Alex Basaraba works at the interstice of environmental conservation, climate change, and human well-being using visual story-telling, research, and planning. Currently, he works as a climate resilience specialist with Adaptation International, a consulting firm focused on helping communities and organizations prepare for the impacts of climate change. Adaptation International specializes in bridging the gap between climate science and community action and invests in developing tools and strategies necessary to support climate change preparedness. In addition to pursuing his own climate and environmentally-focused storytelling projects, Alex works in Nepal as an educator with National Geographic Expeditions. He holds a Master’s in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and a Bachelor’s in Biology, both from Colorado State University.
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.
Reflections on Climate Leadership in 2019
By Beth Gibbons
Next month, the North American adaptation community will meet in the Midwest US. Comprised of vanguards and newcomers, we will converge in Madison to share strategies, lessons learned, successes, failures, friendships, beer and cheese – it is Wisconsin, after all!
This past week, a different climate community convened on the seawall of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore at the Climate Leadership Conference. Convened by C2ES and The Climate Registry, it is the descendent of an event once hosted by the EPA by the same name. However, unlike past years, resilience and climate adaptation were on the agenda–both literally and figuratively–for the conference attendees.
At ASAP, we have seen a marked increase in the private sector engagement in the climate resilience and adaptation conversation. We are observing shifts in the climate resilience marketplace (both demand for and support of services) and in the shifting demographics of the ASAP Membership.
Attending events like the Climate Leadership Conference and our stalwart National Adaptation Forum, we can translate lessons between events and achieve more robust discussions with our members. In that spirit, here are the top 5 observations from the ASAP Booth at the Climate Leadership Conference 2019:
- Companies want climate resilience (and sustainability) integrated throughout their entire operations. Kevin Rabinovitch, VP for Global Sustainability at Mars Inc., noted that it’s not enough for climate resilience to the job of his 20 person team. Rather he wants to see principles of resilience (and sustainability) integrated throughout Mars Incorporated’s 113,000 employees.
- Mitigation vs. Adaptation is still being talked about. While there was robust discussion on the role of corporations advocating for climate action, there was also an expressed concern that ‘if we can only advance one policy goal – it has to be mitigation’.
- The lack of US federal leadership is felt across the world. When asked about whether the US is losing its reputation as a leader, Cathy Woollums of Berkshire Hathaway Energy quipped,“Sometimes, when you want to be leader, you have to lead.”
- New legal challenges are coming fast and furious.
- TCFD – the Bloomberg driven, international framework for corporate risk disclosure is creating a pathway into this work. However, the path through climate financial disclosure remains fertile ground for innovation and exploration.
I also noticed a few things were missing from this conference:
- The financial markets were missing. I don’t think there were any speakers from S&P, Moody’s or Fitch – the three domestic rating agencies. Despite support from Bloomberg, their team kept a low profile throughout the event.
- The conversations were sorely missing the federal perspective. At a conference once hosted by Environmental Protection Agency and hosted less than 40 miles from the D.C. border, the lack of federal agency staff was striking.
- The crowd was – well – not young. While Greta Thunberg and the youth movement is dominating the global climate conversation, this conference was still about top down leadership from well-seasoned professionals.
- The attendees, and especially the speakers, were conspicuously white. This was definitely a crowd where the word equity was more likely to be in a sentence with ‘balance sheet’ and ‘profit’ than ‘justice’ and ‘race’.
I do not point out these missing groups to criticize or diminish the value of the conversations and interactions that were taking place. However, throughout the adaptation and resilience field, we have learned that when we change who is the room, we change the conversation. When we change the conversation, we change the actions. We also know that diversity equals profitability, and that is an equity outcome we all like to achieve.
The public sector was never going to solve this challenge on its own. There was an appetite for action and a different kind of know-how on display in Baltimore last week. Now, more than ever, I am grateful for ASAP being an inclusive community that can bridge these events, connect conversations, and drive the innovation and excellence that we need across this critical and diverse field of practice.
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By Dawn Nelson, ASAP Communications Coordinator
An emergency declaration for a border wall as a measure for national security is not an incongruity lost on many Americans. It becomes troubling to learn that some of the money being diverted to fund a border wall will come from construction funding to strengthen the resilience of US military bases–thereby diminishing capacity for national security.
The Trump administration aims to grab $3.6 billion from Defense Department Military construction funds. Concerns abound across the political spectrum that this will negatively impact previously prioritized projects, such as military family housing, schools, and service animal treatment facilities and other critical upgrades and base improvements. This has direct bearing on adaptation and resilience capacity for numerous military construction projects.
For example, military bases on the South Carolina coast are at risk for annual flooding events to nearly double in the coming decades. In Florida, the Tyndall Air Force base has already sustained severe damage from last year’s hurricanes, and future funding remains uncertain. The House Appropriations Committee identified nearly $311 million at risk of diversion in Hawaii, including $45 million for improvements at Pearl Harbor and another $123 million for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The irony that diverting funds from military construction projects to pay for a security measure that actually undermines security is stark. As Rep. Kendra Horn, Member of the House Armed Service Committee simply states, “Pulling from our military housing does not make us safer. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable.”
Nevertheless, we find it heartening that this may afford an opportunity to reach across the political aisle and forge some unlikely allies. Consider this your call to action to reach out to elected officials today.
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!