Making Your Plans for Climate Change (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post (see link in next paragraph), I brought up a study that predicts the level of climate-related threat faced by each county in the United States (over 3,100 counties in all) over the next couple of decades. (To readers in other countries, I apologize that this article only covers the USA. Some of the suggestions in here may still be useful to you; I hope so.)

*Let’s try link again. Part 1 of this post is here. Cool, the WordPress link feature worked this time! It doesn’t always lately.

In addition to ranking each county in terms of overall climate risk, the study also assesses each county’s risks in six categories: 1) heat; 2) wet-bulb temperature (where the combination of heat and humidity is such that the human body can no longer cool itself by perspiration); 3) crop yield reductions; 4) sea-level rise; 5) very large wildfires; 6) economic damage.

If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to visit the link, type in your county name, and find out how your place stacks up.

If your place is ranked high, you probably already know it. It wasn’t news to me to learn that my county (Volusia County, Florida) is considered to be at risk for more heat, more wet-bulb days, higher crop yield losses, and economic damage. 

All of these changes will determine which places will remain viable for human beings to live and to grow food. 

If your place is deemed to be significantly at risk, you might well be asking yourself, “Should I move? And if so, where?” You’ve probably asked yourself those questions before already, if you’ve ever been concerned about climate change and how your place might be affected.

I don’t have and cut-and-dried answers for you, but I do have what I hope will be practical and reassuring advice. I’m starting a bullet-point list here; will add to it as things occur to me.

• The document is of course only a forecast. It can be wrong, in either direction. Rather than focus on trying to figure out how accurate it might be (an impossible task), I recommend planning for the “severe” scenario outlined in the forecast. You could end up under-planning, but I think it’s far more likely you’ll end up planning appropriately, or at least increasing your preparedness to within reasonable distance so that you’ll be able to respond and adapt as well as can be expected.

• I suggest you go through the categories of threats one by one, and note which threats you are least comfortable with. For example, I would probably never choose to live in a place that’s affected by huge wildfires. I don’t relish the thought of intensified flooding and stronger storms, but I’m more comfortable with those than with wildfires. (By the way, storms and flooding aren’t mentioned as a threat category. But I see them as being roughly correlated with the regions threatened by sea-level rise. And with places located along the large rivers such as the Mississippi and Missouri.)

• Personally, I am more worried about drought and desertification than anything else. It’s a concern even here in water-rich Florida. Water availability is pretty much a deal-breaker for living in a place. (That said, Brad Lancaster (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands) informs us that if all the rain falling on ultra-dry Tucson were collected and used wisely, it would be enough to meet all residential and municipal needs. So a place with scanty rainfall may still be livable if other factors don’t prohibit.)

• While it’s important to be aware of the physical threat, your best asset is community. Where do your family or close friends live? Think about moving there if you’re not there already. Or (and) step up your efforts to build community with your current neighbors if you haven’t already.

• Look up the following in your area: permaculture guilds; bioregional organizations; native-plant societies; agricultural extension offices. Join their Facebook groups, webinars, Zoom calls. All of these entities will help you connect with people who are concerned and knowledgeable about soil health, watershed health, food-growing, rainwater collection, and land management (including stormwater mitigation, anti-drought measures, wildfire prevention and mitigation). (Note: The permaculture design movement has attracted a fringe element of people who are mainly focused on securing their own households, and don’t care about the community/social element that is the biggest part of permaculture. Steer clear of those folks and look for the community-minded people in the movement.)

• Don’t stay in a place you don’t feel a connection with just because you have a job there. We’ve all learned that even the steadiest jobs can be gone in an instant. Cultivate financial resilience by lowering your overhead and creating micro-businesses. I offer advice on these topics in my book and elsewhere on this blog. And move where your heart is. Usually that’s some combination of geographic features and social/family factors. 

• But really, above all else, cultivate portable resilience. Emotional fortitude; spiritual grounding; occupational and practical skills that’ll serve you and your community wherever you land.

• Humans are adaptable. If the waters rise, we can count on some people to stay put and build a village of floating islands out of reeds or something. It’s been done. Become anti-fragile; become the kind of person who gets stronger with adversity.

• Physical health & fitness: This is a cetegory of portable resilience but I’m giving it its own bullet point. The most basic ways I know to boost your physical resilience are (to the best of your ability) 1) spend a lot of time walking; 2) get used to doing outdoor labor in all seasons; 3) learn to tolerate the prevailing outdoor temperature of your place (in other words, expand your ability to tolerate your place’s weather without heat or A/C). Even if you can’t walk, you can boost your physical fitness and climate-tolerance by getting out and about in a wheelchair. 

