Alexander Hurley is Jr. Vice President of Operations for smart-cities startup firm Venture Smarter, Inc. and leads the company’s energy and resilience practice. He is dedicated to supporting governments, businesses, and universities that are researching, building, funding, and deploying smart and sustainable solutions to make better places to live, work, play, and visit. Alex completed a Master of Science in Environmental Studies degree through Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in May of 2018. In this degree program, he studied the nature of large organizational partnership networks focused on developing localized climate change policies and programs.
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COASTAL RISK CONSULTING ASSISTS MAJOR INVESTOR WITH DUE DILIGENCE FOR PURCHASE AND PROTECTION OF WATERFRONT PROPERTY.
Welcome Aboard the 2019 Mentorship Program Co-Chairs!
Mentorship Spotlight: Environment, Adventure & the Science of Decision
Rebuilding Paradise – Avoiding Hell
An Update on California’s Efforts of Moving toward Climate-Safe Infrastructure
Contributed by Susi Moser, Ph.D.
As I write this, I’m returning from California, where the smoke-filled air has finally cleared, but the atmosphere is still filled with the horrors of the Camp Fire, which all but destroyed the town of Paradise. Every conversation I was in, every story I listened to, involved some experience of living through the devastating blaze, the urgency of recovery right now, or the difficult-to-imagine task but also the determination of rebuilding an entire town.
Just think away everything in the neighborhood, the city in which you live. Everything. And then try to put the pieces back in place, bit by bit: homes, businesses, and all of the infrastructure that allows people to run normal lives: electricity lines, communication towers, traffic lights, schools, health facilities, a whole new water sewage/treatment system (Paradise, before the fire, was one of the largest cities in California still entirely on septic), and of course stabilizing the hillsides through rapid revegetation, which some day may serve again as scenic landscapes and recreational areas that people might enjoy.
How do you even begin when you have lost all town government offices, the entire tax base, not to speak of every city official – Mayor and Council members included – having none of their own homes to go home to at the end of each grueling day?
At this point, there is no room for subtlety: the work ahead is about rebuilding Paradise – the actual one, and all the other “Paradises” that exist in the state. It is about avoiding hell. Making sure that whatever infrastructure gets built from now on – and California will build lots of it given population trends, the need to refurbish old and outdated infrastructure, and remake much of its electricity and transportation infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – is built with climate change and extremes in mind, rather than blind to the unfolding reality. It must be adaptable, resilient and sustainable if the money is not to be wasted. In a word: it must be made climate-safe, and for everyone, not just the rich.
The purpose of my trip to California was to brief the legislature and the State’s Strategic Growth Council on a report I helped produce this past year, released earlier this summer: Paying it Forward: A Path Toward Climate-Safe Infrastructure in California. With the legislative staff back at work and rolling up their sleeves for the next session, we reported on a project mandated by Assembly Bill 2800 (Quirk).
The 25 staffers in the briefing room were eager to find useful angles to take back to their elected members. All the right state Senate and Assembly members, Committees and Appropriations folks were represented. Just like the Mayor of Paradise, they asked, “where to begin?”
Our answers, detailed in the report, launch from a three-pronged vision of climate-safe infrastructure, which contributes to the stringent emissions reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement, ensures safety even if climate change turns out much worse, and does both with a central focus on social equity. Our report offers a systems approach for realizing this vision, which involves (1) user-relevant forward-looking climate science as well as socioeconomic information; (2) improvements in the project planning process; (3) updated standards, codes and guidelines; (4) improved economic analyses and financing tools; and (5) much greater attention to the things that help with appropriate implementation (e.g., workforce development, procurement and contractual language, incentives, waiver guidance). The ten recommendations we offer in the report address each of these five components.
After two hours of briefing and engaged questions and answers, we learned that a Republican State Senator will work to advance a previously begun initiative (ACA-21) to pass a constitutional amendment in the state that would establish a permanent funding source for infrastructure. In the revised version, language from our report is being cited in the legislative findings. Climate change is now a recognized motivation for moving this forward! You can track this over the months ahead to see if it passes. Chances are good. The incoming Governor may well support it, too. For now, it’s encouraging to know that “paradise” for climate-safe infrastructure funding may come out of the ashes of hell!
Climate, Networks, and Communications
Leslie Brandt is a climate change specialist with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the U.S. Forest Service. Her work focuses on climate change adaptation and outreach for natural resource managers in the Midwest and Northeast. She currently coordinates a regional climate change adaptation project for Central Hardwoods ecosystems in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri and an urban forestry adaptation project that was piloted in the Chicago region. She has a PhD in Ecology from the University of Minnesota and a BA in Biology from Gustavus Adolphus College.
