Adapt & Thrive — Preparing for the effects of climate change in the Buffalo-Niagara Region
Bringing preparedness to the Buffalo-Niagara Region presents an opportunity to thrive, not just survive. If we prepare both our physical and societal infrastructure, and continue to build on the revitalization it is already experiencing, a once Queen City could be so again in a region that will be one of the most livable in the country.
Designing to Live Sustainably (d2ls) is leading an initiative to develop a Buffalo-Niagara Regional Climate Model, starting with Weathering Change in WNY.
An overarching aspect of our responsibility to future generations is our responsibility to both prevent what global warming can still be prevented, and to prepare for the effects that are certain to impact us. Designing to Live Sustainably knew that just recognizing WNY is well positioned to adapt and thrive in the effects of climate change would not in itself be enough. In order to prepare for them we need to know what to prepare for.
Two climate-related products have been produced − a first step in developing a more elaborate regional model. Collaborating with Dr. Stephen Vermette, a climatologist with the Department of Geography & Planning at SUNY Buffalo State, we have defined and described five WNY climate zones within the eight county WNY region and (see WNY’s 5 Climate Zones.) And, using a trend analysis approach − a look at where climate may take us in the future − we have taken a first step towards understanding our regional climatic responses, and non responses, to global warming. This understanding is critical when considering adaptation strategies, as well as potential opportunities for our region (see A Look at Climate Change in WNY.)
Building the WNY climate zones began first by defining boundaries based on three climate controls: elevation, proximity to Lakes Erie or Ontario, and population density. Modeled climate data (PRISM data), using the 1981-2010 Normal, were superimposed over the controls to validate these boundaries and to define the climate within each zone. Individual station data were used to validate the modeled data. Lastly, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and severe weather frequencies , obtained from NOAA’s sever weather database, were used to further define the climate in each zone.
One of the region’s comparative advantages is its positioning relative to much of the country regarding the effects of global warming, a changing climate (see U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters 2011-2017).
A distinctive feature of this initiative will be the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping overlays of afforestation, agriculture, hydrology, topography, infrastructure, and built environment with the high resolution model to:
–Provide an accessible tool to predict the debilitating structural impacts on infrastructure as a result of the geophysical effects of climate change. All levels of governance have infrastructure in WNY that will be impacted and should start acting now to ensure a high level of functionality.
—Encourage using more arable land for farming by identifying the most suitable, promising locations. The GIS mapping overpays on projected changes in the climate will facilitate planting the type of crops that will do best in the change. Plantings for what the climate will be in 10-50 years will be important.
—Evaluate the effects on the region’s human ecology—including public health—and plan resources allocations to best accommodate the growth in population while preserving the region’s natural resource base, notably the water and arable land.
—Promote the Buffalo Niagara Region and WNY as a great place for new businesses by making the case to locate here for its comparative natural advantages, including less impact form severe and catastrophic weather events.
—Prepare for the climate migrants we will experience from climate changes and catastrophic effects occurring outside our region. Buffalo and WNY have significant comparative advantages over other geographic areas which will attract migrants in increasingly significant numbers as climate events elsewhere become more frequent and severe.
—Plan for the changes in disease vectors, animal migration, invasive species.
The physical effects of global warming will impact everyone, from the most prominently successful businesses to those needing the most help to emerge from inequality. We can adapt and thrive only if we respect that and we apply judicious planning that includes everyone. If we don’t include that in our work, taking our responsibility to future generations to heart, the now disadvantaged will become even more disadvantaged. If we do plan judiciously and prepare accordingly, we will help end the inequality.