March 19, 2013
By Pacific Institute Staff
The science of climate change is compelling and strong, and has been for over two decades, telling us that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities not only will change, but are already changing the climate. We are now committed to a degree of irreversible, long-term consequences ranging from rising sea levels, far greater heat stress and damages, shrinking glaciers and snowpack, more flooding and droughts, and a wide range of other threats and risks.
The Pacific Institute, since its founding in 1987, has been addressing many of these vulnerabilities to climate change. It is still not too late to slow the rate of climate changes and to reduce the ultimate cost to public health, ecosystems, and the economy. We must reduce the severity of future climate change through efforts to cut or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and we must adapt to unavoidable climatic change already locked into the system.
For example, the Pacific Institute assessment of the vulnerabilities of the California coast to accelerating sea-level rise found over $100 billion in infrastructure and nearly 500,000 people currently at risk of increased coastal flooding with a 1.4 m rise in sea levels. Other Institute research shows social and economic factors like age, race, income, and lack of access to a vehicle or other means of transportation directly affect a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate impacts. Thus, addressing the social vulnerability – the susceptibility of a given community to harm from climate hazards – in climate change policies and response strategies is critical.
The good news is that there are smart and effective things that can be done to reduce our risks from climate change. From the Institute’s work with our local community of Oakland, Calif., to exploring community resilience strategies in Indore, India, our research toward development of comprehensive and equitable climate adaptation planning is based on the necessity to engage local communities in the process. Beyond the community level, we need to expand the process of adapting to unavoidable impacts through smarter land-use and water-use planning involving water managers and utilities; business and agriculture; local, national, and international government.
As we act to slow climate change, we will have reduced our emissions of pollutants, cut our economic dependence on fossil fuels, and boosted our economy with new green technologies and jobs. The Institute works in this area as well, helping individuals, utilities, corporations, and governments measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions from water systems and options for reducing those emissions. We know what we must do to slow the onset of climate change, and we know we must start planning our resilience strategies for the changes to come. Our task now is to convince our leaders to act in a timely and responsible way.