Monday, April 10, 2017

Story Mapping to Get Beyond Boring Bad News

My new post at WWF's ClimatePrep blog is live! Check out Story Maps: A Rising Star of Climate Change Communication, featuring an interview with the father of Story Maps at Esri, Allen Carroll. Story Maps are a set of applications (templates for different kinds of stories) available for free at the Esri Story Maps website that help turn maps into storytellers using web links, video, audio, and images.

Credit where it is due: I lifted the phrase "boring bad news" to describe climate change information from a 2014 article on Story Maps by public media outlet KCET's Environment Editor Chris Clarke.

He was covering the Stanford course on using Story Maps for global change communication, I believe one of the first courses of its kind. The course came about when the California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) went to Stanford paleobiologist Elizabeth Hadly and asked if she could get her students to produce a Story Map on climate change in California that they could use in their outreach efforts. Specializing in storytelling as a communication tool (her Twitter profile says, "Using stories told by the past to illustrate our choices for the future..."), she obliged by sending two of her Ph.D. students out to teach a course. Now courses on using Story Maps to talk about climate change (or global change) seem to be popping up at higher education institutions across the country.

Omitted from my article was Allen Carroll's response to my question about what has surprised him in the deployment of Story Maps. He said that coming from National Geographic (where he was Chief Cartographer for 27 years, "we were big on stories") he was naive, thinking people would just know how to tell a story. By "people" I understood him to mean "map-making software engineers." It sounds like his biggest ongoing struggle is to make technicians step back from dazzling new builder functions and the ease of adding data layers and other content to edit out anything that doesn't support the narrative. Simplicity and creativity are what he's looking for in a good Story Map.

Explore the gallery of exemplary Story Maps curated by Allen Carroll and his team.

My favorite Story Map at the moment: Forest Management, Gender and Climate Change: A Story Map from the Mexican Forest States (2016) by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), featuring engaging video and photographic content.

Friday, February 17, 2017

It's Sedimentary, My Dear

My newest blog post The Sea Level Rise Solution that is as Charismatic as Mud was published today on WWF's ClimatePrep blog, featuring interviews with Larry Goldzband and Brenda Goeden, respectively Executive Director and Sediment Program Manager at BCDC - the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and Doug George, an oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, with additional input from an interview with Nate Kauffman, of LEAP - the Live Edge Adaptation Project.

In the post I delve into the latest news on sediment management for sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the hot topic of BCDC's lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (read the 2-page BCDC brief about the suit here, read the entire filing here), filed Sept. 22, 2016, by California's then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Here is the full list of SF Bay sediment/sea level rise-related pilot projects that appears in my WWF ClimatePrep article in truncated form:

A SF Bay Wetlands Restoration Project Roll Call

There are many pilot projects involving sediment in various stages of development in the SF Bay.

Bel Marin Keys/ Hamilton Airfield
This ACE/ California Coastal Conservancy project is celebrated as a successful transformation of a military site into a wetland. Click here to see a 1:38 video with images of the breaching of the levee, opening the land to the SF Bay waters in 2014. This project benefited from beneficially reused sediment.

Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project
This, the first horizontal levee in the SF Bay, using vegetation on a slope to slow waves rather than a vertical wall, was set to be fully operational in 2016. It might be the first levee of its kind in the world. After more than four years in the permitting process it took six months to build (per Nate Kauffman in Save the Bay, 2016).

Cullinan Ranch
This project in the North Bay, now near completion in the Napa River Delta, came out of a movement to block fill and residential development on the former wetlands. Read about its return to recreational use in “Into the Breach: Paddlers and Ducks Return to Cullinan Ranch” (2016).

South Bay Salt Ponds
This is “the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast.” It is fully underway, and will convert 15,100 acres of commercial salt ponds at the south end of SF Bay into mud flats and tidal marsh. It will rely mostly on natural sedimentation processes rather than reused dredged material.

