Tennessee’s Great Opportunities
In spite of the great challenges that Tennessee will face over the coming decades, there is also ample evidence that the State has many opportunities to advance the goals of sustainability. Some of these opportunities will be pursued automatically as individuals, communities, and industries instinctively adjust to changing social, economic, and environmental conditions. Other opportunities will require more strategic planning, coordination, and investment including policies that provide new incentives to pursue sustainable actions. In addition, one cannot exclude the possibility that transformational changes lie in Tennessee’s future. Much like TVA transformed development of southern Appalachia in the latter half of the 20th century, new migrants, economic enterprises, and technologies could all contribute to great leaps forward in future decades.
So what should we be doing to prepare for climate change in Tennessee? Given the potential adverse consequences posed by climate change as well as uncertainties associated with their timing and magnitude, one option is to pursue a risk management approach in responding to climate change challenges. This would involve:
1) identifying desired future conditions for the State’s natural resources, communities, and industries;
2) evaluating the likelihood that climate change and other factors will pose a challenge to the achievement of those objectives; and
3) developing and implementing adaptation/mitigation policies and measures that reduce the likelihood of failing to achieve those objectives to tolerable levels.
This risk management paradigm is well-established in both public and private institutions and thus there may be ample opportunities to ‘mainstream’ consideration for climate change into existing risk management practices. As we think about managing the risks of climate change, however, we should be cautious to avoid a defensive stance that is focused simply on avoiding losses. Such a mindset can cause us to overlook the broad range of positive
opportunities and benefits associated with sustainability. New technologies and industries bring new jobs and economic growth. Increased efficiencies in transportation and energy can put more money back into the pockets of Tennesseans. Meanwhile, more robust health care systems that manage both current and emerging threats to public health will yield benefits independent of future climate change.
As Tennesseans move forward with the pursuit of sustainability and managing the opportunities and risks associated with climate change, attention should be directed toward the pursuit of a number of robust actions:
- Plan for change. Most importantly, Tennesseans must recognize that sustainability will not arise spontaneously. Rather a concerted effort will be needed to effectively plan and implement adaptive and climate-friendly actions pathways. As a first-step, public and private institutions at local and state, if not national, levels should begin developing adaptation policy frameworks and plans that will best-position Tennessee for a sustainable future.
- Monitor, evaluate and learn. Given extensive uncertainties about climate change impacts at particular times and in particular places and about payoffs of specific adaptation strategies (see Box 5), it is important to observe, evaluate, and reconsider risks and responses iteratively, sharing lessons learned as appropriate.
- Address critical knowledge gaps. Supporting adaptation and risk management efforts in Tennessee will require investments to enhance the knowledge base for local decision-making. Applied research that expands understanding of environmental, social, and economic processes in Tennessee and their interactions with management practice and policy will facilitate bridging gaps in knowledge that constrain adaptation. Such research should capitalize on the extensive knowledge within Tennessee’s existing government agencies, businesses, and citizens.
- Increase flexibility in management practices. Given uncertainties not only about climate change but also about future trends in socioeconomic and policy conditions, it is important to stress flexibility – rooted in a continuing learning process – in order to assure an ability to handle unexpected developments and surprises.
- Reduce system sensitivities to climate variability and change. For those systems that are especially susceptible to disruption, damage, or loss due to changes in climate variables, a risk management approach will focus attention on ways to reduce those sensitivities through changes in technologies, materials, and corporate strategies.
- Take advantage of turnover of capital. The depreciation of assets and the eventual need to replace them as they age creates a window of opportunities for investing in new technologies that move systems in directions that are better-adapted to climate change risks, usually at a lower net cost than retrofitting structures and equipment that will continue to be used for some time.
- Enhance partnerships. Adapting Tennessee’s communities to the effects of climate change is a task that will span public and private institutions at local, state, and national scales. Hence, strengthening partnerships across all branches and scales of government, economic sectors, and other parts of U.S. society will aid in building the necessary capacity to plan, fund, and implement the policies and measures that will contribute to a sustainable Tennessee.