Monday, August 22, 2016

California Climate Change Conferences in Flux

This will not be news to people registered for the California Climate Adaptation Forum, but bystanders might be interested to know:

The California Climate Change Symposium "Science to Safeguard California" that was to be held Tues. Sept. 6 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, the same hotel where the California Adaptation Forum (CAF) will be held Sept. 7-8, has been rescheduled and relocated. It will be held in Sacramento on January 25-26, 2017.

The reason for the above change is that it was being organized by state entities (California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research) and there is a labor dispute at the host hotel that has led to all state employees, who are union members, being told to stay away from this hotel. This is a paraphrasing of something passed on to me a few weeks ago by an employee of the California Coastal Conservancy (who was trying to figure out a work-around, such as attending as a private individual, with no luck).

The organizer of the CAF, the Local Government Commission (LGC), is a non-profit and not a union shop, so the CAF is going forward despite state employee withdrawal from participation.

A friend who is not a union member but who has qualms about potentially crossing a picket line contacted the LGC about the labor dispute, and was sent this reply on Aug. 12 indicating some ways she might engage with the negotiation process (the text links are as sent in the e-mail):

The hotel staff is not on strike, there is an organized campaign by UNITE HERE [Local 11] to raise awareness of labor issues and to pressure the hotel to allow them to unionize using a card check neutrality process. The campaign includes a protest outside the hotel on some days. We have more information here on a web page  we setup on the situation so that everyone could know what was happening. 
In terms of updates, we are still in active discussions with representatives from UNITE HERE about ways to further engage during our event and to use our presence as a means to engage with hotel management on their concerns. We are currently developing a letter to the hotel management and owners describing how their actions have affected our event specifically, and at the request of some partners have created a template for anyone who wants to provide their own feedback to the hotel. We are talking with UNITE HERE about following-up with this letter by bringing a delegation to management during the event to ask them to allow the card-check neutrality process to go forward and are potentially going to try to get a news piece to cover the situation during the event.
If you are interested in any of these activities please let me know. Don't hesitate to contact me should you have any further questions or concerns.
Sincerely,
Kif Scheuer
Climate Change Program Director
Local Government Commission

So far it looks like the UNITE HERE Local 11 campaign will not be resolved in time for state employees to participate at the California Adaptation Forum. That, plus what I've heard about the approved workshops, makes this a gathering with a strong emphasis on private, local community groups. It will be interesting to see what unfolds!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adaptation Futures - Rotterdam Report-Back













Earlier this month I was one of about 1,700 people from 102 countries attending Adaptation Futures 2016, touted as the biggest-yet climate change adaptation conference, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It reportedly sold out to capacity each of its three days (May 10-13). The week ended with a day of trips (13 of them) to various flood control landmarks and projects. There were 155 sessions with daily plenaries that were simultaneously translated into French and Spanish. It featured an active Twitter feed, a LinkedIn group, and its own app to facilitate conference networking, Fuseami. There was a "Tool Shed" with its own parallel program of presentations, and a daily poster session after the end of the day's program. It was sponsored chiefly by the Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) alongside the European Commission and the Government of the Netherlands.

There were seven sectoral themes and three cross-cutting issues, all what I would call standard issue except for one...

1. Cities and infrastructure
2. Food, forestry and rural livelihoods
3. Fresh water availability and access
4. Public health
5. Ecosystems and ecosystem based adaptation
6. Disaster risk reduction
7. The Arctic
8. Risk assessment, adaptation planning and evaluation [cross-cutting]
9. Institutions and governance [cross-cutting]
10. Finance, investment and business [cross-cutting]

The Arctic stood out as the only track with a geographical focus.

Poverty and inequality were addressed in sessions across all sectors and issues. The program was a mix of developing world and rich world topics, with some sessions touching on issues common to both, such as early warning systems for public health.
Something unique in my experience for an adaptation conference is that it featured an address by local royalty: Queen Maxima of the Netherlands addressed the conference on the second day, followed by a panel on adaptation finance. She gave a well-informed speech about the need to provide financial instruments such as weather-indexed crop insurance to smallholder farmers in developing countries. (Unfortunately, she gave her well-informed speech wearing a safety-orange floral sleeveless sun dress that blew out my camera-phone's settings-- I was close enough for a good photo but it yielded me nothing.) The Q&A at the end of the plenary gave an opportunity for the other member of a royal family in the room to address a comment to the queen: Princess Abze Djigma of Burkina Faso (an engineer and CEO of her own solar company) pointed out that you need to build trust before expecting farmers, or anyone, to buy into an insurance scheme.