Montezuma Wetlands Restoration Project (Suisun Marsh)
Now completed, this is an interesting project because it used “slightly more chemically challenged” dredged material than what is usually used in restoration projects: it is designed to safely make beneficial reuse of material that otherwise would be dumped in the open ocean. Scroll to the bottom of this page for a brief description of this project by the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. A 3-page description of the project written during its initial stages.

Living Shorelines
This subtidal restoration demonstration project in San Rafael and Hayward was begun in 2012, is ongoing and now expanding to a new location in Richmond, California. It focuses on eelgrass and oyster habitat restoration.

Bothin Marsh
This project is intended to enhance Bothin Marsh for habitat and sea level rise protection through beneficial reuse of dredge sediment from Coyote Creek. Although Marin County has received a grant to develop a feasibility assessment, it remains in the conceptual design stage.

Sediment self-distribution in the South Bay?
A 2014 study (Bever et al.) showed through modeling that dredged material dumped south of the southern-most bridge across the SF Bay (Dumbarton) could result in the nourishment of “mudflats, marshes and breached salt ponds through natural sediment redistribution.” Any actual experiments with this kind of dumping would have to wait for BCDC to change its bay fill policy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Climate Change Communication Resources for Teachers

Yesterday I was marching in the Women's March Oakland with a friend who teaches 4th grade in a local public school, and found out she was in the middle of starting a unit on climate change. My ears pricked up and I started rattling off resources she might want to check out while she scrambled for her smart phone to jot things down in the drizzle. It occurred to me just now that it might be more convenient if I just put up a blog post with my favorite climate change teaching resources available for free online.

"What is Climate Change" in under 6 minutes

First, the Consensus of Evidence summary description of climate change from the free online course Denial101x Week 1 is the best, most concise presentation I've found on the subject.

Concepts you might want to cover/review before watching this video with kids:
  • Climate - as something that covers more than just weather, not measured in hours/days but decades/centuries
  • Evidence - fancy word for "facts"
  • Atmosphere - that it has a structure above the earth's surface, with upper and lower layers
  • Infrared radiation - fancy words for "heat"
  • Satellites - what are they, what do they do
  • Internal variability - how things change within the usual cycle
  • Why we use the word greenhouse to describe climate changing gases
  • Climate models show us the results of math that predicts the future, they don't describe past observations, but their math is based on past observations (you might want to mention the phrase oft-repeated by climate modelers: "All models are wrong but some are useful")
For audiences not accustomed to hearing an Australian accent you might want to turn on the closed captions (click on the "CC" glyph at the bottom of the video window).

See all the excellent "Denial101x" resources listed in order in a helpful post by a blogger who advocates for climate science. Otherwise, you have to enroll and click through the module to find what you're looking for.

Denial101x is a free online course (a MOOC- "massive open online course") designed to help people analyze and combat climate change denialism by John Cook, the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, and Bärbel Winkler of Skeptical Science.

Enter the Denial101x MOOC module for the full experience.

Helpful Graphics

XKCD's Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature. Comic #1732 (September 12, 2016), by Randall Munroe. The data used is cited as being from 2012 and 2013. If you love this graphic you might enjoy the "Explain XKCD" wiki entry about it.

The Temperature Spiral by University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins, first shared via Twitter on May 9, 2016, with the description "Spiralling global temperatures from 1850-2016 (full animation)," and since updated. It takes about 20 seconds to run. You might want to pause it and point out the last big swerving loop that represents 2016's record heat.

Or you can just leave it on your screen in an infinite loop. It's very relaxing to watch if you don't think about its ominous implications. Click here for another relaxing-if-you-don't-think-about-it spiral, this one going inward, describing Arctic sea ice loss.

Climate change impacts summarized in 19 haiku: some beautiful watercolors and haiku giving the main take-aways of the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers, by NOAA researcher Gregory C. Johnson. You can poke around the full set of IPCC "Fifth Assessment" reports released in 2013-2014 here. The 32-page Summary for Policymakers can be read here.

Someone made a nice 2:28 Youtube video of the haiku.

