or the Chinese mother who assembles our iPods,we don’t think about it. And we don’t think about the tremendous amount of resources it takes to get raw materials from Africa, North America, Asia, and somewhere in the Pacific to some factory in China to put together an mp3 player which will then be shipped (using resources again from all over the world) to some store in Oregon (that is again assembled using materials from all over the world) and into our pocket (of pants made in the next town over from the iPod factory, using cotton grown in Africa and rivets made of steel from Japan on machines made in Europe from materials mined in…).

    On the other hand, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a local farmer’s market, you’ve experienced something few of us do these days: an encounter with a part of your community, an actual living and breathing person, who made something for you to eat. There were some global resources used (even organic farmers use tractors, and they needed a truck to bring their stuff to market) but most of the labor and material involved came out of your local area — the soil you’re standing on, the person in front of you. You have a relationship with this person, and with their land. Your land.

    Your local farmer selling to a local market — that’s sustainable. The relationship you have with that person — that’s sustainable, too.

    With an exalted example like Wikipedia to demonstrate what can be done through minimally organized and uncontrolled collaborative knowledge sharing, it’s tempting to think that small, focused groups will thrive and progress through such an open online environment.  Indeed, some of the Transition Town efforts seem to be bearing fruit.

    Here’s another budding example: Place Based Grass Roots Groups Political Action Web. It’s set up on Wikia, a free public access wiki platform, which also hosts Sustainable Community Action and Water Wiki. The Place Based wiki is clearly based in North Carolina, with places named including Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill – the university towns in the central part of the state.

    Place Based wiki provides a How-To page where groups are invited to share the secrets of their organizational success. So far only one group has provided content for that page.

    More active is the Global EDAP Resources page where “energy descent action plans” are shared, broken down into details like Youth and Community, Education, Local Energy, Local Economy and Livelihoods, Food, Government, Housing, etc.  Another breakdown allows individual “places” to describe their specific EDAPs, which are plans to systematically reduce energy usage along the same lines as post carbon cities and transition towns follow.

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