A hot topic at the conference was the the December 2015 Paris agreement, especially the new adaptation funding stream and how it can be managed so as to remain in alignment with economic development projects and goals (and not be a haven for projects that are actually just rejected economic development ideas). There was a session on how to make this funding stream "gender sensitive," a term I'll discuss further below.

A new-to-me term in currency at the conference was "climate services." I understood it to mean the disciplines of mitigation and adaptation combined, but another conference-goer pointed out that it could be applied to almost any project. Elsevier apparently had a launch event for a new journal called Climate Services at the conference. (Its first volume from March 2016 is available for free on Science Direct.)

A little Googling tells me that the Climate Services Partnership was founded in New York in 2011.

Check out some climate service projects featured by the Global Framework for Climate Services, which was founded in 2009 (or a decision was made to create it) at the World Climate Conference-3.

Another new-to-me term I encountered at the conference was "adaptation pathways," described in the program as "an emerging approach to decision-making accounting for future uncertainty,
resilience, complex systems and multiple stakeholders’ goals." I missed the CSIRO's presentation introducing the approach, but others were live-tweeting it and discussing it over the coffee breaks. One of its innovations (as I understood it second-hand) is to do an assessment of the collective capacity to act prior to any vulnerability assessment in order to generate more actionable information (e.g., instead of spending resources on an exhaustive examination of vulnerabilities, including those that logistically cannot be reduced).

Read more about it on the CSIRO's Enabling Adaptation Pathways initiative website.

Good questions that were brought up at the conference:
  • Maladaptation and maldevelopment: where they intersect, where adaptation can be maldevelopment, and where development can be maladaptation. It was pointed out that this is a matter of your time horizon-- short-term versus long. The Green Revolution in India established food security, a good short-term success, but it created disparities that took away from resilience in the long-term.
  • Ethics in the adaptation planning process: there are value judgments inherent in vulnerability assessments, stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation, etc., and they all need to be made salient and examined. 
  • NOAA's Roger Pulwarty brought up a few good questions at the opening plenary that were discussed throughout the conference, including:
    • How much data do we need? We can pursue a lot more data and still make the wrong decision. He cautioned against producing data to support a pre-determined decision about action: "If we aren't careful we'll end up where we're going."
    • Is the goal agreement on action or appropriate action? Riffing on the anecdote about six blind men and an elephant that's used to illustrate how silos make us stupid, he pointed out that six elephants can agree that a human is flat.
  • Teleconnections: I heard not just the usual discussion of climate change affecting supply chains for private enterprise, but also how one government's decision about adaptation could have ripple effects in a world region. The common understanding that mitigation is global and adaptation is local needs to be revised: adaptation is also global.
  • Insurance: while the role of insurance (especially micro-insurance, weather-indexed insurance, and other developing-world schemes) has been examined in the light of climate change for many years now, it is getting new attention. I heard discussion of its drawbacks and limitations, but also its importance. Governments are now widely recognized as not having sufficient capacity to address the impacts of climate change. Insurance companies and other private financial institutions need to be engaged to work with governments more actively.
  • Should there be international standards for adaptation? Who should dictate them? There was only one session on global infrastructure standards, but I think it's an up-and-coming topic. Australia has adopted building standards for climate change. What can we learn from their experience? (Read a 2014 paper on Australian Standard AS 5334 ‘Climate change adaptation for settlements and infrastructure.’ to learn more.)

The conference brought up one old worry and one new worry for me. The old worry: why the short-schrifting of indigenous issues? At this point no climate change conference should treat indigenous adaptation as an afterthought. The only session explicitly addressing this was held in the conference venue's tiniest room with the poorest air circulation (and it was packed, standing room only). There were four speakers, and two of these were not indigenous people, but white people discussing projects they were documenting. The study of traditional environmental knowledge is a well-developed field, it can't be that hard to recruit people to talk about TEK and climate change from an indigenous perspective.