After reviewing the main impacts with your kids, you might want to circle back to the last line in the haiku in panel #15:

Repositories of Excellent Materials 

Climate Access - Tips and Tools - Climate Access is a North American climate change communications NGO that has lots of useful resources on its site (although the search feature doesn't seem to be functioning-- you'll have to use Google site search).

- Poking around their site I found a link to a 52-min. video of a webinar on how to engage youth on climate change by the Climate Advocacy Lab, and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). The webinar is more geared toward people planning education campaigns than teachers facing down a couple dozen bored teenagers in a classroom, but it does provide interesting public survey data on how teens are accessing information. They present an analysis of ACE's Get Loud Challenge, now called Power Forward.

The Alliance for Climate Education has a 45 min. presentation for high school students featuring the video "Our Climate Our Future" - available for cheap ($5 for 2 days' access) here. You can see the first 8:30 of the full presentation as it was given at the White House in 2015 here.

The Climate Literacy and Awareness Network (CLEAN) has 650+ middle and high school lesson plans free online.

Climate Central - simply the best source for well-written/presented pieces on current climate science. Its content is not necessarily for the younger set, but is generally designed to be accessible.

Two Climate Central articles you might check out before teaching a curriculum on climate change:

- "Should We Tell the Whole Truth About Climate Change?" - an opinion piece by one of their senior science writers

- "Think You’re a Climate Whiz? Take the Quiz" - a 12-part multiple choice quiz. Note that it was written in 2014, so the question "What was the warmest year on record for the globe?" might need a 2016 correction. NASA and NOAA agree 2016 was the warmest year on record globally (NASA).


Game of Floods - See if this award-winning game taking on the challenge of planning for sea level rise might work for your kids. You could probably get tips for how to adapt it for different age groups from one of the creators, the county's Planning Manager Jack Liebster, at +1 (415) 473-4331 or jliebster -at-

- UPDATE - I just ran into Jack at a conference and he said they have used Game of Floods in a classroom context as part of the "Youth Exploring Sea Level Rise Science" (YESS) project, a SF Bay Area curriculum.

The Grid - if you've got an Amazon gift card to burn, this is a fabulous board game that lets the players make their own conclusions about the relative benefits of different energy sources.

The U.S. EPA's game "Generate" - Free! Download it while you still can! It was launched in May 2016 as a teaching tool for classrooms- it looks like a more instructional version of The Grid.

Things You Can Do 

The BioBlitz - an event idea created by National Geographic where you try to document as many species as possible in a given place within a short period of time. The U.S. NPS has a page dedicated to BioBlitzes in the National Parks - including a map where you can click to see what parks near you are involved. The NPS works with iNaturalist, which puts together apps to help document nature. Check out the totals from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's April 1, 2016, BioBlitz on iNaturalist here. If we don't measure biodiversity we can't measure how it shifts with climate change.

The National Phenology Network's "Nature's Notebook" program - where you sign up to be an "observer" and report on changes in plants and animals around you. Check out their Nature's Notebook curriculum and activities page. The data collected here is actually used by scientists! The NPN has documented earlier springtime leafing-out and blooming dates for keystone plant species, shifts linked to climate change. The more we know about these shifts, the better we can prepare.

Rain gardens - the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), based in Marin County, did a great project with the Marin Municipal Water District called "10,000 Rain Gardens" - here's their 2010 report on the project. Although the project is long-finished, MMWD staff are continuing to support community rain gardens - see their resources here. Slowing, spreading, and sinking rainwater helps protect wildlife habitats, reduces hazardous flooding, and recharges groundwater, all helpful under conditions of climate change. From the Rain Garden Network - 10 steps to creating your own rain garden.

Plant native plants to help endangered butterflies - Here in California the California Native Plant Society provides resources for schools that want to plant native plants to support our endangered butterflies and other pollinators. Changes in climate are threatening already endangered species and moving other otherwise healthy wildlife populations toward endangerment. Every little bit of native plant gardening helps maintain sources of food and habitat for our most vulnerable creatures.

