Physical infrastructure includes bridges, roads, ports, electrical grids, broadband internet, and other parts of our transportation and communication systems. It is often designed to be in use for years or decades, and many communities have infrastructure that was designed without future climate in mind. But even newer infrastructures can be vulnerable to climate change.
Extreme weather events that bring heavy rains, floods, wind, snow, or temperature changes can stress existing structures and facilities. Increased temperatures require more indoor cooling, which can put stress on an energy grid. Sudden heavy rainfall can lead to flooding that shuts down highways and major business areas.
Nearly 40% of the United States population lives in coastal counties, meaning millions of people will be impacted by sea level rise. Coastal infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water supplies, and much more, is at risk. Sea level rise can also lead to coastal erosion and high-tide flooding. Some communities are projected to possibly end up at or below sea level by 2100 and will face decisions around managed retreat and climate adaptation.
Many communities are not yet prepared to face climate-related threats. Even within a community, some groups are more vulnerable to these threats than others. Going forward, it is important for communities to invest in resilient infrastructure that will be able to withstand future climate risks. Researchers are studying current and future impacts of climate change on communities and can offer recommendations on best practices. Resilience education is vitally important for city planners, emergency managers, educators, communicators, and all other community members to prepare for climate change.