Growing Returns

Climate change will force us to make tough decisions. Adaptive management can help.

In the face of climate change, it can be difficult to balance environmental, economic and community needs, but it’s a challenge we must overcome to adapt, survive and thrive.

To do this, professionals from multiple sectors across the globe are increasingly incorporating adaptive management techniques into resource planning for all kinds of essential ecosystems – from major watersheds like the Mississippi River Delta to high food production regions like the Corn Belt.

The lessons learned from past management decisions in these places will help shape resilience strategies for communities and industries around the world as they prepare for a new normal. Read More »

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Environmental impact bonds can help make coastal communities safer, sooner. Here’s how.

Last year’s hurricane season was the most destructive disaster season in U.S. history, causing $265 billion in damage and forcing more than one million Americans from their homes.

As climate change causes weather to get more extreme, coastal communities across the country are struggling to find cost-effective solutions to enhance their resiliency to storms and develop new ways to finance that work.

Photo Credit: Karen A. Westphal, Audubon Louisiana

How can we help make coastal communities more resilient more quickly? How can we engage the private sector in coastal resiliency efforts and generate a financial return for investors?

Together with my EDF colleagues and partners, I set out to explore how one innovative financing mechanism – environmental impact bonds – might help. Read More »

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4 ways drones are helping people and nature prepare for climate change

Drones have taken off in popularity, as updates in technology have made them more affordable and maneuverable. These advancements are allowing researchers to capture high-resolution data with accuracy, precision and ease, making drones a valuable tool for understanding how the world around us is changing, and how we can manage this change.

My Environmental Defense Fund colleagues are exploring ways drones can help us build ecosystem resilience, from corn fields in the heartland to wetlands along our coasts.

Here are four inspiring examples. Read More »

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This new technology allows you to visit coastal Louisiana from your couch

There is nothing like a boat ride through Louisiana’s Wax Lake Delta. This lush landscape, teeming with birds and wildlife, is an example of what Louisiana’s coast can look like if we use the Mississippi River to build land and increase the state’s resilience to storms and rising seas. It’s truly a beautiful place.

In stark contrast, a short plane ride over the region from New Orleans shows the true reality: Much of Louisiana’s coast is disappearing, as coastal wetlands cut off from the Mississippi River turn into open water. This Swiss cheese effect is startling when seen from the air. Read More »

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Coastal resilience is getting high-tech, but there are still information gaps to fill

Coastal communities are struggling to accurately understand their flooding risks and identify appropriate solutions for mitigating the effects of rising seas and increased storm surges.

Fortunately, new technologies are emerging that facilitate more rapid acquisition of more accurate data and improve data visualization to support efforts to build coastal resilience.

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Leaders in the private sector have already developed bold new technologies – from satellites and sensors to machine learning – to help understand risks and develop solutions. But this fourth wave ingenuity is not limited to the private sector. Several public sector entities offer innovative and readily usable resources to help build more resilient and safer coastal communities.

Read More »

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Less talk, more action: It’s time to get serious about floodplain management

I was recently cleaning out old files and came across notes from a presentation I made after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993. It was on the state of the nation’s floodplain management, a topic even more relevant today.

Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating, record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted by the frequency of such events.

Sadly, many of the lessons I shared in my presentation back then remain true today.

It’s time we stop talking and get serious about improving our nation’s floodplain management by putting these lessons into action.

Photo credit: Association of State Floodplain Managers via FloodStorageEricJohnson (license)

Read More »

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What the world can learn from Louisiana about living with climate change

Louisiana is emerging as a global leader in how to sustainably plan for the future in the face of increased storms, coastal erosion and rising seas. By combining nature-based solutions with traditional flood protection measures, Louisiana is a proving ground for living with climate change.

The lessons Louisiana can teach are not new, but they build upon those first taught by the Dutch. The Netherlands has taught the world innumerable lessons in flood protection – but historically, the Dutch have been primarily focused on building walls to keep water out, rather than finding more sustainable ways to protect coastal communities.

That is until recently, when the Dutch began embracing a more nature-based approach of “living with water,” similar to what is happening in Louisiana.

We can change the way we face coastal flooding challenges if we blend coastal restoration, protection and community resiliency measures. Louisiana’s multiple-lines-of-defense approach is a model for other coastal places, including the Netherlands, that are planning their futures in the face of climate change. Read More »

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In a race against time, officials collaborate to speed up coastal restoration. Here’s how.

Louisiana is in the midst of a catastrophic land loss crisis. The state has already lost over 2,000 square miles of land, and it could lose as much as 4,000 square miles more if nothing is done to restore the coast.

As these wetlands disappear into the Gulf of Mexico, so do the natural protections that shield New Orleans and other coastal communities from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

It’s a dilemma that’s playing out in coastal communities across the United States and around the world.

So it came as welcome news when state and federal regulators this month agreed to shave nearly two years off the five-year permitting process for a diversion project that will allow the mighty Mississippi River to do its natural business of building much-needed land.

It’s an acknowledgment that we’ve no time to lose in preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Read More »

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How can communities get the most from investing in nature?

In places like Nevada, ranching has been a way of life for generations, and industries like mining provide key drivers of economic growth and community stability. But these landscapes also hold economic, historical and cultural values tied to the health and stewardship of natural resources.

The same is true for other communities across the country that are striving to address growing needs for infrastructure, economic growth, clean air and safe drinking water.

Balancing community resiliency, economic stability and stewardship of natural resources is no easy task. But a new funding mechanism is gaining traction on the ground in key places, providing proving grounds for how communities can make cost-effective investments in their futures. Read More »

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4 ways to strengthen coastal communities’ resilience before the next storm

This blog was authored by Shannon Cunniff, with contributions from Kate Zerrenner.

The 2017 hurricane season sounded the alarm for coastal communities across the country and across the world that are facing increased exposure to powerful storms.

Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, where hurricanes are often the most destructive weather phenomena bringing rain, wind, waves and storm surge that too often result in significant loss of life. With a changing climate, we can expect more extreme weather. But we don’t have to expect the same levels of devastation.

There are steps we can take to decrease coastal communities’ vulnerability to storms, lower the risk of damaging floodwaters, and reduce the impacts associated with these disasters. Read More »

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