Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Compleat Wetlander: Climate Change: Don’t Wait for This to Happen to You

It’s hot out there.  It’s in the news.  It’s right outside the door.  A dome of hot air has covered most of the lower 48 states over the past week.

Heat waves kill more people in the U.S. in the average year than any other weather-related hazard. Still, I thought it couldn’t happen to me.  I didn’t think about the consequences of rising global temperatures when we headed to Boston for a Red Sox game last Friday.  I didn’t think about whether this particular heat wave was a harbinger for future weather patterns as I leaned into a hot wind walking to Fenway Park, parents and husband beside me.  I certainly did not reflect on the merits of new regulations or incentive programs as I watched my mother suddenly collapse into my husband’s arms and a stranger passing by dialed 911 handing her phone to me to call for an ambulance.  I had other things to think about.

The trouble is that when the impacts of climate change are occurring, it’s too late. We’ll all have other things to think about.

This week amid the polarized speeches in Congress about raising the debt ceiling and reducing the deficit I came across an article in The Economist about creating a carbon tax.  It’s not likely to get much notice in Washington DC, but the concept of discouraging carbon emissions is a good one.

However adaptation is critically important as well.  And, while it is slowly receiving more attention, actions to adapt to climate change need to become a priority now.

In discussions about need for alternative energy sources, debate always centers on transportation or heating costs.  However when I lived in the DC area, the cost of cooling the house in the summer always exceeded the cost of heating in the winter.  I’ve always wondered what will happen if heat waves occur, energy costs rise and people must turn off their air conditioners because they cannot afford it?  The answer is widespread casualties.  Over 50,000 people died in the heat wave that hit Europe in 2003. However, while floods and tornadoes are considered natural hazards, heat waves are not.  They need more attention because global warming means they will be happening more often in the United States.

The good news is that every time I go looking for information about climate change and what to do to measure and prepare and adapt to it, there is more to be found.  Some useful websites include the following.

National Research Council:  America’s Climate Choices report released May 2011
SECURE Water Act Report To Congress (Bureau of Reclamation)
AASHTO Transportation and Climate Change Resource Center website
which includes a state and local plans section on climate change adaptation
AASHTO Adaptation Tools website:
UNFCC :Compendium on methods and tools to evaluate impacts of, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change

Climate SouthWest homepage (UK)
Climate change information centre
EBM Ecosystem-based management tools neetwork
EPA Water:  Watershed Academy webinars (including climate change)
NOAA’s Digital Coast:  conserving coastal Wetlands for Sea Level Rise Adaptation
Land Trust Alliance list of website addressing climate change
Wetlands international
CEQ Climate Change Adaptation Task Force
including “Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing climate

There are even some informative and entertaining videos:

Wetlands and Climate Change Adaptation
Peatland Alert: perland loss fuels climate change
Peat bogs “amplify” global warming

On Friday, my story had a happy ending.  Strangers stopped to help. We were handed bottles of water.  One man appeared with a bag of ice that we placed under my mother’s head.  Policemen stood by and directed the ambulance to where we waited.  A squad car drove us to the hospital.  We spent the evening in the emergency room watching the Red Sox game on a large flatscreen TV while they ran a battery of tests and rehydrated my mother who was discharged as the Red Sox moved ahead in the top of the 7th.

I will be eternally grateful to the Boston citizenry who helped us in our time of need.  I am reminded that while we might like to feel autonomous and independent, ultimately, when it counts, it is the collective action of others that we all depend on.  Let’s put some of that wonderful energy towards simultaneously adapting to the changes ahead and stopping global warming now.

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