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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.  

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