Why Adapt?

The reasons for preparing for and adapting to climate impacts are clear.

Climate impacts are costly, and many of the impacts projected in the coming decades as a result of climate change are virtually certain.  Climate and weather extremes such as drought, extreme precipitation events, heat waves, and storm surge already create widespread problems for individuals, businesses, communities, and natural systems. Absent adaptation, these problems are likely to grow as climate change increases the frequency, duration, and intensity of many extreme events. Furthermore, because of lags in the global climate system and the long lifetime of key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, climate change impacts over the next few decades are virtually certain. In short, climate change is the “new normal.”

Pacific Northwest residents, businesses, and local and state governments are on the “front line” for dealing with climate impacts. Climate variability and change are, in aggregate, global-scale phenomena. However, the impacts of climate variability and change—including flooding, erosion, drought, landslides, and heat waves—will be felt most acutely at the state and local level. This position on the “front line” of dealing with climate impacts creates both a need and an opportunity to reduce vulnerability through adaptation planning.

Decisions with long-term impacts are being made every day. Today’s choices will shape tomorrow’s vulnerabilities. Everyday, decision makers face choices that influence how, where, and to what degree communities and natural systems are vulnerable to climate variability and change. This includes decisions related to land use planning and zoning, infrastructure placement and design, hazard mitigation, budgeting, resource use, and habitat management, among others. Evaluating the impacts of climate variability and change on those decisions and making adjustments where necessary to increase resilience is key to managing current and future risks (and opportunities) associated with climate variability and change.

Significant time is required to motivate and develop adaptive capacity, and to implement changes. While some adaptation actions can be implemented quickly, many changes—particularly deeper, transformational changes that affect “business as usual”—can take years or decades to build support for and implement. Waiting for impacts to occur before deciding to act may prove too late  (e.g, if impacts result in loss of a species or significant cultural site) or more costly in some cases.

Proactive planning is often more effective and less costly than reactive planning, and can provide benefits today. Steps taken now to reduce vulnerability to current and projected climate impacts may lower the costs of those impacts by reducing financial losses and minimizing disruptions to public services and business supply chains. Additionally, the range of adaptation choices may be greater when preparing for, rather than reacting to, climate impacts.

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