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Climate Adaptation
Responses Weather

We humans react to changes in the weather in a proactive and practical manner. Usually, we have a good general sense of the weather of a location, region or service territory. We’re also capable, albeit it requires some effort, of accounting for weather cycles (i.e., El Nino and La Nina, which can affect energy sales and utility revenue). Knowing time series and regression analysis, it takes some computer-assisted mental effort to spot recurring brief cycles in the weather, isolate anomalies, assess impacts, and adjust methods. We may, for example, change revenue structures to better account for both weather and weather cycles, such as decoupling utility income from sales. Its useful to improve the way we do weather-adjustment, since in the current era the past is often not a good predictor of the future.

Basically, we have to work from the perspective of decision-making under deep uncertainty (DMDU), and practice in weather normalization has to change (To consider the changing perspective for methods of policy and infrastructure analysis, see Popper, Steven W., et al, eds., Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty, From Theory to Practice, originally published as a methods text by Springer Nature, 2019; also available free under open access:

A good way to state the problem of adaptation is that “If change is happening faster than you can keep up…the level of risk is increasing at the same time that our capacity to adapt is being reduced” – Dr. Peter Tait as quoted in Linda Marsa, Fevered, Why a Hotter Planet will Hurt our Health – and How We can Save Ourselves. NY, NY: Rodale, 2013, P. 148.


Our fundamental talents evolved over millennia. They are derived from our species’ deep evolutionary and more recent very different experience.

“For three million years, we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads…”


Leakey & Lewin, The Sixth Extinction

Climate and Time Available

The Climate Trend

Darwin believed that the environment changed slowly. When this is true, then evolution for enhancing the fit between organism and environment proceeds slowly in an interactive manner, with many levels of fit progressing in modest increments over thousands of years. This viewpoint, and type of change, is referred to as uniformitarianism.

Darwinist evolutionary adaptation is solid science; it applies in a stable era. But what if, (1) after a long uniformitarian age, there is a sudden major change in climate?

(2) What happens to the species that have been more and more acclimated, in a multitude of ways, to an environmental context that is suddenly vanishing? (3) What exactly do we mean by “suddenly?” To answer these three questions, we need to expand our perspective on time. A deeper than usual appreciation of time is key to engaging climate change.


In geologic time, two hundred, three hundred, or six hundred years are less than a blink of an the eye (in German, der Augenblick). It doesn’t feel like a moment to us because we have short lifespans; our active lifespan doesn’t even make it to one-hundred years (leaving out most of the pre-adult years, and years at the end as we lose capability). In contrast, our planet has existed for over 4 billion years in current scientific understanding.

To get a sense of geologic time, see a post by geologist Roseanne Chambers
( For a much deeper than geologic sense of our current location in time, science currently puts the beginning of time about 13.7 billion years ago (see: National Center for Science Education: d

We can understand our location in the time dimension, but we have to work at it a bit, since our habits of thinking in time as a species-being are weak.

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The mission is survival with inclusion.

We have progress: many very large cities, as well as several medium-sized cities, now have initial climate adaptation plans in place and are taking the first steps toward adaptation; the federal goverment (due to opposition) has only been able to pass a stripped-down climate effort that may fund about 5%-15% of target for 2050, far short of what is needed and only passed by trading off the welfare of low-income and non-white communities as continuing ecological sacrifice zones – but a start.

Remember, if we want to come out ahead, we must focus on thinking well, ahead of time (we are running very late); and climate adaptation is best done by facing forward. Without near universal clarity on the “Big Picture”, including where we are in time, political realities force trade-offs. Right now, what we can say is that we have to do better.

We will likely not make it through without full inclusion or by continuing the pattern of engineering new social and technical regret. Each year, there are increased numbers of climate incidents such as forest fires, methane release, extensive increasing droughts, excessive heat and heat domes, warming of the oceans, melting of the glacial ice, artic vortex, and flooding. The increasing and overlapping events are damaging out capability to function.

You may have noticed that costs for just about everything are increasing, plant life is under long-term water stress, water supply systems are running seriously short, agriculture is becoming more difficult, there is climate related loss of energy and focus, sickness, and deaths. What will grow to become massive migrations have already begun, supply chains are being disrupted, and work discipline is also affected. We are in a sequence of accelerating and overlapping changes, heading into deep disaster. Right now, we are not passing the Darwin tests.

