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1906.0 The Challenge of Adapting to Climate Change: King County Brings Local Action to a Global Threat
Abstract:

This public leadership case puts students in the shoes of King County Executive Ron Sims, the top elected official in Washington State's largest and most diverse county. The year is 2005, and Sims wishes to take a high profile leadership role on the climate change issue-locally and on the national stage-by tackling the nearly uncharted realm of "adaptation," preparing at the local level for impacts of climate change considered inevitable. In addition to addressing certain generic leadership challenges-how to navigate the difficult intersection of politics and science, how to think about uncertainty, how to make an argument for long term investments, how to prove effective on both local and national stage-the case has the advantage of introducing readers to a compelling contemporary public issue, sure to grow in urgency worldwide. The case details the array of considerations that went into Sims' decision to take on the adaptation issue, including a brief summary of a concurrent local debate about designing a new wastewater treatment plant to deliver reclaimed water to customers in the future, if needed.

The case ends by describing Sims' first declared adaptation initiative-hosting a regional conference in league with local climate scientists-and poses students a challenge: at this juncture, what's the most effective way to move the issue forward, both locally and on the national stage? To help jumpstart the discussion, the case sketches five different "possibilities" prospectively, including a ten-fold budget increase in flood prevention and management; a guidebook for local government about the adaptation issue; a public alliance with the Marshall Islands, in danger of disappearing due to sea level rise; creation of a countywide climate plan, including mitigation and adaptation strategies; and a political question about whether to issue a dramatic list of new commitments intended to reduce the county's contribution to global warming at a climate change event sponsored by the City of Seattle.

A sequel, "The Challenge of Adapting to Climate Change: King County Brings Local Action to a Global Threat: Sequel," C16-09-1906.1, reveals which actions the County took, and describes the outcome of each in brief.

A flexible video documentary, "Choosing to Adapt: King County Tackles Climate Change," C16-09-1906.9 (thirteen segments of 2 to 4 minutes each, total runtime 00:41:00, which may be played chronologically or in other combinations) brings to life the issues and strategies described in the case through interviews with key players, including Sims, and visuals of the area and of specific projects.

Learning Objective:
In addition to addressing certain generic leadership challenges—how to navigate the difficult intersection of politics and science, how to think about uncertainty, how to make an argument for long term investments, how to prove effective on both local and national stage—the case has the advantage of introducing readers to a compelling contemporary public issue, sure to grow in urgency worldwide.
Date Published: 6/16/2009
Format: PAPER
Pages:
(incl. exhibits)
16
Authors: Pamela Varley
Sponsors: John D. Donahue
Funding Source:Robert G. Wilmers Local & State Government Case Studies Fund
Curriculum Area:Management, Leadership, & Decision Sciences
Social & Urban Policy
Issue/Topics:Climate Change
Innovation
Local, State, and Provincial Government
Public Management
Water
Sector:Local Government
National Government
Methods:Strategic Planning
Continent:North America
Language:English

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