Adapting to Changes Caused by Global Warming

Across the United States and beyond, the effects of climate change may be dramatic. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that worldwide economic losses due to natural disasters appear to be doubling every ten years, and the next decade will reach $150 billion a year.4 Natural disasters appear to be more frequent and more severe.5 Campus planners should consider the energy delivery, increased frequency of floods, and consequences of higher average temperatures that are predicted (often by academics) to occur. Box 9.3 shows some of these effects.

Some members of the private sector are taking climate-related warnings seriously. In particular, the insurance and reinsurance industries are actively working to bring attention to this problem. In some cases, insurance companies are canceling policies for coastal properties due to the increasing risk of storm-related flooding. Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurance company, believes that losses in their industry could

Box 9.3

Effects of climate change and planning implications

Energy demands While less heating fuel may be needed in winter, the summer peak electricity load may increase.

Energy cost Climate change may cause energy costs to rise due to increased demand and increased frequency of disruption in supply. Storms Increased storm activity could mean higher repair costs as well as increased service outages. Storm events may become more severe, so planning systems to handle additional stormwater will be needed. Water Water supply and quality may be impacted by climate change. There could be issues of shortages or changes in the quality, especially if salinity changes in coastal areas.

Flooding Current infrastructure planning often considers the 100- or 150-year floodplain, but with increased extreme weather events and higher seas, these planning benchmarks need to be revised. University infrastructure involving sewage capacity, underground utilities, and transport should be considered.

Agriculture Food costs may be increased because of global warming changes throughout North America.

Sea-level rise Sea-level rise may be more than 3 meters in the next century. This rapid change will dramatically alter coasts and affect properties far inland as well.

be significant. Chris Walker, a top executive from the company, told an audience at Tufts in January 2003 that in Europe, it is a foregone conclusion that climate change will have an impact and that corporate America needs a wake-up call.6

The university's ability to secure insurance in the face of changing conditions is an aspect of planning that deserves attention. Insurance for flooding, storm damage (including wind, snow, and ice loads), and power disruption are important considerations for the future.

Predicting climate changes specific to a particular geographic region is an area of climate science that is not fully developed. This is due in large part to the great complexity of global systems, as well as to the limitations of models used to predict effects and the uncertainty associated with local variations in key parameters such as precipitation and evapotranspiration. A pioneering study conducted at Tufts called Climate Impacts on Metro Boston (CLIMB) was an early attempt to model the effects of climate change on a relatively small region.7 The results show that the Boston area will likely experience temperature- and storm-

related changes that can affect campus infrastructure. These predicted changes should influence campus master planning, facilities planning, and emergency planning. For example, predicted warmer temperatures will result in a greater need for air-conditioning to maintain comfort levels. At present, Tufts does not routinely air-condition residence halls, an approach that may become unrealistic if temperature increases occur sooner than scientists originally predicted. If more campus spaces are air-conditioned, the operational costs and maintenance considerations may favor central cooling rather than the current system of room air-conditioning units in many spaces. Schools in other parts of the country face these and other planning challenges associated with climate change.

For many areas, and the colleges and universities within them, the effect of sea-level rise may be devastating. As the earth's surface warms, global sea levels will rise due to melting glaciers, thermal expansion of the oceans, and changes to the major Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. In the near term (the next fifty years) these effects may cause increased flooding, salt contamination of freshwater supplies, and exacerbated storm action. Colleges and universities near oceans should consider their vulnerability to these devastating effects.

Continue reading here: Linking Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies

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