Why Seattle Will Stay Dry When Your City Floods
Exports from the Rainy City: Microsoft, Starbucks, and...urban climate change survival tactics?
Editor's note: What's the best way to adapt to our rapidly warming world? That's the question journalist Mark Hertsgaard asks in his new book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. The following article is the first of a two-part adaptation about how American cities are preparing for global warming. Join Grist's live chat with Mark Hertsgaard here at noon PST/3 p.m. EST.
As a father living in the era of global warming, I have my good days and my bad days. The bad days you can probably imagine. Writing this book has taught me more than I'd like to know about our climate dilemma: about how drastically our civilization must change course to avoid catastrophe, how stubbornly some people and institutions resist even minor shifts in direction, and how destabilizing the impacts that are already locked in are likely to be.
But I have good days as well, and these are usually inspired by stories that show that the climate fight is not hopeless after all. One of my best days came in June of 2008, when I went to Seattle to interview Ron Sims. As the chief executive of King County, Sims was the top elected official of a municipality that encompasses the city of Seattle, some of its suburbs, and the corporate headquarters of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing. Over the past 15 years, Sims had pioneered a fresh, farsighted, effective response to climate change that local governments across the United States and around the world were beginning to copy. He had linked his climate policy to a larger agenda of advancing social justice and pro-business economic development. And he had done this while remaining strikingly popular with voters, winning three straight elections by comfortable margins.
What most set Sims apart was the two-track climate strategy he employed. "We absolutely need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we also have to adapt to the impacts we can no longer prevent," he told me outside his office in downtown Seattle. "The scientists say our region will see warmer, wetter winters in the future. The snowpack [atop the Cascades east of King County] will shrink. That means there won't be enough water for everyone if we don't get going on adaptation."