Resilence Matters e-book: The year when climate change got real

But if climate change got real in 2019, climate resilience got realer

In her introduction to "Resilience Matters: Action in an Age of Uncertainy," republished below with permission from Island Press, Laurie Mazur doesn't mince words — our communities are facing unprecedented challenges in the face of a rapidly changing climate. But that doesn't mean communities across the country, and indeed the world, aren't making promising strides to protect themselves. We encourage you to download the full e-book from the Urban Resilience Project (link available below) for stories of how local governments, activists and concerned citizens from coast to coast are reimagining what it means to be resilient in an increasingly uncertain world.

The year 2019 may be remembered as the year when climate change got real.

It was a year that saw the hottest month in human history (July), and one that capped the warmest decade on record. There was unprecedented heat in Europe, and dozens died in India as temperatures soared to 123 degrees Fahrenheit. At year’s end, heat and drought fueled apocalyptic bushfires across Australia.

Records were obliterated in the U.S. as well, as the mercury hit 90 degrees in Alaska. By mid-year, the nation had seen its wettest 12-month period in history. Epic floods inundated the Midwest, delaying planting season and compounding farmers’ economic misery.

Image: Island Press
Image: Island Press

Meanwhile, the UN reiterated its warning that we have just over a decade to bend the curve of carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. Yet global emissions continued to rise, as atmospheric CO2 reached its highest level in three million years.

But, if climate change got real in 2019, climate resilience got realer. The Trump Administration may have abdicated its responsibility to head off climate chaos, but so many others — mayors, activists, scientists, ordinary people — stepped into the breach. At the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, we have the great privilege of helping those climate leaders tell their stories, many of which are collected in this volume.

Here, you can read about Susan Liley, a grandmother in DeSoto, Missouri who felt called to activism after her hometown flooded four times in three years. She’s not alone: Across the U.S., flood survivors like Liley are getting organized, asking hard questions and demanding change.

And you can learn from Zach Brown, a Montana state legislator who helped convene farmers, ranchers and scientists to plan for a warming world.

They may not agree on whom to vote for, or which TV news channel to watch,” Brown writes, “But they do agree that the climate is changing, and that agriculture can and must adapt.”

Many of the inspiring stories collected here feature cities at the forefront of climate leadership. On page 91, you’ll see which metropolitan areas are working to promote energy efficiency and scale up renewable energy sources like solar and wind — while making sure the benefits of green energy are shared equitably.

And, you can find out how the humblest tool of government bureaucracy — procurement processes — can be leveraged to create the resilient cities of the future.

Climate-smart cities are actively planning for a future that looks very different from the past. For example, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, chose not to consult outdated FEMA maps when calculating flood risk. Instead, “we look ahead,” says Tim Trautman, program manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, “and base flood plain maps on future conditions” that account for wetter, wilder weather.

Same in Missoula, Montana, a city that is coping with its first-ever serious heat waves. There, government staff are teaming up with scientists to map heat patterns and protect the most vulnerable residents.

Encouragingly, we are seeing new cross-sector partnerships—like the Just Growth Circle, in Atlanta — that fuse climate concerns with long-standing struggles for racial and social equity. Such partnerships are producing a new approach to climate adaptation, focused on building economic and environmental resilience in low-income communities and communities of color.

In Washington, DC, for example, a nonprofit housing group joined with a solar-energy company to provide
solar power and a “resilience center” in an affordable apartment building. The solar panels save residents money on electricity, while the resilience center provides respite during storms and power outages.

These efforts take a clear-eyed view of the challenges ahead, and reduce impacts on the most vulnerable. But resilience isn’t just about preparing for the worst. Increasingly, it’s about envisioning a greener, fairer future.

For example, Denise Fairchild and Anthony Giancatarino envision a transition from our top-down, fossil-fueled energy system to community-owned green power.

That transition could “put power, quite literally, in the hands of the people,” they write, by bringing “needed jobs and investment to . . . the scarred mountain towns of Appalachia, the low-income neighborhoods shadowed by power plants and refineries, and communities being displaced by sea-level rise.”

And, as Fairchild and Giancatarino report, that transition has begun, in communities from Richmond, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Climate change is real, and the stories in this volume do not sugar-coat the challenges before us. But here you will also find stories of real resistance and resilience. In the face of an uncertain and frankly terrifying future, people are waking up, getting organized, building new partnerships and envisioning a better world. As Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.”

Download "Resilience Matters: Action in an Age of Uncertainty" at

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