The mounting physical impacts of climate change are beginning to press in on even the most mundane aspects of everyday life, ones almost every American takes for granted. Allowing for exceptions, your morning coffee was made possible thanks to the reliable operations of your local electric and water utilities. These systems that helped you bring the water to a boil, as well as those that ensured the water from your tap was safe to drink, were built in designated locations years ago, were designed for an entirely different climate, and selected through the massively complex process known as siting.
Siting in a Climate Change Context
Siting decisions involve the needs, values, and priorities of many constituencies and rule sets, and most often take several years and sometimes decades to resolve. For example, the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line was originally proposed to the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010. The goal was to move zero emissions, low-cost electricity generated by hydropower in Canada to Maine and other parts of New England, including power hungry Massachusetts. But Maine residents were fed misinformation by groups backed by the fossil fuel industry. Environmental groups also sought to block it as some segments would run through forested lands. And the whole project had to be re-engineered when New Hampshire state regulators, themselves subject to the messages hurled their way by varying interest groups including environmental advocates, voted to bar any development in their state of an earlier iteration of the project dubbed Northern Pass.
In 2021 and beyond, we now must factor in not merely all that, but depending on location and intended lifespan, decision makers must also consider present and looming physical risks infrastructures to include fires, storms, storm surge and flooding, drought, and rising air and water temperatures. For the still-skeptical, here’s just one data point: in the enormous insurance market centered in London, the number of extreme weather events affecting client organizations has tripled in the last 25 years, and the claims paid—adjusted for inflation—increased by a factor of eight.