Moving past predictions and towards robustness

Our climate future, much like our economic future, is very uncertain. This is something that we can all agree on, even the skeptics. Climate models typically input the entire globe, where interactions and feed backs are so complex that we can never promise any future condition with confidence. What is well known is the tendency of our climate system to be variable and change over time, even without increasing ambient temperatures. This is why experts are now suggesting that we move past arguing about scenarios and predictions and move toward preparing for variability and extremes (Hallegatte, 2009). Instead of planning around a given climate scenario, we should plan robustly for resiliency.

Robustness is defined as “a strategy that is effective (in terms of cost, societal impact, and risk reduction) under a range of possible future outcomes” (Lempert et al., 2006). Thus, robust planning will lead to resilient policies, infrastructure, and communities. On a small-scale, we can put aside the debate about global warming and climate change and focus on making the best investments and avoiding risk, just like any savvy businessperson does every day. This is a model that can speak to many people of varied beliefs, backgrounds and interests.

The great news is that policymakers on the national level are recognizing this opportunity, no doubt motivated by events like Hurricane Sandy. On December 19, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Strengthening the Resilience of Our Nation on the Ground Act (STRONG Act, S.3691) to provide state and local governments with information required to improve the resilience of local infrastructure to extreme weather events.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and last year’s Hurricane Irene, the Hudson Valley of New York is taking a lead role in creating resiliency at the municipal level. The City of Kingston has formed a Waterfront Flooding Task Force comprising residents, business owners and policymakers envisioning and planning for a waterfront area that balances economic, cultural and environmental assets (see photo below). There are also 110 municipalities that have taken the Climate Smart Communities pledge. These are just some of the many examples that are happening around the globe.

Credit: Times Herald Record


Hallegatte, S. (2009). Strategies to adapt to an uncertain climate change. Global Environmental Change19(2), 240-247.

Lempert, R. J., Groves, D. G., Popper, S. W., & Bankes, S. C. (2006). A general, analytic method for generating robust strategies and narrative scenarios. Management Science52(4), 514-528.

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