Just after Thanksgiving when many Americans were doing their best to rest and digest, we were handed an extra serving of dread in the form of the 4th National Climate Assessment.
The report predicts a 10% shrink in U.S. GDP by 2100 and for supply chains, a growing crescendo of infrastructure calamities that could greatly affect efficiency and basic capabilities we take for granted today.
The problem is indeed intractable. We're not going to reverse it in time to avoid the dire effects. Images of cracking roads and flooded runways are not inspiring, and it is easy to assume that no progress is being made to prepare. But it's encouraging to learn that is far from the case.
Climate change has two elements to consider — prevention and preparation — and transportation reliant businesses wield a lot of power in both.
I'd wager that for supply chain managers, preparation is an easier sell that could open a discussion and pave the way to talking about prevention. Either way, we know for sure that fear, frustration and avoidance don't work.
So what's happening? Here's a non-exhaustive look at some of the efforts in progress that will benefit supply chains:
- City planners in Charlotte County, Florida, conducted a long-range study to show what urban development would look like in moving away from areas likely to be affected by sea level rise, taking into account transportation and supply routes. After evaluating this plan and one that does not take climate change into account, planners landed on a hybrid.
- Portland, Oregon's transit authority is installing expansion joints on rails to prevent the buckling that can come from extreme temperature swings and faster flowing water.
- New York City is installing more street-level grates to prevent flooding from more extreme rainstorms.
- The California Department of Transportation has been incorporating sea level rise into project designs since 2011.
- Maryland is developing a digital tool to track sea level rise and its effect on assets like roads and bridges.
- New York City, Boston and seven states — California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin — have all conducted vulnerability studies for climate change risk.
It's really time to dive into this. The efforts outlined above are not just models to follow. They suggest questions to ask the people and institutions that manage the roads and bridges you rely on.
The health of the planet and the health of the economy go hand in hand. Keeping the economy functioning well puts companies with serious power in a financial position to make operational changes that can help, like L'Oreal's work to reduce its transportation emissions.
We don't have time to watch this problem approaching anymore (it's already here anyway), and we don't have time for the anxiety that comes from simply watching either. As Vox climate reporter David Roberts said in a recent podcast interview: "Don't waste the mental energy. Just do the work."