How Tulsa Beat Flooding Without Saying 'Climate Change'

An oil town in a red state proves we don't have to talk about climate change to adapt to it.

2 minute read

November 9, 2017, 7:00 AM PST

By Katharine Jose


Tulsa Arkansas River

Meagan / Flickr

Tulsa, Oklahoma rarely floods, and not because it doesn't rain.

It rarely floods because Tulsa, the city that gave us James Inhofe, has expended considerable energy to prevent major flooding. It is, as Alan Greenblatt writes in Governing, "a surprising setting for one of the nation’s most extensive climate adaptation efforts."

A politically conservative town with a robust response to climate change is somewhat unusual, but Tulsa's remarkably successful flood control efforts demonstrate a formulaurgency, along with policies articulated in un-political languagethat has worked in places with similar demographics across the U.S.
"In Tulsa," Greenblatt writes, "environmentalists have learned that in a town founded and fueled by the oil economy, the term [climate change] is a surefire way to shut down discussion. They talk instead about 'extreme weather,' emphasizing the need to plan for reoccurring storms."

Or, as Rebecca Harrington found in Dallas, "Take away the charged language and start talking about clean water, clean air, and clean soil, and there’s a lot of agreement."

The search for palatable terms, Henry Grabar wrote last March, has led the writers of policy (and later the federal government) to the word "resilience,"

"In part, because no one knows quite what it means. Planners can use it as a nonpartisan substitute for climate change, enabling communities with skeptical constituents to start raising roads and houses without addressing the elephant in the room."

Ambivalent meanings aside, the results are tangible. What Tulsa has done, Greenblatt writes, "shows that local leadership and investment can do a lot to prevent damage from the predictable threats that are likely to worsen with climate change."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Governing

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