• Become socially resourceful. Talk with the people around you. Offer your help and surplus goods. I’m amazed at the number of people who live in a place for 30 years and don’t know any of their neighbors or local resources.

• If I had to choose between the perfect threat-free physical environment and a community with a strong social fabric, I would choose the latter. No contest. Ideally you won’t have to pick. But my point is, prioritize the “people” factors. I don’t mean seek out soulmates or best buddies. Those are great if you find them. But I’m talking about the simple local community connections that can make the difference between surviving or perishing. Know your neighbors; build nuts-and-bolts day-to-day practical connections that transcend political divides and other differences. Swap seeds and plants; share tools; keep an eye out for each other’s kids and pets. Then it won’t matter so much who has what sign in their yard. You’ll have a stronger thread connecting you. 

• Climate change won’t only affect where we are able to live and grow crops. It’ll also determine where and how we should invest our money. I’ve written about financial resilience elsewhere on this blog and have posted some outstanding resources such as Laura Oldanie’s blog.

• Related to the subject of investment: Resist the temptation to hedge your geographic bets by having empty houses in multiple places. Live in your main house, and if you have houses in other places, don’t leave them empty. Let family members, friends, or tenants occupy them. It’s the decent thing to do, and the good you give to a distant community by providing housing will come back on you one way or another. Don’t let your fear lead you to make choices that create scarcity for other people.

• Wherever you live, set about increasing your knowledge of your bioregion. Now. And if you are even thinking of moving to a different geographic area, begin in advance to cultivate knowledge of that bioregion.

• Before you decide to move, remember no place is free of risk or threat. A big part of how we industrialized consumer nations have gotten the planet into this horrific situation we’re in is by trying to insulate and insure ourselves against any possible risk. It’s not possible to have this risk-free state while in a body on planet Earth. You can have that after death; it’s available to us all.

• Here in the wealthy industrialized nations, we are at once too risk-averse and too risk-tolerant. We won’t quit the job we hate, because we’re not willing to risk losing health insurance. We won’t go for our dream of starting a business, because we’re not willing to risk losing a steady paycheck. And yet, daily, we take the terrible risk that we’ll drop dead on our job before reaching the nirvana of retirement, and we take the terrible risk of living far away from our dearest loved ones so we can pursue a “career”; we’re willing to take the risk that we will never see our loved ones again. We won’t risk standing up to our HOA to win the right to grow food in our yards, but we’re willing to risk exposing our kids and pets to pesticides and herbicides just to avoid a bit of social disapproval. 

• The bottom line is, no place is free of risk.

• Every place has a historic storehouse of bioregional knowledge about watersheds, weather patterns, traditional agriculture. Also in many places (such as here in Florida), grassroots people and organizations are engaged in the essential work of experimenting with non-supermarket food crops. Many people here are growing tubers from Africa and the Caribbean. This will stand us in good stead, should white potatoes and other mainstream crops stop growing well here. Also keep in mind that your homescale gardens can be more resilient than large farms.

This is a big topic and I know I’ll have more to say. Will add bullet points as they occur to me.

A final point for now: Talk about this topic with your family, friends, city leaders, neighbors, congregation members, local Chamber of Commerce — anyone who’s willing to seriously engage. Share fears and concerns out in the open. Take stock of your community’s knowledge and skill base. Make your plans individually but also in community.

By the way, governments and big corporations recognize the threats of climate change and are making plans accordingly. Inevitably, government and corporate planning will tend to revolve around safeguarding property values and other economic interests. (You can see a bit of this official mentality reported in this article in my local paper. By the way, I want to thank Abigail Mercer and the Daytona Beach News-Journal for this article, titled “Data: Climate change to heavily affect Volusia-Flagler-St. Johns.” It’s how I found out about the study that prompted this blog post.) We, on a grassroots level, can be much more nimble and creative than government or corporate interests can afford to be. We, everyday people, are the ones in the best position to build true resilience at the household and community level. Government is doing what it can, but don’t let yourself be a sitting duck waiting for government to protect you or offer you the best direction for your own circumstances. 

Please drop me a line if there’s anything else you’d like to see me address in this post. I’m here for you! In fact, I’ve decided I’m offering climate-change planning consultation free to any person or group who needs it. (I will do my best to ensure that this service defies the conventional wisdom on what “free advice” is worth.) Drop me a line or give me a call.