John Phillips has worked for the King County Wastewater Treatment Division for 19 years. He is currently the combined sewer overflow program manager. Over the last ten years he has worked on the Combined Sewer Overflow Control Program and is currently managing the program and implementation of the Long-Term Control Plan. John developed and manages the Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) and Climate Change Adaptation programs and his climate work has been referenced in both the IPCC and National Climate Assessment reports. He is also a Past President of the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association (PNCWA). He serves on sustainability and climate action teams at King County. John has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science from Oregon State University and served six years as a sonar man in the U.S. Navy on-board nuclear submarines.
Leslie and John covered a wide variety of subjects over the course of their sessions. Topics such as expanding networks across sectors, the importance of soft skills, getting buy-in from potential collaborators, and future career opportunities made for robust discussion. A highlight of what John has learned about Leslie is that she is a bright and passionate individual who really cultivates an inclusive thought process for reaching out to communities.
In turn, Leslie has enjoyed learning how John is connected across sectors in his community as well as with his counterparts nationally. John believes building these types of strong networks is germane to becoming a leader in the adaptation field.
Another area they’ve enjoyed focusing on—one many climate professionals are challenged by—is media engagement. Leslie was preparing for a call with a reporter and was seeking advice on how to approach the call effectively. John offered this advice from his personal experience from interacting with news reporters:
- Keep things concise. People have a tendency to ramble, and you can end up saying something that might be taken out of context.
- Be OK with not having answer. Some people think that they need to answer every question a reporter asks. If you don’t have the answer to a question, you can say you don’t know or recommend another expert who may be able to answer that question.
Great advice, John! Thank you both for participating in the Mentorship Program and sharing the highlights of your experience!
Mentorship Spotlight: Coastal Conservation and Urban Resilience
Regional Adaptation Leadership Awards
Congratulations to our 2018 Carolinas Regional Adaptation Leadership Award honorees Holly White, John Fear, and Steven Frank! Thank you for your contributions and leadership in the field of climate adaptation.
Holly White is a dedicated climate adaptation leader in her community as well as for all of North Carolina. Her tenacity in action, vision, creativity, and sheer determination to engage with others and promote adaptation strategies and planning underscores her efficacy in putting dedication into practice. Through her strength and talent for engaging a diverse set of stakeholders, she has established the Town of Nags Head as a model for other communities to emulate in their adaptation efforts. Holly crafted a vision for a resilient Nags Head by learning about adaptation and engaging the public, both those supportive and skeptical of the need for sea level rise planning. To approach adaptation planning, Holly assembled a team across town departments that included planning, engineering, public works, and septic health. Her leadership has fostered integrated, interdisciplinary resilience. Grounding in shared values, her work has strengthened support and capacity for sea level rise planning.
Holly is ensuring that adaptation addresses complex hazards, centering the interactions between sea level rise, rainfall, and water use in driving groundwater table height and consequent flooding. The mainstreaming approach to adaptation Holly recommended will ensure that complex hazards are included across all implemented plans. Holly is now sharing lessons learned from Nags Head throughout northeastern North Carolina, initiating efforts to reach across the border with Virginia as well as rural northeastern NC counties. Through her dedication to public service, she is fulfilling her vision of a resilient rural North Carolina. We are very grateful for her service in the field, and honored to name her the Carolinas RALA Winner. Congratulations, Holly!
John Fear, Honorable Mention for Building Capacity and Fostering Connectivity
Deputy Director, North Carolina Sea Grant and N.C. Water Resources Research Institute
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
John Fear’s vision is a key asset for North Carolina Sea Grant and the Water Resources Research Institute. John’s leadership as Deputy Director has shaped each program to meet crucial needs in the state. As part of National Sea Grant visioning efforts, John has helped set the stage for discussion on climate change and adaptation, integrating climate change into strategic plans and daily operations. John chairs the North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative, which focuses on climate change impacts along the state’s central coast. Utilizing local ecological knowledge, residents provide valuable historical context in research projects, participate in current citizen science efforts and offer input during planning sessions. A creative expression of this engagement is the innovative RISING project, which uses fine art photography and oral histories to stimulate discussions of environmental changes that include community members and scientists.