My new worry is what was discussed as the closing plenary as the "silofication" of adaptation. Adaptation is by its nature interdisciplinary: it will reduce its effectiveness to forge and require an adaptation brand. To some extent, it makes sense to create a silo insofar as it is a new profession and needs a silo to be identified as such, but to a large extent adaptation is a repackaging of a lot of different existing silos (public health, public safety/ disaster response, ecosystem restoration, etc.). There are new conferences springing up in the U.S. that are marketed using adaptation language, charging exorbitant fees, and featuring boutique trademarked tools and frameworks that seem to me to be aimed at generating income predicated on a sense of panic in the face of "the sky is falling" climate change reporting. I'm worried this will alienate the otherwise reasonable skeptics in government who need to start incorporating climate change into their government's planning processes but who don't want to fork over a pile of cash to an adaptation-branded consulting firm in order to do so.

Now for the surprises: things I'm still turning over in my mind that I learned at the conference.
  1. Lightning is killing a lot of people in India. I noticed this in a talk about heat waves: there was a slide with a graph about deaths by natural events in India to illustrate the heat wave problem, but the tallest column was twice as tall as heat wave deaths, and it was labeled "lightning." I thought I couldn't be reading it right, but turns out over 24,700 have been killed by lightning in India in last 10 years, and its on the exponential rise. A little Googling tells me that some are attributing this to climate change (read Thousands of Lightning Deaths in India Highlight COP21’s Climate Change Challenge - WSJ, Dec. 4, 2015). One sad adaptation strategy is to increase payments to the families of those killed by lightning, apparently usually farmers out tending their fields during the monsoon season.

  2. In some places a village will lose all its women in a flood, according to Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. Why? Because it is not considered culturally appropriate to teach women to swim, and because women won't take off culturally prescribed restrictive clothing. So they all drown. This insight is still haunting me.

  3. DON'T TAKE AN ARCTIC CRUISE. Tell everyone you know: just say no to Arctic cruises. There is apparently an influx of cruise ships entering waters they once couldn't because of ice. I got to hear about the lack of response capacity in Iceland and Greenland (three helicopters!). Meanwhile, people are paying 21,000 USD for a berth on the Crystal Serenity to go through the Northwest Passage this fall. Apparently U.S. and Canadian rescue teams are going to -- coincidentally-- conduct training drills in the vicinity of the cruise's maiden voyage, just in case. Beyond the lack of emergency preparedness, there's also the small matter of the impact of these giant cruise ships on the local cultures and environment.

  4. The Dutch don't talk about flooding. If they bring it up it is to say "this is something we don't worry about." A person working on retrofitting NYC public housing for the next Hurricane Sandy told me that Rotterdam is not retrofitting old housing stock for flooding: it's not even on the table for discussion. I thought there would be a whole track in the conference on flood preparedness, but no. One of our tour guides at the Delta Works (during the field trip day) complained that people laughed when someone tried to organize evacuation drills for flooding in Rotterdam. The Delta Works were built for a once-in-10,000-year flood event, but that is predicated on weather patterns not changing. The peat that the dikes are built on (or in some cases made of) becomes brittle in the summer. If there was an anomalous summer rain event that flooded the Rhine at the same time as a high tide with storm surge in the North Sea, there would be problems. At the closing plenary a young student playing the role of a  "flying reporter" was asked her conclusions from the conference, and one of her take-aways was the realization of how lucky they are in the Netherlands to have their seawalls. She wished everywhere in the world they could have the same protections. I thought, "yes, but..."
Some critical afterthoughts about Adaptation Futures:

There were too many sessions. I heard this from more than one experienced adaptation conference-goer. Some presentations were really repetitive of others, and some only tangentially related to adaptation. I'm looking at you, "Livelihood adaptation to long term exposure to volcanic ash."

Although the indigenous approach to adaptation only got one session, there was still a palpable attraction to the idea of traditional environmental knowledge being key to good adaptation. Also, ecosystem-based adaptation. In principle, I think that's fantastic. But I worry that there are unrealistic expectations, even a fetishization of TEK and EbA. I hope the next conference has some grounded-in-reality discussions of how best to combine TEK and EbA with other approaches, keeping an eye on effectiveness and efficiency.

