Perhaps the most realistic and practical approach to preparing for local impacts of climate change is the Transition Towns model being adopted widely across Great Britain. As the movement describes its purpose:

The transition model emboldens communities to look peak oil and climate change squarely in the eye and unleash the collective genius of their own people to find the answers to this big question:

for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how are we going to:

  • significantly rebuild resilience (in response to peak oil)
  • drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to

On April 2, I blogged about using the wiki platform for local and inter-local organization. Recently, the Transition Towns networked moved its online activity to a wiki platform where its registered members can now collaboratively author web pages to plan and coordinate their initiatives. On this page you’ll find a list of designated transition town communities. Totnes is considered the “flagship” of the movement. Its web site is not a wiki, but gives a good overview of what a truly active community can be. There are also about 600 local communities “mulling it over” – communicating with Transition Towns about the possibility of joining the movement.

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Appended:

How timely. This article on Transition Towns just got published and distributed by the Yorkshire Post.

The most active local governments you can find in the U.S., and probably elsewhere, are members of an organization called ICLEI. These are strictly government – not grassroots – based memberships, but where local governments take the lead, grassroots activism is usually encouraged to thrive.

It was founded by the United Nations in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Now that the focus is on climate change, they’ve turned the acronym into their name – ICLEI (pronounced “ICK-lee”) and added the tagline: Local Governments for Sustainability. Their local international membership includes over 700 county governments, municipal governments, provincial governments, networks of local governments and big city governments like Los Angeles, New York and London.

We provide technical consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local government in the implementation of sustainable development at the local level. Our basic premise is that locally designed initiatives can provide an effective and cost-efficient way to achieve local, national, and global sustainability objectives.

ICLEI provides information, delivers training, organizes conferences, facilitates networking and city-to-city exchanges, carries out research and pilot projects, and offers technical services and consultancy. We also provide software and tools to help local governments achieve their sustainable development goals.

If your local government is not yet a member of ICLEI, it’s a good community to urge them to join. They’ll learn from the lessons of other locations and they’re transitioning from focusing only on sustainability to including adaptive activities for the unavoidable impacts to come.

Climate change in your area may manifest itself in gradual changes in average temperature, rainfall and dates of seasonal change. You may even be able to adapt to it over the course of years or decades. But for many areas, climate change will come in the form of more severe weather – extreme rain, wind, heat and wildfires. This will call for improved disaster preparedness and response, hopefully implemented through communities so that even neighborhoods have their own plans and resources.

Here in Marin we have an Emergency Services Office, managed by Chris Godley (portentious name) who – in the case of a disaster – would be in charge of coordinating the county’s response. He’s also in charge of planning and development of resources. But when it comes down to it, the responsibilities are with the citizens to prepare themselves for living through the aftermath of a disaster.

Godley observes that in spite of repeated warnings and persistent advice, we citizens are lax in our preparedness.

They are not prepared to deal with an event. They have neither the ability to get organized, to communicate with each other and they don’t have the financial resources to deal with an event when people start losing communications, they can’t get to work, paychecks stop getting automatically deposited and the ATM doesn’t work. It’s going to be ugly for a while. We in California have not experienced a real true disaster. We have had a lot of small, regional events, but we haven’t had the Kobe-sized earthquake event that we are really expecting here in the Bay Area, for example. That’s not necessarily going to result in the same trauma we saw after Hurricane Katrina, but we’re talking about as significant a physical, economic and social impact as Katrina.

Meanwhile, though, a program begun two years ago has trained more than 2500 county residents in local disaster preparedness and response. A recent survey of trainees indicated that the trainees, at least, feel more confident about their readiness than they would have been without the training.

Program respondents were more confident in their ability to protect themselves and their families, the survey indicated. In response to the statement “I have the ability to protect myself and my family from disaster effects,” the average rose from 2.51 out of 5, or “strongly agree,” in the pre-test category to 3.09 post-test group.

Statistically significant differences in scores on respondents’ sense of community were seen as well, surveyors noted. The average rose from 3.73 pre-test to 4.11 post-test, indicating that those residents who completed a Get Ready sessions felt stronger bonds to their community, surveyors said.

One of the smartest things members of a local community can do is to learn about the environment that supports them. Sure, if you live in the midst of a city surrounded by built-up suburbs, it’s easy to forget that you have any relationship to an environment, at least to one recognizable as “natural.” I’m lucky (well, I pay for it) to live in a place where natural habitat has been fiercely preserved going back to the mid-1930’s. Marin County has kept as much of its land undeveloped – some as parkland, some as public open space, some as agricultural land trust, and 21,000 acres as the county’s watershed, managed by the Marin Municipal Water District.

The MMWD organized the first of what I hope will be at least an annual public symposium and I attended it today. It ran from 8:30AM to 4:30PM with breaks and a box lunch. The experts who presented represented a wide range of scientists and naturalists, speaking on topics from endangered local species to invasive species to wildfire danger and biological history. Here’s how the announcement of the event began, on the MMWD Web page:

To some, Mt. Tamalpais is simply a scenic backdrop to a busy modern life. To others, however, it is the ecological heart of a vast natural world in which we make our home. For those, an urgent question is, how healthy is that heart? Invasive plants, the constant risk of wildfire, and now climate change are threatening the health of Mt. Tamalpais at a faster pace than ever before.