The North Carolina Community Collaborative Research Grant Program exemplifies John’s ability to identify needs, work with colleagues to develop solutions, and leverage partnerships to accomplish goals. John recognizes there is a significant training component needed to underpin adaptation practice and planning efforts. John is a mentor and facilitator for graduate studies, leading North Carolina Sea Grant, Water Resources Research Institute and Sentinel Sites programs to provide strong research experiences for students. John also coordinates recruitment and review of applications for national fellowships in marine policy, coastal management and fisheries management. Combined, these state and national fellowships offer graduate students critical opportunities to approach challenges such as climate change — and development of related adaptations — from real-world perspectives that demand interdisciplinary approaches. We are pleased to recognize John for his ability to build capacity and foster collaboration. Congratulations, John!
Steven Frank is an internationally recognized Entomologist known for his work to understand how urban heat islands affect tree health and pest populations, and whether the effects of urban warming can predict the effects of global warming and climate change. As trees are critical to mitigate urban heat islands, remove air pollutants, and benefit human health, Steven’s mission is to understand why urban tree health declines and develop ways to sustain urban trees and ecosystem services. A hands-on climate adaptation leader training arborists, municipal foresters, landscape architects, government regulators and others, he envisions an adaptive urban environment that supports health and conservation.
Steven leads by example on innovative public communication and integrating adaptation into his work. He is a founding member of the Southern Nursery Integrated Pest Management working group, a regional consortium of horticulturists, plant pathologists, and entomologists. In response to a member survey identifying ambrosia beetles as the most economically costly nursery pests, Steven developed a system to alert growers by Twitter when beetles are active, and created a targeted insecticide spray technique and tool to reduce insecticide use. These practices, along with his protocols for managing water stress, have transformed how growers manage ambrosia beetles throughout the US.
Steven’s passion for his work creates enthusiasm among his stakeholders about tree care and research based adaptation to climate change. He has built trust with stakeholders, municipal leaders and the general public because of his innate curiosity and willingness to listen to others, learn from them, and develop tools and techniques to help solve their problems. We are pleased to recognize Steven for his innovative integration of adaptation into his field. Congratulations, Steven!
Read more about our 2018 RALA Winners in California, the Great Lakes and Northeast. We’d like to thank everyone who has helped to make this a successful effort to recognize the adaptation champions in the field. Congratulations to everyone, and thank you for all that you do in the field of adaptation!
Making the “Miami Forever Bond” a Model for Equitable Climate Adaptation
By Zelalem Adefris, Resilience Director at Catalyst Miami
You could say that Miami, Florida, is ground zero for climate change. As the American city most vulnerable to sea-level rise, Miami faces existential threats from flooding, storm surge and saltwater intrusion in the city’s drinking water. And growing inequity places Miami’s low-income and marginalized communities at extraordinary risk from climate impacts.
But—thanks to the Miami Climate Alliance, a coalition of citizens’ groups–this coastal city could also be at the forefront of equitable climate adaptation.
Last year, under the leadership of its outgoing Republican Mayor, Tomás Regalado, Miami’s voters passed a $400 million “Miami Forever Bond.” The measure authorized the city government to borrow money on the municipal bond market to address sea-level rise and the city’s affordable housing crisis, levying a new property tax to repay the debt. The Miami Climate Alliance is working to ensure that the bond benefits those who need it most.
How did a famously tax-averse city with a conservative Republican mayor find itself in the vanguard of climate adaptation? The answer lies, in part, with Regalado’s conversion from climate skepticism. When he was elected in 2009, Regalado thought that sea level rise was “a very distant future possibility,” he later told The New York Times. But, during a series of 4:30 am chats over Cuban coffee, Regalado’s son, Jose, convinced him of the urgency of the problem.
That urgency has become increasingly difficult to ignore. Over the last 10 years, the Miami region has seen floods increase in frequency by 400 percent; fish now swim the flooded streets even on rainless, sunny days. The ocean that laps at the region’s famed beaches has risen nearly a foot since preindustrial times, and could swell by six feet or more by the end of this century. Rising seas will combine with supercharged storms to inundate the Miami region, which is home to nearly three million people.
Of course, not all people are affected equally by climate threats. That was evident when Hurricane Andrew tore through Miami in 1992; the hardest-hit areas included the impoverished municipality of Florida City, south of downtown Miami. While neighboring areas quickly bounced back after the storm, Florida City suffered from plummeting property values and rising poverty.
