A forthcoming report by NASA scientist James Hansen and his colleagues will statistically link recent extreme weather events to climate change. As evidence, Hansen points to Europe's 2003 heat wave, Russia's 2010 heat wave, and the recent severe droughts across 56% percent of the lower 48 states of the U.S.
This data paints a dire portrait of climate change. NASA documents the global changes through key indicators: global temperatures have increased an average of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. Arctic sea ice has decreased by over a million square miles in the past 30 years. Sea levels are now rising at a rate of 3.17 mm per year, which is significantly faster than sea level rise experienced 50 years ago.
These changes are happening today, and will grow more severe with time. Climate change has already led to dramatic changes within nomadic and coastal communities. Agricultural systems are being forced to accommodate the changing weather and climate patterns, or risk catastrophe. In order for society to successfully adapt to the changes in climate, policymakers must implement farsighted and comprehensive strategies.
In this shifting environmental reality, we can only achieve sustainable prosperity if policymakers realize that change is occurring rapidly and prioritize effective strategies to adapt to rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and unpredictable weather patterns. Although long-term policy goals are often politically challenging to implement, the Dutch have demonstrated that preparedness can be achieved.
The Netherlands is a country particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, as two-thirds of its population lives below sea level. Throughout its history, the Dutch have understood the inevitability of change and how society must work with nature for effective strategies. In 2007, the Dutch began preparing for the changing climate in the upcoming two hundred years. They recognize that their nation will continue to combat rising seas, and must act expeditiously in order to prevent further encroachment. In State of the World 2012, Erik Assadourian outlines the 200-year plan put forth by the Dutch, describing their strategy to spend $1 billion a year on climate change adaptation. Through such policies, it is clear that the Netherlands is focused on the long-term public interest and not short-term private interests. The Dutch plan combines innovative techniques like building surge barriers and extending the coastline, with more traditional methods, such as fortifying levees.
Creating and approving such a comprehensive, long-term climate plan is difficult, but implementing the plan will be even more challenging -- though the Dutch are making headway. For example, Room for the River, seeks to improve floodplain functions while concurrently improving the environmental and economic qualities of life for those inhabiting the Waal River region. Additionally, Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands, is developing new ways to live with water, including storing it in parking garages and skateparks, and by re-opening canals. Rotterdam hopes to be climate neutral by 2030. The Dutch are even addressing root causes, like dietary norms, in order to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing that meat consumption is resource intensive and produces large amounts of methane, the Dutch government recently invested a million Euros in legislation to facilitate insect farming for human consumption --a very farsighted approach to address climate change.
Though the Dutch are greatly improving their resiliency in the face of long-term climate change, global society has been slow to follow suit. Long-term climate policy has been hampered by future uncertainties, a lack of stakeholder agreement on how to transition from fossil-fuel dependency to a low-carbon society, countries like the U.S. that has delayed international agreements on global warming, and a lack of financial mechanisms with which to fund mitigation and adaptation.
Policymakers are prone to address immediate concerns, such as the economic recession, but such governance will lead us headfirst into a catastrophic future, especially as continued growth currently depends on producing more greenhouse gases. By focusing on long-term strategies governments can implement the systemic changes necessary to ensure a secure and prosperous planet.
(First posted on Worldwatch Institute's blog: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/sustainableprosperity/ and Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)