Rebuilding Paradise

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gets built from now on – and California will build lots of it given population trends, the need to refurbish old and outdated infrastructure, and remake much of its electricity and transportation infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – is built with climate change and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!

Mentorship Spotlight: Climate, Networks, and Communications

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:

  1. Keep things concise. People have a tendency to ramble, and you can end up saying something that might be taken out of context.
  2. 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!

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Transforming the Adaptation Field

Top 5 Ways to Use the National Climate Assessment in your job. Right Now.

Last week the White House released the 4th installment of the National Climate Assessment.  With each installment of this congressionally required, quadrennial report adaptation and resilience has played an increasingly significant role. This Quadrennial report makes adaptation the star of the show.

Start Here: Chapter 17 & 28 – These two chapters should make your adaptation professional heart sing! Chapter 17 Sector Interactions, Multiple Stressors, and Complex Systems is a primer on the art of adaptation itself. This chapter boils down the complexity of climate and non-climate interactions, plus, this chapter–like all the NCA Chapters–comes with a ready made slide deck that you can download and use today!

Money Talks – This report puts the cost of climate change front and center, with dire warnings about the cost to public health, urban infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, forests, and tourism.  This report comes on the heels of the IPCC report which painted a similarly stark picture for our global economy. The drumbeat of climate risk is permeating mainstream media and the NCA Authors understand that the economic case is as important as the science itself.  Here are a few ways climate change is impacting our economy right now:

  • Coastal erosion accounts for $500 million in damages per year.
  • The cost of wildfire management exceeded the annual average of $1 billion by 300% in 2017

Delve into your Regional Area – Hurray! This year’s report added a 9th geographic region of focus by splitting the Great Plains into the Northern Great Plains and Southern Great Plains. For adaptation professionals working in “middle America” this is great news. The report’s key findings demonstrate just how different these two areas are and why they bear having two different sections. The Northern Chapter’s key takeaways are about agricultural changes, water sensitivity, and the energy sector. The Southern Chapter’s key takeaways are about infrastructure, population growth management, and coastal preparedness. Both chapters explicitly address indigenous people, a thread that is highlighted across the report. Each regional chapter tells a story in a refreshingly unique voice:

Northeast
Southeast
U.S. Caribbean
Midwest
Northern Great Plains
Southern Great Plains
Northwest
Southwest
Alaska
Hawai‘i & U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands

Adopt a Case Study – This NCA sparkles with case study gems! From explicit chapters like, “Chapter 28:  Reducing Risk Through Adaptation Actions” to adaptation examples tucked into the regional chapters. A few examples that jump out are the implementation of green infrastructure in Utica, NY; changes by vintners in the Pacific Northwest, and changes in cattle ranching in Washington to increase productivity and reduce environmental risk.  A full summary of all the case studies is not currently available, but will be coming out soon.

For the Data Lovers – The report released last week is Volume II of NCA 4. Volume 1 was a trove of climate data, methodologies, attribution science, and definitions. If you are a local decision maker wishing for geographically significant climate data to inform your decisions – look no further. NCA 4 Volume 1 is just what your heart desires. You can find the downloads here: https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/

With all this excitement, we can’t wait to talk about this at our upcoming ASAP events! We invite you to join ASAP at the AGU Fall Meeting in Washington DC on Wednesday morning, December 12 for a workshop on Growing into Principled Climate Change Adaptation Professionals and Transforming the Adaptation Field.  On December 14th, tune in to hear from ASAP Board Members Joyce Coffee and Jennifer Jurado for a membership information session online. Topics will include an overview of our membership and event engagement, our new interest group formation process, and more! Register today and learn about how you can participate in the new 2019 Member Interest Groups process!

Can People Cultivate More Urgency Than Dollars?

Contributed by Rachel Jacobson, ASAP Senior Program Manager

In September, I was haunted for days by this New York Times story about Casey Dailey’s death during Hurricane Harvey. Today, as I mourn the losses of the 63 people killed so far in the Camp Fire, I brace for notifications of additional “direct” deaths and for information about the hundreds more whose deaths may be “indirectly” attributable to this disaster. I grapple with understanding these losses, especially the “indirect deaths”, in the context of my role as an adaptation professional: to be able to articulate why they happened, how climate change is to blame, and what I can do to decrease the number of losses projected for the years ahead.

Personally, my motivation as an adaptation professional is to reduce lives lost from climate change. It’s incumbent upon me, and all of us, to ask ourselves how each of the strategies we use in our work affects how we achieve that goal. ASAP’s Values and Beliefs, elaborated through the Code of Ethics and Living Guide, implore us to be systems thinkers and apply co-benefits. Twelve years ago, the Stern Report made a compelling economic case for action. Last month’s IPCC report put our failure to act, and perhaps with it the failure of the economic case, in sharp relief, giving us just twelve more years to leap forward. And yet we continue to refine our methodology for evaluating the economic benefits of climate action and the costs of inaction.  

But we must think beyond economic costs. As fires continue to ravage California and hurricane season comes to a close, we are approaching a reckoning with 2018’s climate change death toll. As a cross-sector community of practice, we are uniquely positioned to strengthen responsive professional capacity and reduce harm by sharing lessons learned and staying connected. Public health professionals turned the world’s attention back to the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria, using proven methodology for calculating excess mortality and outlining a research agenda for how to adapt those methodologies to the demands of climate-related disasters.

We must strive to build an accountability framework that significantly reduces loss of life. The field of public health consistently sounds the alarm about how climate change is impacting determinants of health such as clean air, water, food, and shelter. I ask those ASAP members who are part of both the climate adaptation and public health communities to step forward and help us integrate best practices for determining and communicating the human cost of climate change. We must bring the strengths from each of these communities of practice to bear and build capacity together.

Here are a few places to find public health and climate adaptation at the intersection:

The Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative has 5 Quick Guides on Climate Change & Public Health. For those at the American Public Health Association (APHA)  conference this week, here is a list of climate change related sessions. Read this article from the APHA newswire on Accessing environmental health services: ‘This is community engagement 101’ and learn more about an environment and public health collaboration with the American Planning Association called Plans4Health. You can also attend the Health and Environmental Funders Network 2018 Annual Meeting on Environmental Health and Justice Majority: Raising Voices, Building Power, taking place in Pittsburgh November 28-30, 2018.

Read our full newsletter from November 16, 2018

Interest Topics:

2018 Carolinas Regional Adaptation Leadership Awards

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, Winner
Principal Planner, Town of Nags Head
Elizabeth City, NC

Twitter: @Townofnagshead
Web: https://www.nagsheadnc.gov/

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

Twitter: @SeaGrantNC and @NC_WRRI
Web: https://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu

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, Honorable Mention for Adaptation Integration
Associate Professor of Entomology, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC

Twitter: @OrnaPests and @EcoIPM
Web: www.ecoipm.org

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!

Mentorship Spotlight: Resilience in the Field

A Coastal Resilience Specialist with North Carolina’s Division of Coastal Management in Morehead City, Christian Kamrath works with local governments and partner organizations to facilitate coastal adaptation and resilience planning in the state’s twenty coastal counties. Previously, he worked on climate adaptation, disaster recovery and emergency preparedness planning with North Carolina Sea Grant, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A self-proclaimed weather-nerd, Christian is a former forecaster at the University of Florida (WRUF-TV6), and now a recent graduate (’18) of the Masters of City and Regional Planning program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Christian is also the owner of CK Resilience Planning, an independent consulting firm.

Making the “Miami Forever Bond” a Model for Equitable Climate 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.