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

The Compleat Wetlander: Seeking a New Perspective on Economic Opportunity and Climate Change

There are days when I am discouraged and it seems like public policy can be summed up in a few words:

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”                                                                                                                      –French Proverb

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”                                                                                   –Albert Einstein

Happily today is not one of those days.

Federal policy changes slowly, and in some respects that is a good thing.  I sometimes imagine ‘federal policy’ as a giant ship where changes in direction must be calculated over miles rather than feet.   Too many adjustments are likely to cause the ship to zig and zag, to lose momentum and never reach its destination. The trick is to identify the minimum number of adjustments needed to keep the ship on course. Unfortunately, I also visualize thousands of rowboats large and small (representing all the various interest groups trying to influence public policy) with lines tied to the massive ship attempting to pull it in a desired direction.  Unless a large number of them work together, they have no effect on the direction of the ship.

I think most folks would agree in general terms on the boat’s destination – health, happiness, a healthy environment, a healthy economy, a place where children can grow up safe, where our communities are civil and our neighbors helpful. And we want to be able to help others in turn.

But there is a great disagreement over the precise course that will allow us to reach this destination.  Therefore, there is a lot of inertia and a tendency to stick with the ‘status quo’ and old ‘tried and true’ solutions even when there is a great deal of evidence that old solutions don’t work and haven’t worked for a long time.  Change is tough.  Change is threatening and uncertain.  Change is risky.

Here’s a personal example.  My husband and I have tried to reduce our carbon footprint in a number of ways. For example this year we put a shelter over our wood pile so the wood would dry and burn cleaner.  Two years ago we began the process of switching our furnace from oil to natural gas. This week the local news is filled with stories about the lack of capacity to deliver natural gas to New England on the coldest days of the year.  As a result it is predicted that both our electricity and heating bills are going to increase significantly this winter. We can’t change what is happening, but we can decide what to do next.  The increased costs may mean we will need to look at additional ways to get our heat or electricity.  Solar?  Heat exchangers? There are different options to explore.

delta in times of climate change abstractsAt the end of September there was a conference in the Netherlands on Deltas in Times of Climate Change.  If there were any doubt that innovation in responding to climate change is happening, a review of the 145 page agenda will eliminate it.   As will the 300 page compilation of abstracts. (To download the agenda and abstracts, click here.)  The list of studies, strategies, and tools developed or under development are inspiring and thought provoking.  And for anyone excited by the release October 8 of Resilience, adaptation, sequestration Priority Agenda: Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources, it should be required reading. As a wetland professional, I am very pleased the report from the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience highlights the role of wetlands restoration and protection as part of the strategy of developing resilience needed to respond to climate change.  It is one of the few times wetlands have been specifically highlighted in a national strategy as part of the overall response to climate change.  Specifically it identifies wetlands as important for storing carbon, for saving forests and as a key component of ‘natural infrastructure’ to reduce risk to human populations, built infrastructure and the environment. It provides a blueprint for future investments to keep people safe in anticipation of a changing world. However, to implement the plan, a whole bunch of those little rowboats trying to steer the good ship  “federal policy” are going to need to work together. What’s the incentive?

economics of adpatationGoing back to the conference in the Netherlands, I’d like to highlight a plenary session presentation by Stéphane Hallegatte, Senior Economist in the Climate Change Group at the World Bank on The Economics of Adaptation who encouraged participants to think about the positive side of adaptation — development!  Adapting to climate change provides enormous opportunities for new economic development – resilient, forward-thinking development.  This perspective does not gloss over the very real risks posed by climate change, but highlights the need to take action and the inherent economic opportunities that will arise from responding to them.

target obstacles to optimal adaptation
So back to my personal efforts to reduce both our carbon footprint and our energy costs.  We purchased new windows to improve insulation. We purchased LED light bulbs to reduce electricity costs. We purchased a shelter for our wood.  We financed the switch from oil to natural gas for our furnace and we’re not done. Multiply decisions like these by the people, companies, communities and nations that will need to adapt to the changes wrought by a changing climate.  Opportunity is knocking!

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