3 Ways To Make Your Home More Resilient & Sustainable This Spring
As we consider our exposure to the impacts of climate change, we need to be looking closely at the place we call home.
Whether you rent or own, live on the coast or in the mountains, or somewhere in between, climate change is likely to both directly and indirectly impact you. In many parts of the United States, flood risk is increasing due to changing patterns in rainfall, intensifying hurricanes, and rising sea levels, while other areas are facing increased wildfire and drought-related risks. These impacts are leading to significant costs, damages, and loss of life. In 2021, there were 20 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the United States, causing $152.6 billion in damage.
Understand the climate risks in your area
Why does this matter to you, especially if you're lucky enough to not have directly experienced one of these events? Take, for example, the increased costs from these events and the growing risk of more properties and people being exposed to these impacts. The United States coastal area is home to 42% of the population.
With rising sea levels, many people, property, critical habitat, and infrastructure like roads and ports are at risk. Critically, this is not going unnoticed by insurance companies, who are increasing the cost of homeowner's insurance for many of us, or dropping coverage altogether. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also planning to reduce subsidies for flood insurance.
What can you do? Look at local, state, or federal risk maps to understand your climate risks. Concerned about floods, for example? Look at flood maps supplied by FEMA or your local municipality (and be to sure to ask if the maps account for future climate change). If you live on the coast, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper. Wondering about wildfires? Check out the U.S. Forest Service's Wildfire Risk to Communities interactive maps and resources. Understand your risks, advocate for solutions that protect you and your community, and ensure you are insured for the risks you might face.
Questions to ask
Be thoughtful about air-conditioning
In 2019, around 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were produced, cooling our homes, workplaces, stores, and industrial facilities around the world. That's equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by over 215 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for a year. Globally, between 1990 to 2016, the energy associated with cooling buildings tripled.
The market for air-conditioning in emerging and developing economies is also heating up, with an estimated 10% increase in demand for cooling equipment between 2018 and 2019 alone!
As the world heats up, the global demand for air-conditioning is expected to triple by 2050, with an estimated 66% increase in the number of cooling units installed by 2030. Ensuring a sufficient, reliable, equitable, and clean supply of energy and climate-controlled spaces is critical. This will require a comprehensive response by governments, corporations, and local and state decision-makers. According to the International Energy Agency, increasing the energy efficiency of our air-conditioning systems could avoid up to 460 billion tons of emissions over the next 40 years and save around $3 trillion over the next 30 years.
As an individual, you can take some important steps to reduce cooling-related emissions: Replace systems older than 10 years with new, high-efficiency models, install a smart thermostat, avoid making your house an icebox, and weatherproof your home to keep cool air inside. Consider engaging with your local elected officials to ensure that everyone in your community has access to cool public spaces, like cool and clean air shelters during heat events. We also need as many voices as possible advocating for energy efficiency and energy security at local, federal, and international levels.
So be a cool kid on the block and turn on your high-efficiency AC unit sparingly. Then write an email or letter to an elected official asking for their commitment to energy efficiency and energy security.
Questions to ask
Garden for a greener planet
As we consider climate change in our homes, we should also consider our yards, gardens, and green spaces. Many gardeners are likely familiar with the USDA's plant hardiness zones, which are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature and are often used to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a given region. In a warming world, plant hardiness zones have shifted northward, changing the types of trees, flowers, shrubs, and other plants that thrive in different regions.
As warming continues, selecting plants adapted to new climate conditions will help ensure a thriving and resilient garden. This is particularly true for trees, which are increasingly showing a northward shift in their range. One study documented that across 30 eastern U.S. states, 70% of the tree species assessed were migrating northward. Want to know what might thrive in your area? Reach out to your local extension service for information and advice. Other climate-friendly gardening options include planting perennials and pollinator-friendly plants and using less turf grass.
Interested in documenting the changes you see in your yard or community? The USA National Phenology Network is always looking for observers around the country to help track the timing of seasonal changes in plants—like when cherry blossoms or lilacs bloom or when the fall colors arrive. These locally collected data are critical for helping to track changes across plant and animal communities.
When it comes to the lawn and gardening tools we use, opting for electric is key. Take gas leaf blowers as an example. Those seemingly small devices pack a real climate punch. A consumer-grade leaf blower emits more pollutants than a large truck! In fact, these tiny but mighty gas guzzlers may soon be outlawed; California has plans to outlaw such machines as early as 2024.
In addition to making a shift in the plants you grow at home, consider encouraging your local parks department and other yard service providers to make the shift as well. It can be good for their wallets, their workers, and all of our health, not to mention our climate!
Questions to ask
© 2023 by Heidi A. Roop Ph.D. All rights reserved. Excerpted from The Climate Action Handbook by permission of Sasquatch Books.
Dr. Heidi Roop is the director of the University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership and an assistant professor of Climate Science and Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota. Her research and Extension programs combine cutting-edge climate science and effective science communication to increase the use and integration of climate change information in decision-making at a range of scales—from city and state to national and international levels. Her climate science research takes her around the world from Antarctica to California to the shores of Lake Superior.
She is also an affiliate assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and serves as an expert advisor to organizations and agencies as they seek to build resilience to climate change.