I saw no sessions focusing on the question of how to define adaptation or how to set adaptation goals, but a lot on measurement, monitoring, and evaluation. Can we talk about the dangers of doing the second without the first?

I saw no sessions on ocean acidification. I wonder if it's because it's an ost-risk. -- That's a new adaptation pun I learned at the conference: a risk so terrible you have to stick your head in the sand (you know, like an ostrich).

Lastly, I have a futile complaint about the use of the term "gender" at Adaptation Futures and elsewhere in the international development context. A term like "gender-sensitivity," such as in the deployment of the Global Environment Fund's new adaptation funds, should really be "sensitivity to women's issues." Coming as I do first from an LGBT human rights background before working on environmental issues, I find the international development field's use of "gender" to mean "related to women" at best annoying. It is as though women are the "people of gender," and everyone else is genderless, or invisible (there are third-gendered people, such as India's hijras, who might experience climate impacts differently from cis-gendered women). Men also have gender, and it is salient in the context of climate change, particularly in the context of natural resource-scarcity-driven conflicts. Making "gender" a gloss for "women" weakens the entire gender analysis of climate vulnerability.

Let me end with a billboard that a bunch of us saw and darkly enjoyed while roving around looking for dinner one evening, just a few blocks from the conference site. It's not inspirational, but it has the ring of truth after you've dwelled a while in the world of climate change adaptation.



Onward toward the next Adaptation Futures: see you in Cape Town in 2018!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

George Wright Society 2015 Proceedings Now Online

Last year (March 29-April 3, 2015) the George Wright Society met in Oakland, California, my home. It was great. I walked 20 minutes downtown and saw many people I've known from various projects regarding climate change and public open space lands presenting about their research. The proceedings are now available for download.

Get free downloads of PDFs of some the papers and attendee reflections from the 2015 conference here.

The George Wright Society is -- for the uninitiated-- "a nonprofit association of researchers, managers, administrators, educators, and other professionals who work in, or on behalf of, parks, protected areas, and cultural/historic sites" (per Wikipedia's article). I did not realize until I looked it up after the conference that George Wright--George Melendez Wright-- was born in 1904 and died in a tragic car accident on the job at age 31 in 1936, and was (a) from San Francisco, (b) El Salvadoran-American, son of an immigrant, (c) like me a graduate from UC Berkeley, and (d) the first scientist employed by the U.S. National Park Service. A cool-sounding dude.

The 2015 conference held by the non-profit named after him was titled "Engagement, Education, and Expectations: The Future of Parks and Protected Areas." You can download a 203-page book, edited by Samantha Weber, with 49 papers and reflection statements from the conference.

Climate change was all over this conference. Here's the one scientific paper on the topic that made it to this collection:

Monitoring Landbirds in National Parks: Understanding Populations, Migratory Connectivity, and Climate Change (Albert et al.) - 7 pages

I saw a great presentation at GWS 2015 by Mark Schwartz (UC Davis) on assisted migration-- a cautious and rational approach to the quintessential hot-button topic in natural resource management. He was in the climate change "Focus Session" provocatively titled  "Climate Change Adaptation isn't for Sissies," moderated by NPS climate change luminary Leigh Welling, and featuring, besides Mark, other big names in the adaptation field UW's Josh Lawler and NPS climate scientist Patrick Gonzalez. Unfortunately, the research presented by them isn't in the free downloadable materials.

Read "A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change" -- Mark Schwartz's influential 2007 article, authored with Jason McLachlan and Jessican Hellmann-- free on CAKEx.


Monday, April 4, 2016

The California Adaptation Forum - Session Proposal Deadline Extended

Today was the deadline for California Adaptation Forum session proposals, but this afternoon the Local Government Commission extended the deadline to next Friday, April 15. Submit your proposal here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bucket o' Miscellaneous News: Safeguarding California, Pending Law, the Next CAF, and Adaptation Futures 2016

Safeguarding California!

Last Tuesday the California Natural Resources Agency released its new adaptation guidance for the state, Safeguarding California: Implementation Action Plans -- the "how to" supplement to the 2014 report Safeguarding California: Reducing Climate Risk-- the update of the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy. A draft third version of the adaptation strategy is mandated by law (AB 1482) to be completed by January 1, 2017.

