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

From the Executive Director

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

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.

“Communities are facing the brunt of climate change – and in too many places, they have nowhere to turn for affordable, locally relevant assistance. Strategic investment by the federal government can lift a nationwide climate services system that integrates the data, tools, resources, and experts communities need to take meaningful action. – Tonya Graham, Geos Institute

“Congress urgently needs to support state and local decision makers by authorizing and funding a federally supported national system for climate resilience services. While state governments, academia, and nonprofit organizations have stepped in to fill the void created by four years of inaction, the federal government needs to strengthen and build on that capacity to close the gap between our climate goals and our current progress.”  Richard Moss, Science for Climate Action Network

“Under-resourced communities are falling behind everyday in the race to address local climate impacts and transform their energy systems. A nationwide system that offers climate planning support to all communities, regardless of size or affluence, will go a long way toward helping the Biden Administration fulfill its climate, social equity, and racial justice commitments.” Lara Hansen, EcoAdapt

“Climate adaptation and resilience practitioners have been working for years to determine the best way to scale up and deliver the climate services needed to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. We are ready to help the administration and Congress turn its climate resilience vision into reality.” Beth Gibbons, American Society of Adaptation Professionals 


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.

Our research of all fifty states is almost complete. What have we found? Climate action is happening in all states, even in those where state government has abdicated its responsibility. In those cases, civic organizations and academic institutions have stepped up to the plate. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our state summaries. We will use this information to encourage federal investments that support and build on what is already happening on the ground.

I find inspiration in the IPCC report precisely because it is telling us that we will see a different future based on how we respond. We have the power now to create the future we want. Something about that timeline kicks us out of thoughts of the “future” being far away and fuzzy.

The future is not far away and fuzzy. No. The future is in our lifetimes. At the Geos Institute, we are leaning in hard to make sure that we hit the necessary climate targets while building resilience in the face of the impacts along the way. Thank you for supporting our work and for all you are doing to lean in too.

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!

El Paso gets it right – building climate resilience to extreme events

In the world of climate resilience, we measure the bad things that don’t happen, which is not always (or even mostly) an easy feat.

But today I’m happy to share with you an important example of what happens when a community gets it right in their efforts to build climate resilience.

View of El PasoThis month we watched a slow-moving tragedy unfold across Texas as a deep freeze covered the state causing malfunctions at power plants right as demand was surging due to the extreme cold.

Most of Texas is one power grid, which they set up intentionally to avoid federal regulations in the 1930s. But El Paso is on a different grid, one that crosses state boundaries and allows them to call on a larger power grid in emergencies like this. Which is exactly what they did with this deep freeze.

Funder for a day

dwpp logo teal

I want to share with you one of my favorite things about being the Executive Director of the Geos Institute. It’s the day I get to help select the winners of Drinking Water Providers Partnership grants.

In the fall of each year, we work with our partners in the Drinking Water Providers Partnership to issue a call for proposals for projects that restore watersheds that provide drinking water for communities in Oregon and Washington. Applicants are partnerships that include local water utilities, federal agencies, and often, local watershed councils. The projects put forward are required to improve both drinking water sources and native fish habitat.

Applications arrive by early January and then the fun begins! Each of the partner organizations assigns a representative to review and score the applications before meeting to combine scores, discuss the merits of each proposal, and come up with the final list of grant awards. I’m fortunate to represent Geos Institute in this process.

New opportunities for Geos Institute in 2021

What a difference a day makes. I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath until I started to breathe again after the November election.

The last four years have been hard – and the pandemic has put an exclamation point on these last 9 months.

We still have a ways to go before we can hug friends and family, dance together, do our grocery shopping without masks, and stop worrying so much about our loved ones who are at high risk. But the light is visible at the end of the tunnel and it is time to prepare for how we emerge from this global challenge.

Here at Geos, we are focused on the incoming administration and how it can create a nationwide system of climate resilience support services. We want every community, no matter its size or wealth, to meet the challenge of the climate crisis – and do it in ways that are ecologically sound and socially equitable.

We’ve been talking with congressional staff, agency representatives, and allied organizations about how to get this done so that action can be taken on a scale that matches the need. The response has been so positive that our excitement just continues to build as we enter the new year!

Supporting community leaders in facing both the causes and impacts of climate change hasn’t been easy during the Trump administration. Funding has been difficult (to say the least) and the pandemic only made it worse.

We are still dealing with that reality, but we are excited by what the future holds for Geos and for the work we do to help local leaders protect their people and the environment in the face of the climate crisis.

Thank you so much for your generous and consistent support of this critically important work. Knowing we have so many individual supporters who believe in our work and are willing to invest in a vibrant climate future has made all the difference as we have weathered the Trump storms.  

A new day for climate action

Coming into the election, my biggest questions were these – would the system of checks and balances our republic is built on hold firm under such intense pressure? Would the will of the people be heard and respected?

In the end, this election showed how the heart of America beats and that we understand the immense challenges before us, including and especially the climate crisis. Citizens voted in record numbers, many enduring long lines in cold weather to cast their votes.

Secretaries of State, poll workers, and ballot counters showed up – regardless of political persuasion – and did their patriotic duty to protect the sanctity of the vote. Despite the disruptions we are experiencing on so many levels, Americans chose hope over fear and love over hate.

Changes in our Forest Legacies initiative

After 14 years serving as Chief Scientist and Program Director for our Forest Legacies Initiative, Dominick DellaSala has taken the position of Chief Scientist at Wild Heritage – a program of Earth Island Institute. He will continue many of the forest conservation projects that were launched by the Geos Institute in his new role at Wild Heritage.

Our roots are deep in forest conservation having started originally as Headwaters – a regional organization made up of advocates and grassroots forest protection organizations across the Pacific Northwest. It was in those early years that we engaged in timber sale tracking, policy advocacy, and litigation.

“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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