June 16, 2014; Fast Company, “Co.Exist”

With an issue as large and complex as global climate change, what are the implications for a typical nonprofit working at the local or regional scale? Furthermore, what if the nonprofit isn’t focused on environmental issues? If you were located in Vermont, you might find ample reason to track opportunities for action, because you’d have detailed, specific information about the speed and intensity of climate change and the anticipated wide-ranging effects of that change. Vermont is a microcosm of what may be coming to your neck of the woods soon.

That’s because Vermont has just completed the nation’s first state-level assessment of likely changes in climate and the impacts for the next hundred years. Produced through the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the University of Vermont, the Vermont Climate Assessment includes many categories of data and associated localized impacts of climate change: policy measures, community infrastructure, energy, water resources, forests, agriculture, recreation and tourism, public health, transportation and housing, and community education. Some of these impacts are already evident in Vermont, and many others are expected to occur within the span of a single generation.

Of specific note for the nonprofit community, the Vermont Assessment predicts major public negative health impacts (especially for already vulnerable populations), increased economic development opportunities related to recreation and tourism, increased pressures on affordable housing supplies as flooding displaces housing from flat, low lying valleys, and a mixed impact on regional food systems as the growing season lengthens but farm production becomes more erratic due to weather extremes.

While some impacts can be mitigated or lessened by policies to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or shifting to renewable non-carbon energy sources, the Vermont report echoes many other studies that stress the need to go beyond mitigation and actively adapt our behavior and communities to the reality of a significantly different climate for future generations. This is where the nonprofit sector, with its attention to the most vulnerable members of society, its capacity to leverage creative partnerships to deal with complex issues, and its non-partisan orientation, could add great value.

Are the implications of climate change and the need for adaptation strategies on your organization’s radar? If so, we’d love to hear what you’re doing.—Kathi Jaworski