- - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Global concerns channeled into practical solutions can make communities more resilient

Rapid environmental change is a significant global challenge with wide-reaching impacts to national security, business continuity and global health. Even as the White House withdraws the United States from the Paris Accords, the effects of climate change are already being felt today in our local communities.

This is true even in the American Midwest.

Consider the effects on our home state of Indiana, one of the nation’s top-producing agricultural states and a key agricultural exporter. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the effects of extreme weather — from heat, heavy rains and flooding — have cost us more than $6 billion since 2011.

Events like these create increased volatility in crop yields and overall production. Meanwhile, rising temperatures over the coming decades are predicted to further jeopardize the nearly $6 billion in annual corn and soybean production in our region.

Public health is also threatened. Shorter, less-intense winters have contributed to a startling 430 percent increase in documented cases of Lyme disease since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And these are just a few examples from one state grappling with adverse changes.

While America’s national debate has stagnated around what causes environmental change and whether the United States should continue to be part of global efforts to fight it, many states, cities and companies are taking a different approach.

Many have reaffirmed their own pledges to meet Paris targets. And many are also channeling a global concern into local action by developing practical solutions that make communities stronger and better equipped to respond to environmental challenges.

In our own state, a combination of bipartisan political officials, industry leaders and community groups have joined forces to learn how to adapt to environmental change as it is being uniquely felt in the Midwest.

Led by Indiana University, the coalition has embarked on a $55 million research initiative called Prepared for Environmental Change, aimed to equip business and nonprofit leaders, state policymakers, local mayors and the public with the tools to anticipate and respond to environmental change.

These tools include accurate predictions of future environmental changes, practical steps and actionable policy recommendations that can mitigate harmful effects, an Environmental Resilience Index to help leaders measure and improve the ability of Indiana communities to respond to change, and effective strategies for communicating findings and recommendations in ways that are both understandable and useful.

Environmental resiliency isn’t just about rising sea levels or wildfires on the coasts. It’s about stabilizing conditions for our farmers, stopping the spread of diseases, defending ourselves from serious weather disasters, and creating more livable towns and cities.

Every state and community should be having these critical conversations to develop innovative solutions that are tailored to their distinct needs and the challenges they face. And in our hyperpartisan political environment where federal leadership withdraws, building these diverse, independent local coalitions is all the more critical.

States have long been called the laboratories of our democracy. This may be particularly true, and is especially needed, when it comes to building the broad coalitions necessary to combat the effects of environmental change.

Of course, no single state can stop climate change in its tracks, but with creativity, foresight and a culture of collaboration, state and local leaders — even in red America — can take meaningful steps to help their corner of the planet prepare, adapt and prosper.

• Richard Lugar, a Republican, is a former member of the U.S. Senate. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and is director of Indiana University’s Center on Representative Government. Both are Distinguished Scholars and Professors of Practice in Indiana University’s School of Global and International Affairs.

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