Case Study 6.1- Adapting to a Changing World
During this activity, your students will:
- Identify to which climate change opinion group they belong (alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive) using a climate change survey instrument.
- Compare the class distribution of climate change opinions to the national distribution.
- Determine their own and their community's social vulnerability to climate change based on demographic factors.
- Distinguish between climate change mitigation and adaptation and the potential pros and cons of each strategy.
- Summarize several methods of 21st-century adaptations to climate change, including agroforestry, floodplain reclamation, insurance policy changes, and response to extreme heat waves.
My goals in creating this activity were to:
- Provide an understanding of current national attitudes about climate change.
- Illustrate the difference between climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation strategies.
- Provide structured opportunities to identify effective 21st-century climate change adaptation efforts.
- Encourage reflection about one's own beliefs about the existence of climate change, humans' contribution to climate change, and the potential impacts of climate change on society.
- Provide opportunities for reflection about the inequity of climate change and the need for climate resilience in industrialized and developing countries.
Context for Use
Educational level: introductory geology, meteorology, oceanography, or other geoscience-related course
Class size: can be adapted to serve a variety of class sizes.
Class format: This activity is suitable for use in a lecture or lab setting but can also be done outside of class as a homework assignment. If this activity is done in class, the desired format is a gallery walk, during which groups of two to four students read several examples of climate change adaptation case studies, followed by a compilation of ideas about personal and local adaptations to climate change in the future. Alternatively, students may read the case studies individually outside of class and write a response to personal and local adaptations to climate change in the future.
Time required: approximately 50 minutes, including a discussion on public opinion about climate change, climate change adaptation vs. mitigation, and the adaptation case studies.
Special equipment: Each student should receive a copy of the preparation exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 135kB Sep9 12). Each student should have access to the climate change adaptation case studies. If the activity is done during class, the instructor should provide copies of the case studies. If the activity is done as a homework assignment, students can access the case studies online.
Skills or concepts that students should have already mastered before encountering the activity:Students should have an awareness of the concept of anthropogenic climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as measured trends in greenhouse gas emissions (as studied in case study 5.2 of the Climate of Change module. Before coming to class, each student should have taken the "6 Americas" online survey and completed the social vulnerability survey.
This activity can be used:
- as an in-class activity on its own or in conjunction with Case Study 6.2, depending on time constraints;
- as a lab on human responses to climate change when combined with Unit 1 and Case Study 6.2;
- as part of the complete Climate of Change InTeGrate module.
Description and Teaching Materials
- Preparation Exercise: What's your Climate Change Personality? (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 135kB Sep9 12) (student handout)
- Adapting to a Changing World: Climate Change and the Insurance Industry (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 428kB Sep15 12) (student handout)
- Adapting to a Changing World: Heat Waves (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2.9MB Sep15 12) (student handout)
- Adapting to a Changing World: Flooding (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 791kB Jun24 14) (student handout)
Gallery walk questions: (these will also be posted as a downloadable file)
Post each question on a piece of poster paper or whiteboard. In groups, students will be provided with a marker and copies of the climate adaptation case studies. Start each group at a particular topic, and after students have read the climate adaptation case studies for that topic, allow each group time to make notes under each question. After each group has visited each question, each group will verbally summarize, for the rest of the class, the information on the first poster that they visited. In low-enrollment classes, each group (depending on group size) could summarize the results of two questions. In high-enrollment classes, each group will likely summarize the results of one question.
Climate Adaptation and the Insurance Industry
- In these case studies, how is the response of the US insurance industry (Alfa and State Farm Florida) different from the HARITA partners?
- Why do you think that HARITA has responded so differently to weather and climate-related insurance issues than Alfa and State Farm Florida have responded?
- How, if at all, is the Alfa and State Farm Florida response an effective climate change adaptation strategy?
- How, if at all, is the HARITA response an effective climate change adaptation strategy?
- Which response—Alfa and State Farm Florida OR HARITA—do you believe is a more effective climate change adaptation strategy?
Adaptation to Extreme Heat Waves
- Name one benefit of installing a cool roof.
- Uncertainty related to climate change means that many cities may need to adapt to increased climate variability. How do projects like the Green Streets Initiative have the potential to help cities adapt to both heat waves and flooding?
- What are some of the differences between adapting to heat waves in a major metropolitan area like New York City vs. a smaller city like Wangaratta? In which type of settlement do you think that adaptation to heat waves would be more challenging? Why?
- Which, if any, of these adaptations to heat waves would be feasible where you live?
Adaptation to Flooding
- How does the Dutch strategy for adapting to climate change-related flooding differ from flood adaptation strategies in the United States? Which country's strategy do you believe is more effective?
- How has the Dutch government differed in its approach to adaptation in rural areas compared to adaptation in urban areas?
- How do you feel about the Dutch government relocating individuals like Jacques Broekmans, whose land lies in a designated flood zone, and widening areas along the Rhine River, allowing some communities to flood?
- The Netherlands is a wealthy, industrialized country. Which of their adaptations would be feasible in poorer, developing countries? Which of their adaptations would not?
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Potential procedure for comparing the class "Six Americas" data to the national data: instructor has alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive written on the board. As students enter the classroom, they are instructed to put a mark under their climate personality from the survey. Instructor tallies the totals for each climate personality and writes the totals on the board, then asks students to calculate the percentages of each climate personality. When finished, the class data can be compared to the national data. Reasons for any observed differences may be speculated upon by the class.
