Let us propose two realities to you:
- Climate change is real, it is here, and it’s going to get worse, perhaps much worse.
- Practically no one in Washington or Frankfort has the political will to do anything meaningful about it.
If you grant us those realities, then some critical questions obviously follow:
- What local risks should Metro Government, and the city as a whole, be looking at with regard to climate change?
- Are we, in fact, managing for those risks? And if not, why not, and when are we going to start?
These questions are vitally important, yet we hear too few in Louisville talking about them, including elected officials. So, Forward Kentucky is going to try to advance the discussion. Let’s see where it takes us.
One of the key tasks for any organization, including government, is risk management:
… the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks (defined in ISO 31000 as the effect of uncertainty on objectives) followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events.
Note that the above Wikipedia definition starts with identifying the risks. Essentially, this means brainstorming around the “what if?” question. Assessment, prioritization, avoidance, and mitigation all come after the ID work.
Here, then, is a starter set of questions for Metro Government, including Metro Council, to get answers to:
- If our average and peak summer temperatures continue to increase, should we institute summer-time white flag days at various government, non-profit, and even corporate locations, such that persons without air conditioning can get out of the heat on those days?
- If our summer air-conditioning bills continue to increase for all government buildings, how will that affect our budgets?
- How much more will capital and maintenance projects cost as higher temperatures demand longer breaks and cancelled work days, not unlike the way rain and snow slow productivity, reducing the productivity of crews working outdoors?
- What other industry segments in Greater Louisville are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change?
- More specifically, are there any particular companies that are especially vulnerable, and do we as a city need to do anything to help them deal with the changes they will have to deal with? For example, could it become too hot in the summer to work during the day at UPS? If we can’t help all local employers to adapt, how will we decide which ones to assist?
- What impact will climate change have on our school schedules, beyond the obvious impacts on physical education and sports programs?
- What effects could climate change have on our tourism industry?
- Beyond heat-related illnesses, what other health effects could climate change cause? Will mosquito-borne illnesses worsen?
- If we have a long-term drought like California’s, do we have water rationing ordinances in place? Do we have enforcement mechanisms for them, with fines sufficient to discourage scofflaws?
- Speaking of water — what are our agreements with upstream communities on the Ohio? In the case of drought, will Kentucky and neighboring states regulate river withdrawals fairly?
- Where does our food come from? Are there any food sources for this area that could be affected or eliminated by climate change? Which crop pests and diseases will worsen with less winter die-off?
- If residents of surrounding counties are more affected by climate change, and decide to move to the city due to their declining economic situation, could they be absorbed readily?
As you can see, some of these are relatively easy questions to ask and answer, while others will take both more research and more thoughtful planning.
The question is, are we asking and answering these questions and others like them? If we are, where then is the public risk management plan for climate change? If we do not have one, it is past time to build one, and to share it. Mayor Fischer, Metro Council – it’s time to get ready.