Read some local coverage of the new guidance: California Government Prepares For Extreme Effects Of Climate Change (March 8, 2016, CBS SF Bay Area).

Update: see a longer article informed by interviews with some of the organizers/contributors: Central coast ag sector aims to thrive in dry spell (March 16, 2016, the Santa Maria Sun).

Pending Law

Some new climate change adaptation-related legislation is pending in California, introduced in mid-February:
  • SB 1363 - Promoting eelgrass restoration in coastal habitats (by State Senator Bill Monning). It would encourage evidence-based approaches to restoring eelgrass habitat, which lessens harm from sea-level rise while benefiting salmon, other important commercial fish species, and migratory birds.
  • AB 2413 - Sea-level rise preparation (by State Assembly member Tony Thurmond). It would require the California National Resource Agency to do "a study outlining the potential impact of sea level rise on low-income and at-risk communities and public projects and infrastructure" by January 1st, 2019.
  • AB 1925 - Introducing a statewide goal for the volume of sea water desalinated (by State Assembly member Ling Ling Chang). This would give a boost to the state's pending coastal desalination projects.
The Next California Adaptation Forum (CAF)

The second CAF will be in Long Beach, California, September 7-8, 2016, and the deadline for proposals is April 3rd. The submission guidelines can be found here.

When the second CAF was announced I heard from a heavy-hitting lobbyist for nature-based adaptation that this forum is not as big a priority for their organization as the first one in August 2014, which was based in Sacramento and brought together a lot of supporters of the glut of climate adaptation legislation that passed last fall (read more about that: Red-Letter Day for California Adaptation Planning, October 9th, 2015). He may have even said he didn't see the point of it(?). So, we can look forward to having fewer lobbyists at this CAF! Hopefully we'll hear lots from local groups like Communities for a Better Environment, who just celebrated in February an announcement of new funds for a clean-up of toxic soil in East LA (read more: Governor Brown commits $176 million to clean up Exide mess in South East Los Angeles, February 18, 2016).

The Next International Adaptation Futures Conference

I am in the throes of logistics for a trip to the Fourth International Adaptation Futures Conference, this time in Rotterdam, Netherlands, May 10-13, 2016, who's program currently has 700 contributors from 69 countries. I loved the second one, held in Tucson, Arizona, in 2012. I missed the first and third conferences (in Queensland, Australia, in 2010, and Fortaleza, Brazil, in 2014). Tucson featured the highest level discussion of practical climate change adaptation I've yet seen, with the most international and multi-level attendance. Being in the Netherlands, I expect a big focus on sea-level rise. For the optional day of field trips I selected a trip to the fantastic Delta Works, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Further reading:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thankful for that Thing with Feathers (Thoughts on the NorCal Climate Mobilization)

I thought about writing this post about all the good new climate change reports that have recently come out. The top two in my mind:
  • "The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do" (AKA the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Science Update 2015), a massive multi-multi-party collaboration three years in the making, released on October 19th, 2015, with the main takeaway that we have time to do what needs to be done to preserve important marshland for wildlife habitat and human community protection if we act now; and,
  • "States at Risk," a co-production of ICF International and the illustrious and media-savvy Climate Central, released on Nov. 18th, 2015, giving scores to U.S. states for their climate change readiness, with the main takeaway being that almost no state is preparing anywhere near adequately for extreme heat events.
...Both are highly promising in their readability and practicality of approach. I could go on.

But instead I'd like to write about a moment that happened on Saturday morning as I entered the crowd at the Nov. 21st NorCal Climate Mobiliation, a march starting by Lake Merritt and ending in a rally at city hall in Oakland, California. This was the first of many marches organized by 350.org around the country to bring attention to the 10 days of climate negotiations in Paris called COP21 (the 21st meeting of the "Conference of the Parties" to international negotiations on limiting climate change), starting Nov. 30th, 2015.


This, above, is Samba Funk, a carnaval drum/dance corps, entering the street at the start of the march. It's not a great photo, but if you look you can see the leader-- King Theo (Theo Aytchan Williams)-- pointing at someone behind me to my right with his red-ball-tipped drumstick. (Read more about this group at their under-construction website, hear them here). 