ACE's Power Forward - a youth-oriented campaign for clean energy. It recruits 13-24 year-olds to engage in their interactive digital platform through which "participants are able to seamlessly share national climate content on social media and get updates about opportunities to attend local actions in person."

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Putting Equator Principle Banks on the Hotseat for Dakota Access Pipeline Support

I've been asked to post something about some behind-the-scenes help I've been giving to a bank advocacy tactic regarding the unfolding situation at Standing Rock.

Some Background

First: I used to be part of a team that was trying to improve the Sakhalin II oil and gas project, Russia's first off-shore oil/gas project, by putting pressure on the banks funding the project. We were able to get some improvements to the project site locations (away from critical feeding ground for Western Pacific Grey Whales) and get some concessions for indigenous groups whose reindeer-herding livelihoods were interrupted by the project.

Percent of Total U.S. Natural Gas Production
from Shale 2000-2013. US EIA (2013)
Second: the Standing Rock situation is a big topic in the news right now in the U.S., but maybe it needs a little explaining. After some technological advancements opened the door to extraction of oil and gas from shale rock deposits cost-effectively, around 2007, shale oil and gas projects began sprouting up all over the U.S. The states of Texas, California, Alaska, and North Dakota (the location of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation) are the biggest producers of shale oil and gas. Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" used in extracting the oil and gas has been associated with a raft of troubling environmental consequences, including pollution of drinking water sources (see a 2012 health impacts case study from a Montana fracking site). After extraction, transportation of shale oil and gas has risks, too. Fiery derailments of oil trains have been on the rise, one of the reasons for oil and gas companies to push for pipeline alternatives. Unfortunately, pipelines leak.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, when completed in 2016 or 2017, will carry oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale deposit to Illinois, a 1172-mile (1886-km) leg of a larger oil pipeline destined for Louisiana. (Source)

The dotted red line, representing a pipeline, is labeled "Bakken" in this 2015 Sunoco Logistics asset map. (Source, p. 3) 
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), the agency in charge of permits for waterway crossings, approached the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for input on the pipeline in 2015 because the tribe's only clean water source stood to be put in jeopardy by the pipeline route. According to the tribal government, its attempts to get an assessment of pipeline impacts on ancestral burial grounds were ignored. Other tribes whose sacred sites were to be crossed by the pipeline also tried to get the ACE to assess impacts on their ancestral lands, all without success.

The ACE approved the Dakota Access Pipeline permits July 25, 2016, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the ACE on July 27, 2016. On August 22, 2016, tribal members and allies began blocking the pipeline, creating a camp to support the blockade. (Source) On Aug. 23, 2016, this photo appeared on the front of the New York Times, bringing international attention to the blockade:

 Photo by Daniella Zalcman. Published August 23, 2016, NYT

The camp, called a prayer camp by supporters and an illegal act of trespassing by Dakota Access, LLC, began to experience escalating acts of violence by armed private security forces, police from multiple states and agencies, and the U.S. National Guard. These forces have been documented using weapons such as attack dogs, mace, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and tasers on adults and children alike. Journalists covering the violence have been arrested, and in one case charged with rioting (rejected by a judge, Oct. 17, 2016). Currently camp residents are digging in for the winter.

Where do the banks come in?

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC, has put together a network of financial deals to support construction of the Dakken pipeline from North Dakota to Louisiana. The three main entities involved, called the Energy Transfer Family, has both direct loans and revolving credit from 38 banks. See the graphic below for which banks are supporting which part of the project: there is revolving credit extended to Sunoco Logistics, Energy Transfer Partners, and Energy Transfer Equity, and direct project loans to Dakota Access, LLC. In response to this research Yes Magazine published contact information for the 38 banks involved (see their list of Banks and addresses, Sept. 29, 2016).

