Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

Author: Christina Mills

Making Climate Ready America real – Geos Institute releases call for pilots

Just last week we hit a very important milestone in our work to ensure that every community in the US can do its part to combat climate change no matter its location, size, or wealth.
We have formally issued the call for proposals for states and statewide organizations across the US to develop a pilot Climate Innovation Center for their state. The deadline is April 15 and we’ve already received two proposals.

This is the first step in breathing life into the Climate Ready America framework we have been developing for the past 16 months and it’s incredibly exciting to be part of it.

We have been engaging with government agencies, state governments, statewide organizations, climate resilience planners, and local government staff for months sharing our framework and incorporating their feedback so that this system serves everyone it needs to in the best possible way.

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Advising FEMA on what communities need to build climate resilience

Last week, I participated in my second meeting of the Climate Resilience Subcommittee of FEMA’s National Advisory Committee. While advising a massive bureaucracy like FEMA may seem like pure drudgery, I left the meeting energized.

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FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) oversees disaster preparation and response in all US states and territories. It’s a big job – one where they must continuously balance dealing with emergencies in real time with helping states and communities reduce future disasters.

I am joined on the National Advisory Committee (NAC) by 35 other people from across the nation who represent local, state, and for-profit and non-profit organizations and have some connection to FEMA’s mission. We are each assigned to one of three subcommittees that align with the pillars of FEMA’s strategic plan: Workforce, Readiness, and Climate Resilience. Some members are also assigned to a cross-issue Equity Working Group.

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Serving as a FEMA advisor and closing out 2021

As we come to the close of 2021, I want to share some exciting news.

Earlier this month I was appointed to the National Advisory Council for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Starting in January, I will join 34 other advisors from around the county coming from local government, emergency management, Tribal nations, the private sector, and NGOs.

Our job will be to help FEMA implement its new strategic plan, which focuses on three goals:

  • Instill Equity as a Foundation of Emergency Management
  • Lead Whole of Community in Climate Resilience
  • Promote and Sustain a Ready FEMA and Prepared Nation

I am so pleased that FEMA is moving aggressively toward ensuring a climate resilient nation, and that they are doing it in ways that center the needs of the under-resourced and under-represented members of our communities.

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From a climate services bureau to a Climate Ready America

As COP 26 unfolded, we were reminded how important climate work is at ALL levels of government. From international treaties to local government policies, there is much to be done and precious little time to do it.

While it’s clear that all U.S. communities need to be doing their climate work, too many can’t get the help they need because they are too small, too poor, or blocked by a state government that doesn’t support climate action. This needs to change so that all communities, no matter their location, size, or affluence, can get the help they need to take effective climate action. Local action is necessary if we are to meet our national climate targets.

We have been working at the Geos Institute to develop a nationwide system of climate support services to serve these communities since 2015. From 2015-2018, we co-led an effort to create a “climate adaptation service bureau” to help local leaders identify climate vulnerabilities and implement solutions. That effort spawned several important tools and concepts in the field, which are now coming to fruition.

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Media Release: Climate Resilience Organizations Call for a Nationwide System of Climate Resilience Services and Offer Assistance to the Federal Government

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Tonya Graham – Geos Institute – 541.778.0718/tonya@geosinstitute.org
Kathy Jacobs – Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, University of  Arizona – 520.405.7395/jacobsk@arizona.edu
Lara Hansen – EcoAdapt – 206.201.3834/Lara@EcoAdapt.org
Richard Moss – Climate for Science Action Network – 202.468.5441/rmoss@climateassessment.org
Beth Gibbons – American Society of Adaptation Professionals – 202.904.9946/bgibbons@adaptpros.org  

September 9, 2021 – Today, over 40 climate resilience organizations called on the federal government to develop a nationwide system of climate resilience services to help communities reduce emissions and build resilience to accelerating climate impacts, such as extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise, drought, and wildfire. Many more communities need to take action if the U.S. intends to meet its climate goals. 

The statement outlines 10 principles for such a system to ensure that it is an effective investment that moves the U.S. toward its climate goals. Signers are offering to assist the Biden Administration, Congress, and federal agencies in developing this system so that communities can find the information and assistance they need to address the climate crisis.