As the single largest landholder on Mt. Tamalpais, the Marin Municipal Water District is charged with sustainably managing this natural resource while providing its customers with reliable, high-quality water. One of the key steps in meeting those responsibilities is the development of a new vegetation management plan for Mt. Tamalpais and other watershed lands. A careful examination of the current state of the mountain, and an examination of the threats facing it, is essential to the development of the new vegetation management plan and the purpose of a day-long symposium taking place next month. On Friday, April 11, natural resources specialists will come together to focus on the remarkable biological richness of Mt. Tamalpais and the challenges to MMWD as it strives to maintain the mountain’s ecological health.

For any location where there is treasured natural environment, closely tied to one’s living experience, such a gathering of experts brings the amazing perspective of people who look more deeply at that environment than you do. Or whose professions are to understand interdependencies that you’re not aware of. It’s true that for us, the water district is the heart of where we live. I’m sure many other places have such natural hearts that must be known and protected.

I’ll write more about the specific presentations in following posts.

It’s not the most romantic of names, even for activist groups, but it definitely describes the views of their members, which center around the belief that the world will be different once we get beyond reliance on carbon-based economy. The Post Carbon Institute sponsors several programs including Global Public Media, Local Energy Farms, Oil Depletion Protocol, Post Carbon Cities and the Relocalization Network.

The Local Post Carbon Groups “work, within their communities and in cooperation with local government and other community-based organizations, to put the concept of Relocalization into practice.”

Local Post Carbon Groups are in fact experiments themselves; they can be an existing group that wants to take on peak energy response as a new program area or a completely new group. The key is action – we recommend that groups get started quickly with small projects, try things out and share what works. Local Post Carbon Groups develop knowledge, infrastructure, and working relationships that will be valuable in the post-carbon world. Projects focus on making immediate improvements to your community such as urban farming, car share, and local money.

The Relocalization Network supports local groups with resources and shared ideas drawn from the experiences of other groups. Its program brings together a range of skills, ideas and resources for:

  • Creating a sense of community and interconnectedness
  • Providing a focus for debate, research and organization
  • Developing self-help skills
  • Working to improve local quality of life, both socially and environmentally
  • Facilitating direct action
  • Providing opportunities for local government and organizations to engage in public discussion with community members.
  • Firehose blastingFor the past year I’ve been following news feeds from over a dozen of the most informative, science-based blogs on global warming and climate change (pick your favorite term). I’ve had Google News Alerts set for climate change, climate adaptation, flood and drought. I’ve bookmarked hundreds of sites, documents and articles and posted 126 articles under the Climate Frog blog title.

    I believe in science and in the findings that serious scientists contribute to our knowledge about the environment. I believe them when they warn us about the future impacts of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

    This past year brought us Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. It brought us the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, validating the work of 2400 science experts and signed off by 193 governments. We had the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. We saw extraordinary and record breaking flooding in England, the American Midwest, China, Bangladesh, China and Africa. We saw devastating droughts across Australia, China (again), South America and both the Southeastern and Southwestern U.S.

    Scientists reported on the faster than expected shrinking of the Arctic Ice Cap and melting of major glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic.

    Within that one year of observation I witnessed the foreshortening of the forecasts for climate change and its impacts. Where scientists thought in 2007 that we might have 3 or 4 decades to get things right, they are now thinking in terms of 2 or 3 decades. There’s no guarantee that the threatening conditions won’t continue to accelerate in an unfortunate direction.

    So it became clear to me, sometime last fall, that we’d better get moving on the preparation front. My sense of urgency is only heightened by the fact that our federal government is intentionally dragging its feet in acknowledging that there’s a threat worth doing something about. It’s spurred by the fact that even the majority of us who believe that we should be turning greener are not really committing to changing our lifestyles and habits. It’s whipped into a frency by the fact that the U.S., China and India are planning to build about 850 new coal-fired carbon-spewing power plants.

    All of that slow response, regressive action and poor preparation at the national and grassroots levels makes it crucial that we begin some organized and concerted effort right now to identify local risks and ready our local communities to deal with them. And getting ready means learning how to work together to mitigate both our long- and short-range risks.

    Firehose

    cliffbilbao.jpgResilience is the capacity to adapt. We humans, who mostly live in communities facing the prospect of new climates and the impacts that come with them, are entering unexplored territory. We don’t know when our local climate will change, or when we’ll even know that it has. We may find ourselves dealing with strange new weather every season, and adjusting to it will be our ongoing task.

    In any case, we know that those new climate impacts will be specific to our localities, and that each community will need to search for solutions to living with them. We don’t know how much help our local government will be able to provide.

    It’s likely that climate adaptation will be a bottom-up movement – designed, led and maintained by grassroots groups. To the extent that those groups can get a head start on the challenges of new climates, they will be stronger for dealing with crisis conditions.

    Presilience is a learn-by-example site, that will highlight the best examples we can find of groups working on the local level to make a difference. Today, those groups are working on projects like greenhouse gas mitigation and conservation. Someday, today’s best practices and qualities will be adopted to confront the future challenges of new climates.

    If you’re part of such a change-making group, or if you know of one, let me know. We need to learn and share good examples to make us all smarter. We need to understand what relationship qualities make such groups run smoothly? And if they don’t run smoothly, how do they tolerate disagreement and still move on to make differences?

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