And, despite the city’s booming tourist trade and glittering seaside real estate, many City of Miami residents are struggling to get by. Nearly 60 percent of Miami-Dade County households are considered financially unstable; one in five live in poverty. Poverty is most prevalent among African-American and Hispanic communities, which together make up 85 percent of Miami-Dade’s population.
As climate impacts became a daily reality for the people of the City of Miami, Mayor Regalado gathered support for the bond initiative. He got an assist from the First Street Foundation, whose Seawall Coalition (a 501 (c) (4) organization) spent $350,000 to educate the city’s voters about sea-level rise. Ultimately, about 55 percent of Miami’s electorate voted in favor of the Miami Forever Bond.
Miami is not the first U.S. city to raise money to gird against climate change. In 2012, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a $290 million debt measure to rebuild a seawall that protects the downtown waterfront. And in 2016, San Francisco Bay area residents approved a tax to fund a $500 million restoration of tidal marshes, which act as a buffer against storm surges.
In Miami, city officials have set broad outlines for how the bond funds will be spent: they have earmarked $192 million for storm drain upgrades, flood pumps and seawalls to curb flooding; $100 million for affordable housing and economic development; $78 million for parks and cultural facilities; $23 million for road improvements; and $7 million for public safety.
But the devil, as always, is in the details. Which neighborhoods will see the greatest benefit from bond funding? And who decides how the money will be spent? The stakes are high: if spending bypasses Miami’s most vulnerable communities, current inequities will only deepen in the decades to come.
That’s why the Miami Climate Alliance is working to make sure the Miami Forever Bond benefits all the city’s people—especially those in underserved communities.
The Alliance was convened in 2015 by a diverse group of some 100 Miami-area residents (including community leaders, students, over 80 community organizations, social justice advocates, environmentalists, scientists, teachers, and climate activists) to organize the Miami People’s Climate March. While organizing the March, Alliance members were surprised to learn that there was no mention of climate change—or funding for climate action—in Miami-Dade County’s $6.8 million FY 2015-16 budget. So the Alliance mobilized residents to speak up during the budget hearings, which led to the creation of the County’s Office of Resilience and its first-ever Chief Resilience Officer.
Since then, the Alliance and its member organizations have pushed Miami to take the lead on equitable climate action. For example, after the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, the Alliance won commitments from several local municipalities to support the Accord targets on renewable energy. And, when the City appointed a new Sea Level Rise Committee, the Alliance fought hard to make sure that Committee reflects the city’s diversity.
“If you include black and brown people, people from the community, you’ll change the dynamic,” Trenise Bryant, an Alliance activist, told the Miami Herald earlier this year.
Now the Alliance is working to make sure that communities have a real say in how the Miami Forever Bond funds are spent. To that end, the Miami Climate Alliance and Catalyst Miami organized a series of town halls, which drew dozens of community members. There, residents agreed on a set of criteria to apply to Bond-funded projects. The Alliance will work to make sure those criteria are used by a citizen oversight board that makes recommendations on Bond spending to the City Commission.
The Alliance also helped shape the citizen oversight board, making sure it reflects the City’s racial, gender and age diversity—while excluding those with overt conflicts of interest. And the Alliance helped ensure that the board includes not only those with expertise in hydrology, architecture, and engineering, but also those with knowledge of community leadership and an equity perspective. All of these asks were incorporated into the oversight board ordinance by the City Commission and Mayor Francis Suarez.
It’s a slow-moving process: nearly a year after the bond’s approval, the city’s oversight board has still not met. However, the Miami Climate Alliance will be there every step of the way, amplifying the voices of those at greatest risk from climate impacts. If this effort succeeds, Miami could be a model of climate adaptation that is both farsighted and just.
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit will take place next week on October 24-25 in Miami Beach. Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami Beach are hosting the 10th Annual Climate Leadership Summit on behalf of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Registration closes on October 19th. A waitlist is available for the first 50 people who are interested in attending.
Regional Adaptation Leadership Awards
Congratulations to 2018 Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award honorees Chris Swanston, Matthew Gray, Jessica Hellmann and Heather Stirratt! Thank you for your contributions and leadership in the field of climate adaptation.
Director, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub
Chris Swanston is a leader among Great Lakes adaptation professionals, directing both the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub. Through his leadership, he has transformed the way many people approach climate adaptation in land management and forestry. His vision is clear: there is a need in the field to bridge the gap between science and action communities. Chris created the Climate Change Response Framework (CCRF) as an integrated approach for responding to climate change through partnerships, vulnerability assessments, adaptation resources, and real-world demonstrations.