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IPCC’s latest climate report delivers an odd inspiration

You may have seen the International Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report on the state of our climate. If not, I don’t recommend it. As with all IPCC reports, it is scientifically precise, but not what you would call a good read. And there is a fair bit of depressing news, as there always is in climate science reports.

Here’s their summary: “Scenarios with low or very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (SSP1-1.9 and SSP1- 2.6) lead within years to discernible effects on greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and air quality, relative to high and very high GHG emissions scenarios (SSP3-7.0 or SSP5-8.5). Under these contrasting scenarios, discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence).”

Essentially, it says what we already know: aggressive action on climate is needed in the near term. We have until 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 50%.

It’s also telling us something critically important: we will see a difference in surface temperatures within 20 years depending on which path we take.

Tonya with arms around two of her children. They are facing the camera and standing among a variety of plants.We are now deep enough into the climate crisis where we, and our children, will experience different futures based on decisions we make today and over the next few years.

Here at the Geos Institute, we are working to address the reality of the climate crisis by establishing a system of climate services to help communities do their part nationwide.

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A real opportunity to build a nationwide system of climate services

At long last, we are beginning to see investment from the federal government to help communities build climate resilience. The Biden Administration’s commitment to both climate and equity is seen in the recent funding opportunity released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This funding is likely to total $4 million with investment potentially tripling starting in year two of the four year program. For those of us who held on through four years of the Trump Administration followed by a year of COVID, during which local government resilience efforts largely ground to a halt, this new program is welcome news!

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British Columbia poised to lose ‘white rhino of old growth forests’

In the public imagination, British Columbia is swathed in green and famous for its towering old growth forests. But while the provincial government says 23% of BC’s forests are old growth, a new study finds that a mere 1% remains with tall trees.

Intense pressure is now being put on the remaining trees by a forestry industry eager to capitalize on nations desperate for new “carbon neutral” sources of energy, including the revamping of coal-fired power plants to burn wood pellets.

A lot is riding ecologically on whatever policy decisions are eventually enacted in BC.

Dominick DellaSala is president and chief scientist of the Geos Institute in Oregon. He specializes in studying rare ecosystems globally and says of BC’s temperate, old growth forests: “From my research, there are only two other regions on earth like it — southeast Russia and Siberia. These forests are important and rare. They have the highest richness of lichens of any place in the world, a main food source for the mountain caribou, which is circling the extinction drain. Some trees are estimated to be 1,600 years old. And they are being wasted by logging.”

DellaSala underlined the fact that old growth forests are a large, stable source of carbon: “If we are going to fight climate change, we need to get off fossil fuels and hang onto on our remaining primary forests.”

Read the complete article by Justin Catanoso published on 22 June 2020 at Mongabay

“Justice is what love looks like in public”

A message from Tonya Graham, Geos Institute Executive Director

Cornel West, author of Race Matters, reminds us to “never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

Here at the Geos Institute, we talk often about the larger forces at work in the climate crisis and the need to bank hard toward collaboration, courage, and trust – and away from isolation, fear, and violence – as we face increasing disruptions that harm our communities, economies, and ecosystems.

It can be all too easy in this work to imagine that we are starting from a place where people feel safe and experience climate disruptions from a foundation of trust – that is, it can be easy for those of us who are white.

Many of us working on climate change have drawn comparisons between the global COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis, calling COVID-19 a “dry run” for the climate crisis. If that is the case, and there is good reason to believe it is, this moment is instructive and we must do our part to ensure that it is actually a turning point.

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Pandemic relief could become next forest policy battleground

By Marc Heller, (E&E News, May 19, 2020)

A future coronavirus aid package in Congress might become the next battleground in a fight over forest policy.

The long-running debate about how best to care for national forests — and what to do with timber that’s taken from them — is quietly brewing again as lawmakers look for ways to promote a more intensive approach to forest management. A spending package for the pandemic offers one opportunity.

Leading the latest effort is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who introduced a broad package he said would give forest communities an economic boost while providing wildfire crews protection from the spreading virus (E&E Daily, May 12).

Sensing that a big appropriations bill could give logging advocates an opportunity, a group of scientists skeptical of the industry wrote to key federal lawmakers last week, urging them to refrain from putting pro-logging measures into any upcoming legislation, including on climate change. Continue reading

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