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.

If you’ve had occasion to visit your local government web site looking for guidance on climate change issues (not likely), you may have come away unimpressed. Here in Marin County, we’ve got one of the more sophisticated sites that I’ve visited (and I got to visit hundreds of them in my work at Trilogy). But none of them hold a candle to King County, Washington’s site.

Here, you find not just the government essentials, wrapped up in a pleasant design. You have what amounts to a combination community newsletter, streaming video channel, RPIN (Regional Public Information Network) alert link, and – within its Natural Resources and Parks Department, a collection of information, reports and opportunities dedicated to conservation, mitigation and adaptation.

Then you get to the internal web site of County Executive Ron Sims and his initiatives, which include Global Warming, and Environmental Protection. These two initiatives alone -ronsimsgw.jpg if they were the only things King County was doing besides “the essentials,” would put it ahead of all but two or three counties in the U.S. in terms of advance planning for climate change.

I’ve spoken with Elizabeth Willmott, the Global Warming Coordinator for the initiative. She referred me to Peg Reagan, Executive Director of Conservation Leaders Network.

I talked to Peg.  As someone who is always trying to get the attention of county commissioners (or whatever their local titles may be), she informed me that they are predominantly understaffed and overcommitted. I’m not surprised, but the contrast between what King County is able to accomplish and what the vast majority of counties seem able to accomplish is dramatic.