Home Energy and Environment Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Go Hand In Hand

Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Go Hand In Hand

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I used to think I was working to “stop climate change”. I can’t tell you how many times I used those words while working as a volunteer and student activist back in my home state of Mississippi. The renewable energy campaigns, organizing skills workshops, and multitudes of events that we hosted all focused on building people power to stop the climate crisis. It was good work, it was fun work, it was difficult work, and in retrospect it was a bit naïve. That last statement needs to qualified; the concept of “stopping climate change” was naïve in the sense that it portrays the issue as one with a simple solution. It probably also contributed to the difficulty of the work because it didn’t convey the true urgency of climate change.  

Fast forward five years and a lot has changed. We are no longer talking about climate change as just something we will experience in the future. A myriad of reports, studies, and articles have been written and released over the past several years that discuss the impacts of climate change that we are seeing now. Hampton Roads has consistently been getting national media attention because we’re one of the places that climate change impacts (specifically sea level rise) are most visible.

This brings me to the title of the article, Adaptation and Mitigation Goes Hand In Hand. First it is helpful to define these two terms. Adaptation is to “become adjusted to new conditions” and in terms of climate change and sea level rise in Hampton Roads includes things like raising roads and houses and changing building standards to account for rising seas and resulting flooding.  Mitigation is “the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something” and in terms of climate change basically boils down to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions which includes things like transitioning from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas to clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, geothermal, reducing wasted energy through energy efficiency, as well as addressing emissions generated by our system of food production.

As I mentioned earlier, portraying an issue as something far off in the future downplays the urgency and doesn’t help when trying to get people involved in a social movement. But on the other end of the spectrum, specifically with regards to climate change, the urgency of the issue can also push the conversation to focus more heavily on the adaptation side of the solutions, things that people will see and feel in the immediate future (for example someone’s house being elevated to adapt to flooding). It is critical for the future of Hampton Roads for us to keep the focus on both mitigation and adaptation. No matter how much we adapt to climate change if we ignore the need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions the problem will only persist and get worse, and all the effort and money put towards adaptation efforts will eventually be all for nothing.

The need for this focus on both “types” of climate action is evidenced by several initiatives and collaborations already happening in Hampton Roads. One of the most obvious examples of this is the aptly named MARI program at Old Dominion University. MARI stands for, wait for it….Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute and their mission is to “Support the transition to a prepared, resilient, and adaptive society coping with changing climates and rising sea levels”.  In addition to their important research, they host events related to adaptation and mitigation issues and you should definitely check out their calendar and their website here for more information.  Another example of mitigation and adaptation going together was the Virginia Coastal Protection Act (VACPA), an initiative that did not pass the General Assembly this year but definitely should have. The VACPA would have required Virginia to join RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), a program that puts a limit on emissions in a state and then generates revenue by selling emission permits. The VACPA proposed using about $100 million each year, money that is generated by selling the emission permits, which remember also reduces our emission of climate change fueling pollutants, for sea level rise adaptation in Hampton Roads. The VACPA also would have automatically put Virginia in compliance with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the first ever federal plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Chesapeake Climate Action Network(CCAN) spearheaded this initiative and you can check out their website for more information and how you can get involved in their work.

The final example of this is a collaboration that has recently developed between the Chesapeake Bay Group of the Virginia Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), and Virginia Organizing (VO).  While these organizations do not focus specifically on the same issues there are connections between our work. CCAN and Sierra Club work more on the broad federal and state policy and political advocacy that is needed to help mitigate climate change through reduction of carbon emissions while VO works on multiple social justice issues and focuses more on state and local policy and advocacy that has a direct and often immediate impact on the lives of the people they work with. The VO Environmental Justice Issue Team and organizers for the Sierra Club and CCAN have been working together to see how we can collaborate and use our different networks and niches to address both sides of this issue and we’re beginning to see some success. 

A couple of weeks ago, the 3 organizations hosted an event called A Flood of Voices at the Union United Church of Christ.  This was a story telling event held at the Union United Church of Christ in Norfolk, a church located in an area that often floods. Over 70 people showed up to learn about the power of storytelling as a way to influence decision makers and build power for the climate movement. Steve Nash, author of Virginia Climate Fever, spoke about his book and climate impacts, specifically sea level rise (and related flooding) and CNU student Colleen Garrison along with local impacted resident Dorothy Rawls spoke about their personal stories related to flooding and gave helpful tips for attendees on how, when, and why they should share their stories. At the end of the night attendees took action by signing petitions, taking photo petitions, and sharing their impact stories on video. 

Olga Torres, President of the Hampton Roads Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

This event walked the line, very gracefully I might add, of focusing on climate impacts but both on solutions directly affecting residents (adaptation measures like larger drain pipes) as well as longer term solutions that are policy based like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the VA Coastal Protection Act (both mitigation measures that will reduce emissions that cause climate change). 

These collaborations and initiatives that focus on both sides of the climate action coin are critical to the future of Hampton Roads. However, possibly the most critical part of the puzzle is citizen involvement. Most of the problems that we’re dealing with related to climate change are solvable, though that doesn’t mean it will be easy. On both the mitigation and adaption sides we have the technology we need and the problem is more one of a lack of political will by our leaders and decision makers to move forward. Many of those in power have vested interests in keeping the status quo and we’re living in a time when corporate influence on our democracy is startling.

All Is Not Lost! There are grassroots movements across the country (and here in Virginia) that challenge this status quo attitude and this acceptance of corporate influence. Follow some of the links in this article, check out the CCAN, Sierra Club, and Virginia Organizing websites and Facebook pages and get involved locally. Remember, to change everything we need everyone

  • Quizzical

    Thanks for an excellent post.  What is actually happening in Virginia?  I think to create momentum, every success should be publicized, even if it is just upgrading drainage systems.  (And without the right kind of drainage systems, Virginia will be welcoming back malaria.)