Climate Resilience

Our climate is changing, and we're already experiencing the effects. But nature itself can help protect us from the most costly impacts of a changing climate.

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The changing climate will affect us all — and already is.

Impacts of a warming world have already altered the lives of millions of people around the globe, particularly coastal communities, poorer communities, communities of color and Indigenous peoples. 

In Washington, a statewide drought in 2015 resulted in water-use limitations, conflicts over water access, loss of crop production, and increases in heat-related illnesses. In 2017, Northwest Washington — like much of the West Coast — was choked by wildfire smoke, which contributes to respiratory illnesses. And in the winter of 2019, Whatcom County was inundated with unprecedented flooding from heavy rains that breached dikes and submerged houses, costing over $4 million, $2.5 million of which was related to road and infrastructure damage. 

These kinds of impacts — drought, fire, flooding — will be the new normal with projected temperature rise. Even with global and local action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we could see an average increase in temperatures of 1.5°C by as soon as 2030 (see our Climate Action page for more info). Scientists warn that moving beyond this level of warming leads to severe climate impacts. Knowing the consequences of warming beyond that, we can prepare now.

How can we prepare?

Individual and local community actions make a difference. More than 10,000 Whatcom residents have joined us in working to create a just and green energy transition out of dangerous and damaging fossil fuels. That work continues. At the same time we must also work to help prepare our community to weather the projected impacts of climate change and do so in a way that creates lasting resilience.

Local climate resilience is achieved when our human communities and the natural functions of environments not only withstand the impacts of climate change, but rebound quickly and thrive. That is how healthy systems operate. When we protect our environment, we increase our resilience as communities.

Here in Northwest Washington, we can defend our home from some of the most severe climate impacts by working to protect the places we love: shorelines, streams and rivers, forests, and marine habitats. When these natural ecosystems are functioning healthily, they can thwart the brunt of severe weather events and make our communities more resilient to local climate impacts — rising sea levels, increased storm intensity, more frequent and severe drought and flooding.

If we protect these natural ecosystems, they will protect us. 

Our Approach
  1. Protect and enhance local ecosystems and the natural environment as our frontline of defense against increasing droughts, floods, and rising seas from climate change.
  2. Use nature-based solutions as part of climate change mitigation (reduction of climate pollution), as these approaches are estimated to provide some one-third of the climate mitigation needed globally by 2030 to keep warming below a 2°C increase.

This means our local leaders in Northwest Washington must act now to prepare for the impacts of climate change by increasing measures to enhance and safeguard the lands and waters we all depend on. This can take the form of scaling up and fast-tracking projects in our local land use, natural resource management and climate adaptation plans, including: 

  • Floodplain restoration
  • Innovative forest management 
  • Water conservation
  • Wetland protection and enhancement 
  • Shoreline protection 

With your help, we can create a region where our communities — human and otherwise — can rebound and thrive well into the future. Here are RE Sources’ top six approaches to building climate resilience in Northwest Washington:

  • Protection and restoration of the Salish Sea and the waters that feed it at the state and local levels. We increasing our efforts to restore natural areas in floodplains, improve water quality, implement water conservation efforts and protect thriving forests and vital marine habitats. 
  • Advocate for funding Salish Sea recovery efforts to levels needed to achieve the goals outlined in the Puget Sound Action agenda and to mitigate for the increasing impacts of climate change on those goals.
  • Continue advocating for protecting vital shorelines governed under the Shoreline Management Plan.
  • Campaign for robust local Climate Adaptation Plans, specifically urging the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County, to build out their plans with:
    • The most current climate science related to climate change impacts into all facets of government. Ensure mechanisms are in place to quickly adapt and update their policies and procedures as new science becomes available.
    • Assessments of the vulnerability of human health, current and planned infrastructure, and ecosystems to the impacts of climate change. 
    • Recovery and protection goals that use a lens of climate resilience.
  • Work with local climate committees and local governments to secure adequate funding for climate preparedness and adaptation planning.
  • Share stories of success to help the public better understand the current and projected future impacts of climate change locally and the ways in which we can incorporate preparedness and resilience into our community and natural resource planning.

 

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During every Washington State legislative session, we advocate for laws that tackle climate-heating emissions while restoring and protecting vital land and waterways — and protecting the people who are most impacted locally by a changing climate. A few examples from our 2021 legislative priorities:

  • Recover salmon and orca by restoring habitat through net ecological gain (HB 1117). Nature filters out pollution, stores greenhouse gases, and uses intact shorelines to limit the damage of floods and storms — all for free! Net ecological gain is a concept that requires development to rebuild natural functions it impacts through restoration of wetlands and shorelines. The Legislature funded an effort to define and determine how to achieve net ecological gain in 2020; however, the funding was returned due to pandemic response and uncertainty around revenue forecasts.
  • Washington STRONG Act (SB 5373). A resilient recovery program that would generate at least $16 billion over 10 years to accelerate our transition to a clean economy and create more than 100,000 local, family-wage jobs.
  • Environmental justice: HEAL Act (Healthy Environment for All, SB 5141). Defines environmental justice across state agencies, requires internal agency action plans to incorporate environmental justice, creates an Environmental Justice Council and Office of Environmental Justice Ombuds, and requires agencies to use an environmental justice analysis for major decisions.
  • Incorporate climate change into growth plans (WA Can’t Wait, HB 1099). The Growth Management Act (GMA) is well overdue for revisions to incorporate climate change. WA Can’t Wait legislation will direct counties and cities to reduce transportation sector emissions through vehicle miles traveled (VMT), require climate adaptation planning (address impacts resulting from sea level rise, wildfires, smoke, drought, and more), and include an environmental justice element into Comprehensive Plans.

See all of our 2021 legislative priorities

Like what you see and want to advocate with us? Join the Legislative Action Team for weekly actions and updates during the legislative session each year.

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