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How do we achieve climate resilience in the American West? Bruce Cain tackles the regional challenges of fire, drought, and flooding.

Two men sit across from one another in arm chairs on the stage of the Commonwealth Club of California.
Bruce Cain in conversation with George Hammond at the Commonwealth Club of California where Professor Cain discussed his new book, "Under Fire and Under Water: the Fight for Climate Resilience in the American West." Photo by Preeti Hehmeyer.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, Bruce Cain, director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, appeared at the Commonwealth Club of California to discuss one of the greatest struggles of the 21st century: the fight to achieve climate resilience in a region ravaged by wildfire, flooding and drought of epic proportion.

Extreme weather in the wake of climate change threatens to turn the American West into a region hostile to human habitation — a “Great American Desert” as early U.S. explorers once mislabeled it. In his new book, "Under Fire and Under Water," Bruce Cain suggests that the unique complex of politics, technology and logistics that once won the West must be rethought and reconfigured to win it anew in the face of these accelerating threats.

During his talk, Cain explored how these challenges are complicated by the region’s history, the deliberate fractiousness of the American political system, and the idiosyncrasies of human behavior. Cain's incisive book, published in November of 2023 by the University of Oklahoma Press,  analyzes how, in spite of coastal flooding and spreading wildfires, people continue to move into, and even rebuild in, risky areas, how local communities are slow to take protective measures, and how individual beliefs, past adaptation practices and infrastructure, and complex governing arrangements across jurisdictions combine to flout real progress. Driving this analysis is Cain’s conviction that understanding the habits and politics that lead to procrastination and obstruction is critical to finding solutions and making necessary adaptations to the changing climate.

Now available for purchase, "Under Fire and Under Water" offers a detailed look at the rising stakes and urgency of the various interconnected issues. Listen to a recording of the live event as Cain lays out the rethinking and reengineering that will allow people to live sustainably in the American West — even under the conditions caused by future global warming.

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