As I stood there, I was struck all at once with the energy of their drumming and the sight of the banner-flags flying, and the "Carbon Tax Me" stickers on everyone around me-- and a lump formed in my throat and a tear came to my eye. It felt like a sob rising in me. I didn't recognize it at first. Yes, that was the "thing with feathers," as Emily Dickinson says.

No number of scientists and media experts sitting in front of their laptops in florescent-lit offices will save us if there isn't also HOPE. Hope, expressed in music, collective dancing in the streets, prayer, high-flying banners that say "Water is Life," and the inclusion and support of movements tangential to the climate change awareness movement-- such as support for refugees:


And support for all the ways and reasons to move away from a fossil-fuel economy:


We need all hands on deck, and that moment, being washed in drumbeats, was the first time I thought-- REALLY THOUGHT-- yes, we might be able to get all hands on deck. With the strength of a multi-level/media/cultural/lingual, intersectional movement we might get there.

At least one friend who helped organize the event corroborated my thoughts, that this was a much stronger showing with better representation of different kinds of activists than previous climate marches. She said, "it's catching on." 

Especially after the recent series of catastrophic strikes by the Islamic State, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for this past weekend's march and the profound moment of hope it gave me. It will carry me.

I hope my friends and colleagues who are traveling to COP21 in Paris go safely and hold on to their own sense of hope, and dance in the street every chance they get, despite the government's ban on the Nov. 29th Global Climate March.

Some coverage of the Nov. 21st NorCal Climate Mobilization march and rally in Oakland:
Note that estimates of Saturday's attendance varied from this "hundreds" to "thousands" to a specific number I saw on a Tweet somewhere-- 2,450?-- to 5,000 (that from an organizer who said their goal was 10,000). The Contra Costa Times says over 100 groups were represented.

Lastly, a favorite sign from the march:


...a basic tenet of my life. (Photo credit: Green Bean.) With flowers and hearts, I also give thanks to you my readers. Hope you have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Government Folly in the Face of Climate Change (the re-post)

The following  was published March 19, 2015, on the WWF ClimatePrep blog (climateprep.org) -- which now appears to have gone defunct. Just in case it's gone for good, I'm going to re-post my ClimatePrep articles here. You can still see the original on Archive.org.

I followed this piece for WWF with  items here in March and April about some new instances of  folly -- governments constraining their own climate/environmental scientists in Florida and Wisconsin.
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The great historian Barbara Tuchman took a hard look at governmental policy missteps in her 1984 book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. As someone studying modern climate change policy, it is hard not to draw parallels to her definition of folly: The pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved.

She uses these criteria to zero in on the most serious instances of government folly:

  1. The policy must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not just in hindsight.
  2. A feasible alternative course of action must have been available.
  3. The policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and persist beyond any one political lifetime (“collective government” folly is the more significant problem).

How is hiding climate change science “folly”?

Many governments are acknowledging climate change, even creating new positions to work on the problem. Governments taking slow and measured steps—perhaps too slow and measured—can be viewed as insufficient action, but it is not folly; governments ordering their scientists to study climate change and then burying the results? I call that a classic example of Tuchmanesque folly, and the U.S. federal government and three U.S. states— Nebraska, South Carolina, and North Carolina—have all done it. The press and science-friendly politicians have widely called out the counter-productivity of governments burying climate science. Incorporating the science into planning is (to some degree or another) feasible, since other governments are doing it. The subterfuge is not being done by one person, but government decision-making bodies. Governments burying their own climate science is the definition of folly.

When did the U.S. government bury climate science that it itself ordered?

The details about three states’ climate follies were recently published by the Business Insider’s science desk (read: These States Have Reportedly Tried to Hide Scary Climate Data from the Public [Oct. 30, 2014] and This Is the Climate Report South Carolina Spent Years Hiding [Dec. 29, 2014]). The author points out that “good climate reports were ultimately made public in the above three states, even if the reports are not currently being utilized to their full potential.” While that is true, North Carolina’s infamous official denial of sea level rise data will hamper planning for at least another year.

