Adaptation efforts should begin at local level

For more than eight years, I have shared ideas about green living in this column. The intent has been to hasten a shift toward sustainable community in Southern Nevada while also addressing big issues like climate change. There are many who share my concerns, and I am grateful for the significant steps so many have taken to be part of the solution.

It seems that just about every week, the message from scientists who study global change becomes increasingly dire. Even the most informed among them are often surprised by the accelerating rate of change and the growing uncertainty of its future impacts.

Any opportunity we had for avoiding climate change has passed. We were warned that the window was closing. Now it has slammed shut. Our only options at this point are mitigation and adaptation.

Effective mitigation will only occur with deep and lasting changes to the way we live, work and play. We are so embedded in the age of fossil fuels that it is almost impossible to realize that just about everything we do is dependent on them. Yet breaking that dependence quickly is the only path that matters.

It won’t be easy, but most of the coal, oil and natural gas that is still in the ground must remain there. As much as that might be difficult to imagine, the effects of burning it all are even more so. Green living may sound warm and fuzzy, but with so much at stake it should be considered a top priority for every household.

Adaptation to changing conditions will be most effective at the local level. It must match or exceed the rate at which the conditions are changing or disruptions can occur.

Southern Nevada is especially challenged with a severe lack of water exacerbated by ongoing drought. Our relative isolation means that any interruptions in the flow of water, food or energy can quickly place us at risk. Those three things should be the focus of our adaptation efforts with resilience as the overall theme.

A resilient community is better able to deal with unforeseen changes. The key strategy is localization, which really boils down to taking responsibility for our own well-being.

Water is our single most essential resource and an effective adaptation strategy must be in alignment with local conditions. Deep efficiency, conservation and reuse should become paramount. Local sources are the only viable option, optimized for flexible operation under changing conditions.

It takes a lot of energy to pump the water we need to survive here. The abundance of sunlight will play a major role in our energy adaptation strategy. The massive and rapid deployment of localized, distributed rooftop solar energy systems can create an important buffer against future disruptions from outside sources. Micro-grids can enhance system resilience.

The accelerated adoption of local renewable energy systems is threatened by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, a conservative organization funded by the fossil fuel industry to promote an extremely dangerous agenda. If you care about the future, pay attention to ALEC.

Local food production is essential to an effective adaptation effort. Permaculture should be taught in every school and implemented in every neighborhood. Community gardens, converted golf courses and edible landscapes can provide much of our food — local, organic and with a low-carbon footprint. Proper gathering and reuse of compostable organics can build our soil into an essential life-sustaining resource.

There are tremendous opportunities for Southern Nevadans to participate in this effort. Each of us plays a role, one way or the other, in the outcome. Every home that uses water responsibly, that produces energy on its roof and food in the yard, contributes to the well-being of all.

Localization leads to a stronger, safer, more resilient place to live, with much better odds at weathering what may come. Now that I think about it, playing the odds is somewhat of a local strategy too.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Rypka, visit