As a strong communicator, he has built his team of one to a team of twenty. Vibrant with expertise in climate impacts modeling, ecosystem adaptation, and forest carbon management, the efficacy of the NIACS team has culminated into a high-performing, collaborative, and trusted organization dedicated to serving the needs of land owners and managers across the region. Thousands of natural resource professionals have learned about climate change adaptation through CCRF presentations, trainings, field tours, and more than 250 real-world demonstration projects that use the Adaptation Workbook. Prioritizing respect for local knowledge and individual landowners’ perspectives on managing risks, NIACS team members are coaches for smart adaptation decision-making. Chris’s ideas are central to the adaptation work done at NIACS, and these ideas have ensured success for many. We are honored to honor Chris Swanston as the Winner of the Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award. Congratulations, Chris!
Chief of Sustainability, City of Cleveland
Since returning from a Fulbright in Mauritius and joining the staff of the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Matthew Gray has been working to both reduce greenhouse gases and increase resilience of the City of Cleveland. As a positive role model for other cities in the region, Matt has led efforts through the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network to create a template for climate change vulnerability assessments to help other cities move forward on climate adaptation. Matt has revamped the Cleveland Carbon Fund to include adaptation work, and co-leads an effort to develop a regional network of cities working on climate adaptation to streamline adaptation efforts.
Matt has worked tirelessly to promote equitable adaptation in Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan and has reached out to numerous city departments to encourage climate change mitigation and adaptation in internal planning efforts. As a city liaison forging strong relationships among organizations in Cleveland to support and carry the work forward, he organizes learning events with partners and an annual Sustainability Summit that brings together leaders from across the city to discuss priorities. We are happy to recognize this work that is so beneficial not only to the people of Cleveland, but to the entire region. Congratulations, Matt!
Director, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE)
Jessica Hellmann is an Ecologist studying the effects of climate and other global changes on ecosystems and the people who depend on them. She is dedicated to finding solutions to environmental threats that improve human livelihoods and ecosystem health. A civic leader dedicated to integrating climate adaptation into other fields, she regularly advises organizations such as the Great Plains Institute, Climate Generation and other nonprofits about often-overlooked strategies for adapting to climate change. Jessica envisions a network of change agents for climate adaptation with broad reach within and outside academia. Through her leadership of IonE and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, she asserts that powerful networks informed by research and education are what is needed to create a hopeful, climate adaptive future. Jessica has taken the Urban Adaptation Assessment to the next level of impact and effectiveness by expanding it to 240 cities in the U.S., integrating a novel approach to measuring social equity.
Additionally, Jessica has led research showing changing climate conditions can influence both species distribution and the rate of evolution by examining modern day and museum butterfly species. Emphasizing her ability to learn and teach on the fly as a skilled science communicator, Jessica is routinely called upon by leading media outlets around the world such as CNN, NPR, Fox News, The Telegraph and the Chicago Tribune to provide expert input on topics related to adaptation and ways to minimize adverse impacts to people and nature. We are very grateful for her contributions to the field of adaptation and her presence in the Great Lakes region. Congratulations, Jessica!
Tune in to hear Director Jessica Hellmann present her vision for the future of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.
Great Lakes Lead for NOAA’s National Ocean Service at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management
Twin Cities, MN
Heather Stirratt’s work on climate change adaptation motivates communities across the Great Lakes Region. From her NOAA National Ocean Service office in Twin Cities, MN, she has worked with researchers, municipalities, and students to ensure communities receive the support that they need to advance climate-informed decisions at multiple scales. Heather sees the need for broad capacity building. She has acted on this vision through the development of the Great Lakes Climate Training toolkit and of city and neighborhood specific resources in collaboration with the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Cities Initiative. Heather has a demonstrable ability to think holistically about climate change and its related impacts. She is remarkably capable at bringing together the branches of federal government to serve the needs of the whole region.
A natural engagement specialist, Heather brings people together for a common cause, routinely communicates complex challenges, and truly meets people where they are. Her ability to build and work within teams from across a range of federal agencies — as well as coordinate numerous regional NOAA activities — highlight her power of persuasion and tenacity. When she brings together this potent combination it leads to successfully implemented projects, groundbreaking reports, and successful, engaging events. Her ability to summon resources makes her a terrific ally on a project and one of the most effective adaptation professionals in the Great Lakes region. We are very happy to award her with this Special Recognition for her contributions to the field of adaptation. Congratulations, Heather!