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.

Described in this article on WorldChanging, the capital of Japan has embarked on a huge effort to drastically reduce its carbon emissions. Its 10 year Plan aims to reduce CO2 by 25 percent from year 2000 levels by 2020. Perhaps the most ambitious commitment mentioned in the article is to “change the structure of society” if that’s seen to be a necessity. Representatives of all stakeholders will be involved in making that decision.

We have to be willing to admit that whatever structure of society we currently hold dear is, in many ways, a historical accident rather than something planned and drawn up by our forebears. Here in America, our Constitution is subject to reinterpretation as the times, conditions and technologies change. Certainly, if the climate is changing or if the threats of climate change impact are serious enough, we must be willing to change in advance – while we have the luxury of being able to plan those changes.

The city of Tokyo has put the full weight of its buying power behind renewable energy purchases and has recruited many of its largest businesses to cooperate in the project. Appropriate building design and tax incentives are integral elements, as are plans for carbon trading, in spite of resistance from many large businesses.

Governor Shintaro Ishihara has made it known that any government official who feels they cannont achieve their parts of reaching the city’s goals should resign their positions. He’s not fooling around; he wants to motivate all of his forces to realize these crucial emissions reduction goals. Plainly speaking, this is the stance that all political leaders around the world should be taking.

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.

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.

Nothing quite gives me a sense of place like the bird’s eye view and a map. That’s one of the things I lSouthern Marin Countyove about living next to a 2500-foot “mountain.” I can hike or drive to the summit and see the big picture of where I live.

The Web has revolutionized mapping, and planning for climate change impacts gets a huge benefit from having access to the new mapping capabilities. Check out this participatory view of Marin County provided by Wikimapia. Yep, you can add stuff – define a place, describe it, add photos to it.

Here’s another example of a participatory local map with a special application for marking locations of interest. It’s called Oakland Crimespotting. Imagine such a map with the locations indicating significant places relevant to climate change impact planning instead of crimes committed.

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?