Climate Resilience in Grand Rapids: A WMEAC Report

Climate resilience, as defined by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), is “the ability of a community to simultaneously balance ecological, economic, and social systems to maintain or increase quality of life in an uncertain, dynamic climate future.”

report on climate resilience from WMEAC

Click to download WMEAC’s report on local climate resilience.

WMEAC conducted research and interviews throughout 2013. Then, on December 3, 2013, it presented its report on local climate resilience to the Grand Rapids City Commission.

Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell sits on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and lauded WMEAC’s efforts.

[The report] is an exceptional piece of work. […] [It] is on the leading edge nationwide when it comes to the scope and nature of this report.

—Mayor George Heartwell

Climate Resilience Explained

Proponents of climate resilience (also called “climate resiliency” ) seek to mitigate climate change or adapt to its effects.

For example, rather than try to “save the planet,” a climate-resilient city might increase its urban tree canopy. (GR’s Urban Forest Project seeks to do exactly that.)

Doing so captures more carbon dioxide locally and helps to manage stormwater runoff. In addition, a denser urban tree canopy provides shade to residences and businesses, which lowers cooling costs in the summer.

Climate resilience is about much more than just “going green.”

Climate resilience efforts aren’t born only out of a concern for the environment. Economic considerations come into play, too.

For example, lower water levels in the Great Lakes affect the amount of cargo that shippers can transport. If a ship’s hull isn’t buoyed by deep enough water, it can run aground. Shallower waters mean that ships have to carry lighter loads.

129 Pages of Community-Saving Research

The Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report is a great primer on topics that concern municipalities and their residents. The text presents data about flooding, urban agriculture, wetlands, stormwater management, transportation, and the urban tree canopy. Below are a few excerpts from the report.

On the meaning of climate resilience:
“Climate resiliency represents a new paradigm for local sustainability. […] [It] recognizes the existence of opportunities on which to capitalize in a dynamic climate future.” (p. 4)

On the role that insurers play in climate resilience:
“Insurance companies, and reinsurance companies in particular, are taking action on climate change. They are working it into their business models, quantitatively programming it into their rates, and advocating for climate action…” (p. 34)

On the right balance of tree species in a city:
“No single species should make up more than 10% of a city’s tree population.” (p. 67)

climate resilience in Lakes Michigan and Huron

WMEAC’s report on climate resilience discusses the effects of climate change on Lakes Michigan and Huron.

WMEAC and RedLine

When WMEAC’s policy director spoke to me about editing the report, I thought that it would be a great RedLine project. The fact that WMEAC is local was just the icing on the cake.

We love working with clients that are doing good work, especially those that are socially responsible.

WMEAC doesn’t just talk a good game, of course. It acts.

Thanks to the nonprofit, volunteers helped fill sandbags during the 2013 flood in Grand Rapids. Another past project saw WMEAC helping to create a “green roof” for the beloved Marie Catrib’s restaurant.

In short, WMEAC acts today but thinks about tomorrow. Visit its website or read the full report.

What You Can Do to Help

This report is one of the first reports (if not the first) to address climate resilience using a midsize American city as the focal point.

If you think someone in your city should read this post, then share it. Your community may just benefit.

Additional sources:
“WMEAC Presents Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report Findings.” The Rapidian. December 3, 2013.

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