Food and Water Watch's graphic of DAPL bank involvement
Food and Water Watch produced this
graphic with information from
Rainforest Action Network's
access to Bloomberg Terminal.
(Source, Sept. 6, 2016)
In my bank advocacy days I learned that there are differences between banks. Some want to be seen as environmentally and socially responsible. The most publicity-conscious of those banks are members of the Equator Principles Association. The Equator Principles are a set of voluntary guidelines to reduce environmental and social risk in "project finance," meaning direct loans to major infrastructure projects like pipelines and dams. They were launched in 2003, and revised in 2006 and 2013. (Read more on the EPs at Wikipedia.) Whether they have resulted in a large-scale improvement in environmental and social outcomes in project finance is open to debate, but they do create a leverage point for people trying to improve large infrastructure projects that have loans from EP banks.

There are 85 financial institutions signed on to the Equator Principles at this time (according to the EP Association website). 23 are involved in supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline with 13 of those giving direct loans, an act which should trigger the EP guidelines on project finance.

When I went to my old bank-watchdog friends to ask for the environmental compliance desk contact information for the EPFI's involved in supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline, they realized that the annual meeting of the Equator Principles Association is in London this coming Tuesday, Nov. 8th, an excellent opportunity to address the association as a whole about the pipeline. A letter titled "Open letter to the Equator Principles annual meeting on Dakota pipeline and climate commitments" is now circulating among bank-watchdog organizations, accruing signatories before being delivered on Tuesday.

Here are the two key paragraphs outlining the letter's demands (DAPL = Dakota Access Pipeline):
We understand that it is not the role of the EP Association to intervene in specific project situations. Nevertheless, we consider it crucial for the credibility of the Equator Principles as an effective safeguard against violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights that your meeting calls upon the EPFIs involved in financing DAPL that they take swift action to stop the ongoing violation of the rights of Native Americans. 
This for now requires that all further loan disbursements to the project are put on hold, and that the EPFIs involved demand from the project sponsors an immediate halt to the construction of the pipeline and all associated structures, until all outstanding issues are resolved to the full satisfaction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The letter is intended to be in solidarity with the leadership of the Standing Rock camp; in the absence of official camp leadership, efforts were made to align these demands with those of the Standing Rock Tribal Council.

I hope this does some good.

P.S. Monday morning update: read the full final letter that was just sent to the EP Association.

P.P.S. Tuesday morning update: read the New York Times coverage of the letter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Internet of Water is Here

I have a new post up on the WWF ClimatePrep blog! It's on the internet of water - featuring the work of Branko Kerkez's lab at the University of Michigan, the Real-Time Water Systems Lab. His remote-sensing network-of-gadgets could play a big role in pushing ahead a city's capacity to reuse stormwater, something desperately needed in Los Angeles, where the majority of the city's stormwater goes directly into the ocean, but could supply the city with all the water it needs if it could be captured and redirected.

Here are some stills from an August 2016 video explaining the main pilot project Kerkez's lab is doing in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Smart phone reading live water sensor data from the internet
An example of a read-out from one of the remote sensors installed by the Real-Time Water Systems Lab team. This is a smart phone displaying data fed to the internet at a one-minute resolution.

University of Michigan students installing a remote sensing instrument
The installation of a sensor at Ellsworth Pond, Ann Arbor (2016).

There's so much unrealized potential for creating "smart" (or "smarter") water systems: this is just a small step in that direction.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

California Adaptation Forum 2016 Report-Back

Last Wednesday and Thursday, September 7-8, the 2nd California Adaptation Forum (CAF16) was held in Long Beach, California. Attendance totaled just over 500, according to the Local Government Commission (LGC), the main organizer of the CAF. It was smaller than the first CAF held two years ago in Sacramento. But, being more intimate, it was a great networking event. Also in contrast to the first CAF it focused on one through-running theme: equity in climate change planning. Presentation proposals were required to explain how they addressed the issue of equity, and preference was given to sessions that included representatives of vulnerable populations among the speakers. This gave the gathering a distinctly different vibe from more academic and scientific conferences on the topic of climate adaptation I've attended.

Content from CAF presentations can be found here.

The lively Twitter stream from the conference can be seen by searching #CAF16 or clicking here.

The conference's smaller attendance was partly due to the lack of state employees, prevented from coming as a result of a labor dispute at the host hotel.

