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

From the Executive Director

From the April 2022 Cornerstone Network Email

On April 15, we closed the call for states and state level organizations to submit proposals to develop a pilot Climate Innovation Center in their state. You’ll recall from earlier messages that state level Climate Innovation Centers are the building blocks of our Climate Ready America program. We are starting with five pilots and our five-year goal is to have Climate Innovation Centers in all fifty states and at least three territories.

Each of these five pilot projects will develop their own pathways to provide climate planning services to their communities. In some states, those services will be provided by state government, while in other states it will be academic institutions, civic organizations, or federal agencies that host their Climate Innovation Center.

When the final bell rang at the proposal deadline, we had 15 proposals from many different types of organizations or state governments in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Florida, West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska. Another handful of states are interested but weren’t quite ready to put a proposal forward.

What struck me as I read the proposals was that incredible people have their shoulder to the wheel in all corners of our nation – and they are persevering with few resources against mighty odds to get climate help to communities in their states. In our conversations with interested groups and state governments, we have been deeply touched by how many people expressed their gratitude that someone is working to support their efforts and help them expand their reach.

I’m not sure how we will choose just five from among these visionary efforts for the pilot project, but I am heartened knowing that this is just the start. Securing funding for the pilot projects is our next order of business.

From the March 2022 Cornerstone Network Email

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.

From the February 2022 Cornerstone Network Email

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.


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.

From the December 2021 Cornerstone Network Email

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.

From the November 2021 Cornerstone Network Email

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.

For Immediate Release

Tonya Graham – Geos Institute – 541.778.0718/
Kathy Jacobs – Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, University of  Arizona – 520.405.7395/
Lara Hansen – EcoAdapt – 206.201.3834/
Richard Moss – Climate for Science Action Network – 202.468.5441/
Beth Gibbons – American Society of Adaptation Professionals – 202.904.9946/  

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.

From the August 2021 Cornerstone Network Email

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.

From the July 2021 Cornerstone Network Email

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!

From the June/July 2021 Cornerstone Network email

I have been struck lately by how fast our world is changing.

Here in southern Oregon, our county commissioners have declared a drought emergency for the second year. Our drought last year set up the conditions that led to the devastating Almeda fire. It killed three people and destroyed 2,400 homes and 100 businesses last September. And left thousands homeless in what had already been a tight housing market.

Now here we are in similar conditions in the early days of the 2021 fire season. This past May was the driest May in 127 years. With reservoirs at historic lows, farmers are facing a very short irrigation season and residents are encouraged to conserve water.

Then the heat dome rolled in on top of us, taking temperatures in southern Oregon to 115 degrees F. Communities scrambled for cooling shelters as the first wisps of smoke from a fire in northern California crept over the mountains.

From the May 2021 Cornerstone Network email

Earlier this week I served on a panel at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM’s) workshop: “Motivating Local Action to Address Climate Impacts and Build Resilience.” Our panel focused on “Reactive and Proactive Local Actions and Data Translation for Decision Makers.”

A lot of words, and wonky titles, but the conversation was fascinating, and I was glad to participate. It reminded me, once again, that climate resilience work is happening on many fronts and from many different perspectives.

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