- In getting students to differentiate between mitigation vs. adaptation, there are many geologic and nongeologic analogies that may be utilized other than "the aging starlet" story provided in the PowerPoint slides. For example, faculty using this case study in an environmental geology or natural hazards course could discuss public response to debris flow hazards in Southern California. The instructor could present two debris flow response scenarios and ask students to consider which is an adaptation strategy, which is a mitigation strategy, and pros and cons of each. An interesting adaptation strategy is described in John McPhee's The Control of Nature: "At least one family has experienced so many debris flows coming into their backyard that they long ago installed overhead doors in the rear end of their built-in garage. Now when the boulders come they open both ends of their garage, and the debris goes through to the street" (189).
- There are several methods that may be used in implementing the climate change adaptation examples activity:
- Gallery walk #1:
- Each student is given a handout with all of the climate change adaptation examples.
- Questions about each set of examples are displayed on large pieces of paper, whiteboards, etc., around the classroom.
- In groups, students visit each station, read the climate change adaptation examples from their handout, and write their responses to the questions directly on the large pieces of paper/whiteboards.
- If the instructor chooses/if time allows, a group discussion summarizing the answers to the questions may follow.
- Gallery walk #2:
- Enlarge the font for the climate change adaptation examples and display the examples on large pieces of paper, whiteboards, etc. around the classroom.
- Each group is given a handout with questions for each climate change adaptation strategy.
- In groups, students rotate around the classroom and read the climate change adaptation examples.
- In groups, students answer the questions (on their handout) for each set of examples.
- Virtual gallery walk: if students have computer access, they may read the climate change adaptation examples online on the climate change adaptations page.
- Seated, small-group discussion: same procedure as gallery walk #1, only rather than students answering the questions on large pieces of paper/whiteboards around the classroom, they answer the questions on their handout in small groups.
- If possible, the audio clips on flood adaptation in the Netherlands would be an excellent addition to this activity during class. In a gallery walk setting, students could be prompted to listen to the audio clips before their group answers the flood adaptation questions. Alternatively, the clip could be played for the entire class at once.
(1) There are several methods that may be used to assess the climate adaptation gallery walk. General suggestions for formal and informal assessment of gallery walks are on the SERC website. Ultimately, students should be able to describe how the insurance industry is adapting to weather and climate-related policy claims; the flood adaptation steps being taken by the Netherlands; strategies used by cities of various sizes (Chicago, New York City, Wangaratta) to adapt to heat waves; and adaptive agricultural responses to drought. This could be assessed orally (for example, at the end of the class meeting as students summarize the answers to the posted gallery walk questions), as a short answer question on an exam, or as a written homework assignment.
(2) The following items represent hypothetical strategies to address climate change. Classify each as either a climate change mitigation strategy or a climate change adaptation strategy by placing an X in the appropriate box.
A city installs permeable concrete sidewalks to absorb water during flood events.
A city that has been experiencing drier than normal summers constructs several reservoirs for rainwater collection during the winter.
A state encourages residents to drive vehicles that do not require gasoline by allowing everyone driving an electric vehicle to use highway carpool lanes.
To address rising sea levels, a coastal city changes its building codes to prohibit any additional development within 1 mile of the beach. Historic buildings that are threatened by sea level rise are being relocated farther inland.
A country pledges to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2020.
(3) short answer question: adaptation in Providence, RI (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 380kB Sep15 12)
References and Resources
report: Exposed: Social Vulnerability and Climate Change in the US Southeast. 2009 Oxfam publication.
article: Climate Change Is Here--and It's Worse Than We Thought. 8/12 Washington Post opinion article by James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This piece includes an effective description of Hansen's "climate dice" analogy to distinguish climate change from variations in weather.
article: Global Warming Debate Needs Cooler Heads to Prevail. Article on Americans' response to the climate change debate.
report: Climate Change War Game: Major Findings and Background from Center For A New American Security, 2009.
article: California Panel Urges Immediate Action to Protect from Rising Sea Levels. 3/09 Los Angeles Times article.
article: Alfa to Cut 73,000 Insurance Policies in Alabama after Tornadoes, including Alfa Insurance Company's press release.
article: State Farm Cancels Thousands in Florida
article: Climate Change and the Insurance Industry
article: Wild Weather a New Normal and Insurance Companies Must Act
article: Dutch Architects Plan for a Floating Future. 1/08 article from NPR. Includes an ~8-minute audio segment.
video: Floating Homes in the Netherlands. ~4-minutes.
article: Insuring the Uninsurable: Swiss Re Breaks New Ground in Haiti and Senegal
website: Oxfam weather insurance
report: HARITA 2009 project brief
article: Creating an Evergreen Agriculture in Africa
article: Dutch Defense Against Climate Disaster: Adapt to the Change. 12/09 Washington Post article.
article: Climate-Smart Agriculture: a Call to Practice
article: China Plans 59 Reservoirs to Collect Meltwater from Its Shrinking Glaciers. Includes ~4-minute video on climate adaptation strategies in rural and urban China.
video: Climate-Smart Agriculture: Helping the World Produce More Food (~5-minute video)
data: Drought Reporter interactive tool from the National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
lab exercise: Drought lab from SERC EarthLabs collection
article: Severe Drought Seen as Driving Cost of Food Up, 7/12 New York Times article.
audio: Why the US Drought May Be Felt around the Globe, ~5.5-minute audio segment from PRI on global impacts of low US corn crop yield due to drought, 8/12.
project: Room for the River project currently being undertaken by the Netherlands.
article: In a Strategic Reversal, Dutch Embrace Floods. 1/08 NPR article. ~7.5-minute audio story also available.