Some saw the labor dispute as a teachable moment. I heard several panelists over the course of the two-day conference reference the dispute and cite the need for labor rights and fair treatment of workers as part of a vision for a sustainable world under climate change. That sentiment was expressed by speakers whose work involves supporting labor unions, immigrants, and outdoor laborers, and one voice from the business sector, President of the Sierra Business Council Steve Frisch.

More on the Labor Dispute

Earlier this year the CAF host hotel, the Renaissance Long Beach, was put on a boycott list by a local union, UNITE HERE Local 11. The organizers found out about it in June, too late to relocate the conference without incurring a steep financial penalty. As a result of the boycott, California State employees were told by their union that they couldn't attend the event. Presumably as a result of that, the pre-conference climate science symposium (which was targeted at state employees in its previous iteration) was canceled. This cancellation might have had some knock-on effects, causing people who were more interested in the science symposium to stay home.

State agency representatives comprised at least 1/3 of the attendees at the first CAF (my estimate based on a show of hands of attendees at one of the keynote addresses). This time, there was only one state employee, and he was attending (I was told by a mutual friend) "on the down-low." Most of the attendees were from local governments, federal agencies like NOAA and EPA, non-profits, and consulting firms.

Apparently the basis of the boycott is the hotel's resistance to maintaining neutrality while allowing union organizers to approach employees and ask them to sign a card authorizing the union to represent them, whereupon the hotel would have to agree to recognize the union if a majority signed the cards, also called "card check neutrality."

After the conference, Kif Scheuer, the LGC's Climate Change Program Director, told me that he and other LGC representatives met with the hotel management on the second day of the conference in the company of some allies from organizations attending the CAF. At that meeting they asked the hotel to notify people planning events at the hotel about the ongoing labor dispute, and also to consider agreeing to card check neutrality. The hotel was apparently noncommittal in its response.

It appears the hotel doesn't dispute the employees' right to organize, but it would prefer they organize by secret ballot, not by being approached one-on-one by union organizers and being asked to sign something publicly while the hotel is bound to not attempt to undermine the effort (e.g., not hold mandatory meetings denouncing the union).

Go here for the most recent information on the labor dispute at the host hotel, last updated on August 24th as of this writing.

A Vision for California in 2050

Just a guess, but I'm betting this call for comments on a state "vision" that I received in my inbox this past Wednesday Sept. 14th via the California Natural Resources Agency's "CNRA_CLIMATE" mailing list was supposed to be launched at the CAF:

"The California Natural Resources Agency, in partnership with the California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California State Transportation Agency, California Health and Human Services Agency, California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, the Strategic Growth Council, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, is please to share the attached, 'Vibrant Communities and Landscapes: a Vision for California in 2050.' This draft vision for comment and discussion is intended to consider land use in the context of California’s climate change policy and begin to explore how the State can support actions, at all level of government, to facilitate development and conservation patterns that help to achieve the state’s climate goals, both greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the ability of communities and natural systems to adapt to the expected impacts of climate change. Please send comments to: ca.50m @"

(Hyperlink and spaces in the email address are my own.)

More on the 2014 CAF

My Sept. 2, 2014, article written for WWF about the first CAF

My Sept. 15, 2014, post about the first CAF with audio/video links, and the slides from the panel on fog that I moderated.

Presentations from the first CAF - held August 19-20, 2014, in Sacramento, CA.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Looking at Sea Level Rise through New Eyes

Here is my newest post for the WWF ClimatePrep blog, on a San Francisco Bay sea level rise visualization project:

Sea Level Rise Seen with New Eyes: the OWLs of San Mateo (Aug. 30, 2016)

I'm currently supporting this collaboration, called LookAhead - San Mateo, led by the climate change communications NGO Climate Access, by contributing to its Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Check out LookAhead - SMC's new website, just launched this week.

This cool outreach tool-- the OWLs, which show the viewer the surrounding landscape under higher sea levels-- will be moved to San Francisco in 2017.