We are running very late in arriving at full-scale and intelligent engagement. Animals and plants are moving up mountains and towards the poles. Though climate work has been initiated it is far too small an engagement; we humans haven’t quite got things processed yet to understand the scope and speed of the threat, organization is weak, resource applied is almost non-existent, even with the recent legislation. The necessary scope and force of response is not there.

What does this mean for utilities? Normally energy and water infrastructure planning works on a three- or five-year cycle. Projections are typically for 10, 20, or 30 years. The regulatory system works well because though planning is for 30 years, the studies are repeated every three or five years, so there is a lot of opportunity for inspection, testing, and correction. For the most part standard studies use least-cost planning and cost/benefit criteria in selection of infrastructure plans. The process self-corrects with new information in each cycle. These infrastructure plans include maintenance, engineering staffing, and new construction. They are informed by forecasts, input by parties, and feed-in to rate cases essential to fund the work.

If you are planning infrastructure, here is an exercise: For a planning and participation process of two years with perhaps twenty meetings of parties to review and guide the work, add three meetings to back-cast what needs to be in place and when from a perspective 75 years out. Address the 75-year plan with the same level of analytic resource as the standard study. This will show the problems of the least-cost planning and cost effectiveness criteria used in standard planning. Looking back from 75 years in the future you will see that you needed to complete some high-cost infrastructure beginning in early years. You will also be much better able to realistically gauge the ramping of rate requirements. Then fully vet both plans and meld them together each time you do a planning cycle.

When the size and acceleration of the climate changes are understood, which takes work, it becomes clear that no current planning efforts are careful or coordinated enough not to forgo damage to infrastructure or removal of plants until substitute plants are in place and able to perform (for electricity and gas, this means meeting the energy and demand profile 8,760 hours per year without need for public service curtailment or rolling blackouts).

Running in parallel is a pretty simple principle, and one utilities are used to in adopting, for example, when putting in place a new customer information system or a new billing system. You run in parallel for six months before you begin to weaken or take down the old system. If electrification, decarbonation, and hardening of infrastructure for resilience are to proceed without planning failure and danger to public welfare, planning staff has to be increased and infrastructure change has to be better coordinated with plan.

Transition should not be constantly at the edge of system failure, which, in plain language, is what is happening when voluntary curtailment is requested, or electric systems experience rolling blackouts or go down, or water systems break down. Part of the problem is that climate change is a process of progressive disaster that becomes more severe over time, and our planning models do not yet incorporate disaster planning as a top-level goal.

What can be Done

  • Every utility and agency should have a climate officer and small staff to help leverage the entire organization into climate adaptation. The climate group develops ways to update all utility planning and operations to include climate.
  • Every utility (electric, gas, and water) should develop a climate policy.
  • Each should develop an electrification policy.
  • Each should develop a decarbonization policy.
  • Rate models should develop a quantitative picture of what will happen to rates by class between now and 2050, and then project through 2100 and 2150. Of course, in practice, all projections are recreated about every five years, so within regulatory and organizational planning systems, projections are corrected every five years. The longer view is also needed, however, because climate change is not on a human scale. We need to take more of a deep time perspective to understand our location in time, where we are, and where we need to go. And we need incorporate back-casting from points 75 or 100 years in the future to understand what needs to happen now and what must be accomplished by when. This is in addition to our standard planning and rate case processing cycles and should be melded back within those standard cycles to develop information on what must be done, by when.
  • All utility functions, including energy efficiency, should be re-oriented within a climate framework. Climate aware programs will look different from existing programs as local climate realities and projections are taken into account. Decoupling is essential to climate adaptation. Some utilities are doing these things.
  • We need many carefully planned demonstration projects.
  • To manage risk, before closing plants we need to run tests in parallel to empicially demonstrate that replacement solar, wind and batteries provide equivalent service capability.
  • Evaluation should apply from a climate framework; this includes incorporating integration of disaster preparedness and inclusion as a principal part of the obligation to serve.

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