North Carolina’s House Bill 819, passed in June 2012, prevents the state from basing coastal policy on anything but historical data, ignoring any emerging climate change science through 2016. The governor failed to veto the bill, and it became law in August 2012. Almost simultaneously, in June 2012, a scientific article by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) placed North Carolina’s coast within a 600-mile “hotspot” for sea level rise. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, had the input of the legislature and the USGS put in front of her at the same time, and she let the political current pull state policy away from where science was pointing. Meanwhile, in 2013 she was replaced by a Republican, Pat McCrory, who installed an oil developer as head of the state’s Coastal Resources Commission and believes in responding to climate change by “cleaning up the environment in a cost-effective way.” Besides this, coastal Carolinians might also worry about the lagging constraints on public safety planning caused by the May 2014 vote by the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission to ignore sea level rise impacts projected too far out. Adaptation to sea level rise will—by collective government vote—only prepare for the next 30 years of impacts.

What about the U.S. federal government? Didn’t official climate science denial get voted out in 2008?

There are many ways government can delay or bury the release of inconvenient scientific findings. Many are familiar with the second Bush administration’s direct censorship of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the topic of climate change. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was also censored, leading to its senior official Rick Piltz turning whistleblower in 2005. He founded and directed the Government Accountability Project’s Climate Science Watch initiative from 2005 until his death in October 2014 (read his obituary from the NYT). In March 2013 Mr. Piltz told students during a speaking tour that:
[T]he chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a former energy lobbyist, would hand-edit reports, deleting references to the ecological impact of climate change and adding passages that exaggerated the uncertainty of climate-related findings.
In January 2009, Barack Obama promised in his inaugural speech, “We’ll restore science to its rightful place,” and two months later issued a memorandum to agency heads to improve scientific integrity. Under his administration, the direct White House interference with the EPA and USGCRP may have stopped, but Congress has found ways to delay action on EPA findings about dangerous chemicals, and in the same manner may be playing shell games to delay action on rational, climate change science-based adaptation planning.

Case in point: according to a Center for Public Integrity 2014 report, the EPA has been prepared since 2008 to assert that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than it now reports. However, its arsenic report was delayed procedurally at the Office of Management and Budget for two years. Then, in 2011, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, with arsenic-laden pesticide companies among his campaign donors, ordered the EPA to have its findings reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences within a House Appropriations Committee report. In 2015 the review is still ongoing, and nothing has changed in federal regulations regarding arsenic in drinking water.

Eventually the “safe” levels of arsenic may be adjusted and avoidable cases of cancer duly avoided. But evidence is mounting that there is no way to be adequately conservative in our emissions of greenhouse gases or adequately liberal in preparing for climate change hazards. According to a Princeton study published in 2013, even if we halted all greenhouse gas emissions today climate change would proceed unabated for centuries—not decades, as previously thought— because of the ocean’s decreasing ability to absorb heat. And this is not accounting for intersecting hazards and feedback loops causing exponential worsening of conditions, difficult to project with today’s climate models.

The EPA’s arsenic case is awful, but the burial of scientific findings about climate change is potentially catastrophic.

Are there any cases of the U.S. government actually adapting to climate change, despite political pressure to delay?

The U.S. Navy has been at the forefront of actually adapting to climate change since before Obama’s restoration of “science to its rightful place.” A Feb. 12, 2015, article by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone describes how the military has long seen the security threat represented by climate change and taken measures—as long ago as 2003, when the report “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security” (by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, downloadable here) was published by the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld, then President George W. Bush’s defense secretary. The home of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Norfolk, VA, is within the sea level rise “hotspot” called out by the USGS in 2012 (running from Cape Hatteras, NC to north of Boston, MA). So the Navy has been busy planning for climate change, despite occasional Obama-era interference from Congressional climate denialists. The Navy started with replacing critical piers that were becoming submerged in the late 1990’s. Goodell asks the officer in charge of mid-Atlantic Navy facilities, Capt. J. Pat Rios, about the rationale for replacing them:
“We didn’t raise the piers because of climate change” […]. He doesn’t quite wink, but almost.
“Then why did you raise them?” I ask.
“Because we needed new piers. And as long as we were building them, it didn’t cost much more to build them higher.”
Thus, the Navy’s climate change adaption planners find their ways to work around a government bent on folly.


Photo: Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. © U.S. Government